Chicago is still months away from hosting May’s NATO and G8 summits, but that hasn’t stopped Hyde Park politicians from raising alarms about the city’s preparations for the events.
The annual NATO and G8 summits will turn the spotlight of international fiscal and military policy onto Chicago for one week starting May 15, once representatives of each country pour into the South Loop’s McCormick Place convention center, located in the fourth ward.
Fourth Ward Alderman Will Burns and Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston both voted against a city ordinance that expanded Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ability to award security and construction contracts in preparation for the summits.
In a 41–5 vote in January, the City Council voted to grant Emanuel the power to award contracts without explicit approval from the City Council, or even the process of competitive bidding.
Hairston joined Burns and three other councilmen in voting against the move, which she calls “a blank check.”
Hairston fears that the vote could result in an increasingly unilateral relationship with local authorities, or even potential abuses of power, whether that means bypassing local approval for installation projects related to the summits or levying harsh, $1,000 fines for “passive resistance,” she said in a newsletter to constituents.
“There’s no way to know [how Emanuel spends the money] because the City Council gave away its authority to oversee anything he’s doing,” Hairston said in an interview.
Burns said that the City Council has not been debriefed on the summits’ total costs for security and contracting, although he is certain that federal funding will foot most of the bill, with little council oversight. CPD appropriations are the only expenditures that will involve city money.
“If he doesn’t spend over what’s been appropriated to the police department...[Emanuel] has the ability to enter into contracts without going through traditional procurement process,” Burns said.
Other councilmen have expressed concern over the city’s executive powers during the summits.
The West Side’s 22nd ward alderman Ricardo Muñoz has proposed a city ordinance that would make it impossible for the CPD to block media communication, such as cell phones and social networking sites. Such measures drew outrage during the revolution in Egypt and the riots in London last year.
Debra Kirby, the CPD’s chief of international relations, reported to Fox News that at least 10,000 protesters and demonstrators are predicted to assemble in the South Loop and downtown during the summits. According to CBS, Occupy Chicago has called for over 50,000 protesters.
The CPD recently responded to some public outcry following the Chicago Reader’s report that officers were inadequately prepared to handle large crowds.
Toby Chow, one of the main Occupy-affiliated organizers on campus, anticipates that he will be there come May.
“I know some people spoke with their aldermen about not having a whole bunch of money spent on [the summits] and how blanket spending authority it really excessive,” he said. “I say, ‘Bravo,’ to all the aldermen who stood up to Mayor Emanuel.”