The great Olympic debate

By SpencerRoush

Pushing and shoving our way through the el train doors to stand in small, open crevices, only to be smashed by two strangers, is something Chicagoans are used to, however, we may need to squeeze in a little more to fit the rest of the world.

Depending on the outcome of the Oct. 2 decision day, Chicago may become a popular international city, bringing in millions of people if the Olympic Games come to town. Many Chicagoans are making lists of pros and cons to determine which side of the Olympic debate they fall on. Some organizations are speaking out against hosting the games, saying the negative outcomes for the Games should scare any taxpayer away.

Tom Tresser, communications director for No Games Chicago, a non-profit organization opposing the Olympics said, “We think the Games will go over budget and it would potentially lead to the city’s bankruptcy. The entire financial system in America and the planet is fragile and Chicago and Illinois are broke right now, running billions of dollars of deficit. So, this is not a risk we can afford to take.”

On Sept. 29, organizations from around Chicago, including No Games Chicago, are coming together to protest the Olympic bid in one last effort to let political officials know where they publicly stand.

Holly Krig, lead organizer for the Northside Action for Justice, a non-profit organization that protests the Olympics, said, “We really want to let as many people who are going to make this decision, in particularly politicians, [know] that the people of Chicago do not want the Olympics, that Mayor [Richard] Daley does not represent the people of Chicago, particularly low income people and struggling families. We have much better uses for public money, and it seems very clear that public money will be used for this project.”

Tresser said there are four major reasons why Chicago shouldn’t host the games including: financial ruin, disruption in transportation,  displacement of people and the construction in local parks that could endanger the environment.

All of the venues are slated to be placed in public parks, and public parks are very precious assets owned by all of the people,” Tresser said. “They can’t be used for a     private company for their profit, and that’s what would happen. So, we are opposed to the ripping up of our parks.”

Tresser said construction around the city, especially near the proposed Olympic Village, could cause a lot of displacement among people.

“When the Games come to town, poor people and working class people tend to lose their homes because of last speculation near the venue sites,” Tresser said. “Historically, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes when the Olympics came to their city and we fear the same would happen here.”

Tresser also said traffic in the city and the number of outsiders using public transportation could really cause disruption to daily travel routines during the Games.

Tresser said all of these reasons Chicago shouldn’t host the bid are important, but the most important reason is financial ruin that the city could be forced into during Olympic construction.

Daley’s approval rating is at all time low of 37 percent. Tresser said it’s because the majority of Chicagoans don’t agree with the Olympic bid and how public money will have to be used if the Chicago Olympic Committee goes over the $5 billion budget, which is likely.

“The estimates for construction in the bid book are just that, they’re estimates, we don’t have any working plans,” Tresser said. “Chicago, typically, has a terrible record in managing its construction projects.”

Krig said many other cities that have hosted the Olympics in the past have surpassed their proposed budgets by doubling and even tripling the initial numbers.

“Within Chicago itself, we know from experience that where Mayor Daley falls short of private funding, he reaches into public offers and we saw that happen with Millennium Park,” Krig said. “So there is no reason to think that that’s going to be any different in Chicago, given that we have a history of that here.”

A City Council vote on Sept. 9 proved that is exactly what would happen, after aldermen voted unanimously for public funding to be used if there are any cost overruns.

Jay Stone, a community activist and Civil Rights Award winner, said, “It was 85 percent against the public funding the Olympics, and yet the vote in city council was 49 to 0. What does that tell you? That the politicians can ignore the will and the opinion of the people.”

Tresser said taxpayers in Chicago have been abandoned because no one is listening to their opinion.

“The aldermen are simply rubber stamps, we don’t even need them really if the mayor is going to rule like that,” Tresser said. “No Games Chicago is really the only game in town if you are opposed to the [Olympics]. There is really no one else speaking for you or asking these tough questions as we have been.”

Because the public opinion of the hosting the Games is so low, the Chicago Olympic Committee has been campaigning heavily for the Olympics here in the city to sway public opinion using signs on public and private buildings and also CTA trains.

“I think the [Olympic ads] are another intrusion into the public space,” Tresser said. “No one in the history of the CTA has ever had the privilege of audio ads. You can’t turn them off; you can’t not listen to them. The city has already plastered the 2016 logos everywhere, including the airport.”

Stone said the public’s negative opinion is hurting the Chicago Olympic bid.

He said the media has mostly been involved in a one-sided media blitz for the Olympics, which has allowed a lot of the political corruption between Chicago Olympic Committee members and the City Council to slip between the cracks.

Krig said the positive media attention for the Games could probably account for the reasons why Chicagoans aren’t well informed about how it’s not in the best interest of the city’s majority. She said there are many people who aren’t looking at the economic outcome of the games or how taxpayers could foot the bill.

“People are being sold on the idea that the Olympics is going be this wonderful spectacle that magically we will all participate in, despite the fact that most of us won’t actually go to the Olympics,” Krig said.

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. To see the other side of this debate click here: