Updated at 8:10 p.m.
In a move that surprised City Hall and organizers, the White House abruptly announced Monday that the G-8 summit of world leaders would not be coming to Chicago in May, and will instead convene at Camp David in Maryland.
A meeting of some 50 world leaders in NATO, which had been scheduled to take place back-to-back with the G-8 meeting in Chicago over the weekend of May 19-21, will go ahead as scheduled.
Listen to WBEZ's Alex Keefe and Alderman Bob Fioretti discuss the summit's move on Eight Forty-Eight
In a statement, the White House gave no clear reason for moving the G-8 meeting.
“In May, the United States looks forward to hosting the G-8 and NATO Summits,” the statement reads. “To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G-8 partners, the President is inviting his fellow G-8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19 for the G-8 Summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political and security issues.
“The President will then welcome NATO allies and partners to his hometown of Chicago for the NATO Summit on May 20-21, which will be the premier opportunity this year for the President to continue his efforts to strengthen NATO in order to ensure that the Atlantic Alliance remains the most successful alliance in history, while charting the way forward in Afghanistan.”
Summit organizers and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration were quick to say that the White House was responsible for the decision. Emanuel’s administration and the Chicago host committee that has been raising money to pay for the summits just found out about the change Monday, according to sources.
“We are taking this at face value,” said host committee spokeswoman Jennifer Martinez. “What we were told is that [President Barack Obama] wants to have a more intimate setting at Camp David,” adding that Mr. Obama “wants to have more intimate discussions on some political and economic concerns that are taking place in the world.”
Despite the expectation that thousands of protesters would descend on Chicago during the summits, the decision to change the venue was not based on security concerns, said another source with knowledge of the situation.
“We wish President Obama and the other leaders well at the G8 meeting at Camp David and look forward to hosting the NATO Summit in Chicago,” the mayor said in an emailed statement. “Hosting the NATO Summit is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Chicago to the world and the world to Chicago and we are proud to host the 50 heads of state, foreign and defense ministers from the NATO and ISAF countries in our great city May 19-21.”
The White House announcement means world leaders will now discuss some of the more controversial items on their agenda – including what to do about escalating tensions over Iran’s nuclear program – at a secluded, well-secured retreat, rather than in the heart of Mr. Obama’s adopted hometown, just months before he runs for re-election.
Emanuel’s administration and summit organizers have been touting the May summits as Chicago’s opportunity on the world stage. The dual world meetings that had been set to meet at McCormick Place would have marked the first time both NATO and the G-8 have met in the same city since 1977.
But some downtown business leaders and residents have been more concerned about the potential for violent protests accompanying the summits. The left-wing magazine Adbusters, which helped inspire the Occupy movement, recently put out a call for 50,000 protesters to flock to Chicago during May. The prospect of huge demonstrations and tight security has prompted the cancellation of everything from high school proms to arts events.
Summit organizers on Monday offered no explanation as to why the G-8 meetings had been moved, but rather focused on the remaining task at hand.
"We are honored to be the first major American city to host a NATO summit and look forward to showcasing Chicago to the world,” said Lori Healey, executive director for the Chicago Host Committee that’s planning the summits. “Hosting the NATO Summit is a fantastic opportunity to shine a spotlight on Chicago as a global city and an unparalleled destination for travel, tourism, and business."
A similar, positive message emerged from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.
"[The move] just kind of came out of nowhere," said Chris Johnson, a spokesperson for the chamber. "I'm sure there's some reason behind it. But you know, frankly - looking forward - we still have the NATO summits to look forward to to showcase the city internationally, and I think there's going to be plenty of opportunity for the business community with regards to the NATO summits."
Some Chicago aldermen who'd been wary of the combo of international meetings were pleased with news of the scaled-back event.
"I, like many in the South Loop, West Loop, are breathing a sigh of relief," said Ald. Bob Fioretti, whose 2nd ward includes McCormick Place.
"You know, it is manageable to host one event," said Ald. Leslie Hairston of the 5th Ward, who remains concerned about recent changes the Emanuel administration made to parade and protest rules. "I support people's right to assemble, and that is whether there is one event here or two events," she said.
Emanuel has denied those rules restrict free speech.
WBEZ's Sam Hudzik contributed reporting.
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