Chicago’s failed bid to be the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics was a terrible loss for:
(C) The Midwest
(D) President Barack Obama
(F) All of the above
The correct answer is (F). Make no mistake and accept no spin, the Obama administration suffered a substantial wound on this one. As I wrote last week, the president was making a serious political miscalculation by going to Copenhagen, Denmark, to accompany his wife and make a personal pitch to the International Olympic Committee on behalf of Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 games – unless his administration had a strong premonition that his appearance would seal the deal.
By going to Denmark, Obama put his signature on the whole thing, win or lose.
As he prepared to fly to Denmark, Obama’s critics pounced on him, saying he was taking his focus off of more serious things such as the economy, health care reform, the Middle East and Afghanistan. The critics implied that Chicago’s Olympic pitch was not worthy of the president’s time.
They were wrong. It was. And that’s what makes the snub even more painful for … America.
Some of the shrillest critics rejoiced in Obama’s failure. One giddy local talk show host even put a headline on his blog that read, "Barack, Michelle, and Oprah, Oh My!" For some, it has become more important that Obama fail than for their country to succeed.
And make no mistake, the Olympic fiasco is a failure for America, Obama and, to some degree, Milwaukee.
Don’t think so? As the clock ticked down on the IOC’s decision, I put out a call seeking comments from Milwaukee’s business and civic leaders, some of whom lean politically to the left and others no doubt lean to the right. Every one of them was preparing to celebrate Chicago’s selection to host the 2016 games.
They had no doubt whatsoever that the new development and infrastructure improvements of an Olympics in Chicago would spill over into southeastern Wisconsin. I asked them to share with us their thoughts if Chicago won the games and their thoughts if Chicago lost the games.
Of course, we posted their comments about Chicago’s defeat on our web site.
Now, I’d like to share with you some of the comments they prepared for the moment had Chicago been successful in its bid. Taken in sum, they dramatically illustrate what could have been:
"Milwaukee will shine in the glow of the international spotlight placed on Chicago, and we will work to use that light to our economic development advantage. If it speeds up rail connections, all the better. Be the first time I rooted for a Chicago sports win!"
Tim Sheehy, president, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce
"For too long, we’ve been unable to come to a decision on whether to expand our transit options, invest in our facilities, parks and public infrastructure. Well, in 2016, the world is coming to dinner and it is time for us to start to set our table. We can certainly host events and training facilities, athletes and visitors all in wonderful venues across our region. And we can also show the world that we can ‘just do it’ in Milwaukee and regain our place as a city on the move."
Julia Taylor, president, Greater Milwaukee Committee
"The games will be the most significant impact on our local economy in recent history as investments in Chicago will undoubtedly spill over on to infrastructure and amenities north of the state line."
Jim Villa, president and CEO, Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin
"The world’s eyes are now squarely focused on Chicago and the larger region. There is no question that we now have a great opportunity at our doorstep to tell our story to the world."
Dean Amhaus, president, Spirit of Milwaukee
"Hopefully by 2016, we’ll have a rebuilt I-94 corridor and additional rail options between Milwaukee and Chicago. Together with Mitchell International Airport serving as another gateway, we should be positioned to capture some of the Olympic excitement in the form of additional economic impact for the region."
David Fantle, vice president, Visit Milwaukee
"The Olympics will put metro Milwaukee and our Midwest region in the global limelight as a major destination and an economic contender. That visibility will translate into jobs and economic growth … if we are prepared to capitalize on it."
Kerry Thomas, executive director of Transit Now
"We couldn’t be more pleased by Chicago’s win today. We’ve been supportive of Chicago’s bid from the outset and now we look forward to working with the organizers, Mayor Daley and their entire team to see what supporting role Milwaukee can play in the games."
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
"Mitchell International Airport has already been called Chicago’s third airport so we fully expect to bring thousands of Olympic visitors through the Milwaukee gateway And with Wauwatosa native Pat Ryan heading the Olympic effort for Chicago, Milwaukee has a great friend in the games who will look for opportunities for our community to get involved."
Milwaukee County Supervisor Scott Walker
"This Olympic decision is great news for Milwaukee County. I am pleased that President Barack Obama led our nation’s final push to secure these games for Chicago. The total economic impact from the games is expected to be $22.5 billion. If we can capture just one percent of that impact, that’s still a $225 million boost to the economy in Milwaukee County. Ten percent is $2.25 billion. The positive effect this will have on our economy and sales tax collections should not be underestimated.
Milwaukee County Executive Lee Holloway
"Commuter rail will allow our city to demonstrate to the world the assets and opportunities in Racine. Our chances of bringing Olympics tourists and Olympics spill off into Racine diminishes tenfold if we do not have commuter rail."
Racine Mayor John Dickert
"This economic impact will probably be bigger than a Super Bowl that the Packers play in. It’s a unique situation. The Metra comes right into Kenosha, and (Olympic athletes’) families may look to have their residences here and take the train right into the Olympic areas."
Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser
Ouch. The Midwest has never hosted the Olympics. And that’s a shame.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.