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Coalition questions G8 costs, calls for community investment

Costs for the G8/NATO summit in May could be much higher than current projections from the city, according to a labor-community coalition which is calling for a Chicago G8/NATO Community Fund.

“We think that $65 million is very, very, very low, and based on the experience of other host cities, the actual cost is going to be much higher,” said Elizabeth Parisian, a researcher with Stand Up Chicago.

She said the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario, ended up costing over $1 billion, the bulk of which went to security costs. Costs of housing, transportation and entertainment totaled about $180 million, she said.

Like the upcoming summit, the 2010 G8 was a joint summit (that year it was with the G20), and as expected for the upcoming summit, there were big protests.

Stand Up Chicago is working on developing a more detailed independent cost estimate, Parisian said, but getting information is difficult.

“There’s been no transparency from the city,” she said, adding that “we need to know how much it’s going cost and who’s contributing.”

Last week the Chicago Reader reported that a $55 million federal grant described by officials last year as funding planning for summit security training is actually a routine grant that supports the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Security cost estimates will not be released before the summit, OECM told the Reader.

Funding for community needs

In a letter to Mayor Emanuel last week, community, labor, and civil rights groups asked him to call on corporations contributing to the summit host committee to provide matching donations to a community fund “which can be used to keep libraries and mental health clinics open, as well as to provide direct investment in Chicago’s many struggling neighborhoods.”

Six mental health clinics are slated for closing in April for a cost savings of $2 million. Library hours were recently cut in order to save $1 million.

“At a time when our city is experiencing a serious budget deficit and facing record unemployment, record foreclosures, record poverty, and drastic cuts to services, it is negligent to direct such a large sum of money to a weekend-long event that benefits the 1 percent without also ensuring that a similar sum is invested in Chicago’s 99 percent — our communities,” according to the letter.

It calls on Emanuel to seek federal funds equivalent to federal summit spending to support community programs here.

A release from Stand Up Chicago includes statements from leaders of several groups that signed on to the letter:

Rev. Calvin S. Morris, Community Renewal Society: “The G8 Summit presents an opportunity for our mayor and business leaders to demonstrate that Chicago is a world-class city that, foremost, invests in its social infrastructures and the upward mobility of its residents, especially poor people.”

Amisha Patel, Grassroots Collaborative: “At the drop of a hat, Mayor Emanuel can raise $60 million for the global elite, and yet our neighborhoods suffer from unsafe vacant buildings, gun violence, and skyrocketing unemployment. Instead of throwing a party for the 1 percent, the mayor and corporate Chicago should be creating jobs for the 99 percent — jobs to clean up abandoned housing, jobs to keep school children safe, and summer jobs for youth.”

Beatriz Merlos, parent organizer, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council: “This money could go to renovating public spaces like Kelly Park, which has been in disrepair for years, and could fund more youth programs to keep our kids off the streets and out of gangs. And we could put more police in neighborhoods where shootings are reaching staggering levels.”

Rev. C.J. Hawking of Arise Chicago, the faith-based labor rights group: “The 99 percent have been struggling through harsh budget cuts while the city is doling out our tax dollars in corporate welfare to the CME and other World Business Chicago members. And now we’re going to invest millions in events for and by the 1 percent? We’re calling upon the city and World Business Chicago members to make at least an equal investment in the working families of the city.”

Margaret Sullivan, Southside Together Organizing for Power, a client at Beverly-Morgan Park Mental Health Clinic, which is slated for closing, said she broke down in tears thinking about “the comparison between the $2 million we need to save our clinics and the millions of dollars that will go to the insane and insatiable greed surrounding the NATO/G8 summits.”

Stand Up Chicago and other groups are planning protests that will raise these issues during the summit, a spokesperson said.

The city’s press office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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