Because I was so involved in efforts to bring the Gay Games to Chicago in 2006, I have been asked hundreds of times by friends and strangers what my opinion is of the Olympics potentially coming to Chicago.
While the financial scale of the Gay Games is much smaller than the Olympics ( the Chicago 2016 group has spent more than five times our $10 million budget just on their bid ) , we had more than 11,000 athletes and culture participants, which is more than many summer Olympics have had. The Gay Games also inspired Mayor Daley to make a stronger push for the Olympics here. He said his experience during Gay Games VII in 2006, especially at Soldier Field's Opening Ceremony, motivated him.
But the Olympics are a city-sponsored and supported event, while the Gay Games were privately funded, and we even paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city for use of Soldier Field, parks, city services, and more. The city made money from us, not to mention the millions in economic impact the city experienced from tourists and residents spending money during our 10-day event.
So, what do I think about the potential of Chicago hosting the Olympics? I am quite torn. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I am so proud of this city, and I consider it the best place in the world to live. I think an event like the Olympics will be good for Chicago, but I have quite a few caveats to that statement. I do want Chicago to win the right to host the Olympics, but I also want us to hold this city and its elected and appointed officials to a much a higher standard than we have witnessed in the past.
We all know the stories of insider deals, Tax Increment Finance ( TIF ) districts run amuck, double-dipping politicians, lack of transparency, gentrification without enforced plans to build low-cost replacement housing, and, possibly worst of all, the sale of our city's income-generating assets without a full vetting. The parking meter scandal will negatively impact generations if it is not fixed.
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In sum, I saw what the Gay Games did for our city, on its own scale, and I therefore think the Olympics would be an even grander way to showcase our city. But this is what I would ask us to make sure of:
1 ) We need a law that requires one-for-one housing replacement for those who will be displaced by the necessary building boom.
2 ) The parks that will be swallowed up for years because of Olympic plans must also be replaced one-for-one.
3 ) Enforcement of women and minority contract set-asides must be overseen by an independent review panel.
4 ) Security personnel ( police and others ) need ongoing training to handle a diverse population already in Chicago, one that will only get more diverse during the Olympics. No repeat of the 1969 riots, please, or of recent cases of police misconduct.
5 ) Changes to transportation should be in line with plans that will further enhance the long-term needs of the communities, not just short-term Olympic travel needs.
6 ) That every person, paid or volunteer, with the Olympics and the city must sign strict conflict-of-interest and ethics contracts. Absolutely no one associated with the Olympics process should profit from the Olympics in any unethical way. This includes through building contracts, sale of properties, no-bid contracts for restaurant vendors, etc.
7 ) When an event takes place in a neighborhood, every effort must be made to involve local businesses, not forcing them to compete against massive corporate chains for the Olympic business. We need to use this as an opportunity to grow local businesses, not line the pockets of multi-billion-dollar Olympic sponsors.
8 ) Finally, I have been pretty unimpressed with the outreach of the Olympic bid committee. It has been very top-down and secret in many of its approaches. They have paid the price for that arrogance. They have not learned the lessons of past events in Chicago or elsewhere, and they have not had a grassroots feel at all. That has to change. Native Chicagoans and our friends are living in cities throughout the world. Our own Gay Games created a vast network of Chicago fans that have gone untapped by Olympic organizers. These are athletes and cultural folks who might make easy ambassadors for our city's outreach efforts for the Olympics. The winning bid city can't afford to manage from the corporate tower. We need this event to have ownership from all parts of the city of Chicagogeographic, class, ethnic, religious, gender, and LGBT. The city needs us all to feel a fully vested interest to make the Olympics successful.
For the Gay Games, we experienced an amazing support from a wide range of city and suburban people, including from Oak Park, Evanston and Crystal Lake ( yes, Crystal Lake, which eventually supported us ) . Athletes said strangers, gay and straight, welcomed them with open arms. We had a tremendous feeling of citizenship and pride in hosting the Gay Games.
I want that for Chicago again, for the Olympics. But it is a much more difficult, and expensive, path. Let's hope our officialsthose who are elected and those who are part of the Olympic teamare listening. If they are not, we may just have to shout a little louder.
Tracy Baim was co-vice chair of Gay Games VII and is publisher of Windy City Media Group.