Despite Obama's Charm, Chicago Loses The Olympics

Rio de Janeiro will be the site of the 2016 Olympic games. The city of Chicago lost out, despite a last-minute personal appearance by President Obama in Copenhagen Friday, along with Michele Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Guest host Jacki Lyden discusses the failed effort to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago with NPR News Analyst Juan Williams and Weekend Edition host Scott Simon.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Rio de Janeiro will be the site of the 2016 Olympic Games. The city of Chicago lost out despite a last-minute personal appearance by President Obama in Copenhagen yesterday along with Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. WEEKEND EDITION host and devoted Chicagoan Scott Simon is on assignment this week and joins us on the phone.

Good morning, Scott. And I have to say, my condolences.

SCOTT SIMON: Thank you, Jacki. You know, I've been getting a lot of condolence emails - and phone calls.

LYDEN: I know you're taking it hard. And also with us by phone is NPR's news analyst Juan Williams. Hello there, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Jacki.

LYDEN: Well, Scott, Chicago was the last-minute betting favorite, and I have to say, homage to our old Chicago bureau, I thought it was slightly favored over Rio. Any idea what happened?

SIMON: You know, I think I do. I talked to someone on the bid committee last night. And he said that the International Olympic Committee really just wanted to give the first Olympics to South America, which has never hosted the games. Rio had a huge budget, guaranteed by the Brazilian government - $14 billion. Chicago's bid was five billion by contrast, and all of it private money.

They were proud of that. They said that they would have cost effective, low footprint, green, no-relocation Olympics, but Brazil just put three times as much money on the table.

The IOC apparently did have some questions, he said, about Rio because their venues are going to be spread out, the traffic congestion there is legendary, street crime is perhaps the worst in the world. There are going to be massive relocations of poor people in the favelas, and that's bad publicity, as it was for the Olympics in Beijing.

But President Lula da Silva is a pretty good politician too, and he worked this issue for years. He said it's time to light the Olympic cauldron in the developing world, and it was a powerful argument to South America and African nations that their time had come.

LYDEN: Juan, all four national leaders were in Copenhagen yesterday. Did the president miscalculate by flying there at the last minute?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think there was a sense that momentum was building for Chicago, especially over the last week or so. And what you had were people inside the White House, almost a group of Chicagoans, who just felt Chicago fervor, Jacki.

You think here about Valerie Jarrod(ph), who was put in charge of a special Olympic taskforce inside the White House, for the first time anything like that had ever been done by any American president. Then you have Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, another Chicagoan. You had David Axelrod, the president's top political advisor.

And they all decided it was worth the president's personal prestige, putting that prestige at risk, for him then to join his wife, Michelle Obama, and Oprah Winfrey to go to Copenhagen. But it was a swift defeat.

The thought was this was going to be the bookend to the Obama presidency after he wins a second term. In 2016 he would be able to walk from his home over to the games along the parkland on Michigan Avenue by the lakefront. And this was to be his moment. But what we see is that they expected that magic would strike, especially hoped that the African countries would vote in support of President Obama, but it didn't happen.

SIMON: Jacki?

LYDEN: Um-hmm?

SIMON: I think also, in terms of political effect, I think also for a lot of Americans what they might see is a president who went down the line for his hometown and his family, and that's a quality that a lot of people like in a leader. I think it's possible that both the president and Mrs. Obama might have miscalculated the message. They made it personal, as Juan said.

Now, Chicago's argument had been until then: come here, our city reflects the world. Rick Bayless, the master chef, I think put it very well. He said anyone coming here from 100 nations around the world is going to find a corner of our city where they can hear their language and eat their own foods.

But by shifting to a personal message, that's the kind of thing that has served President Obama well when he's been campaigning in the United States, but - and I think, from what I understand, it affected a lot of people very powerfully yesterday. But it now opens it up to making it appear as a personal loss for him.

LYDEN: Very quickly, Scott: how are your girls taking the news?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, a little better than I am. But I'm going to quote the late Mayor Richard J. Daly to them, when he probably lost an election once, he said: You win with humility, you lose with grace, you get up the next day and get better and thank God you're a Chicagoan. And you know, Mayor Daly said a lot of stuff that should only be quoted in jest, but I sure like that one.

LYDEN: WEEKEND EDITION host Scott Simon and NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Thank you both.

SIMON: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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