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No Brown Rings and No Education Dollars in Chicago's Olympic Bid

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Friday morning, fresh off back-to-back trips to Beijing for the Olympics and the Paralympics, Chicago bid chairman Patrick Ryan, a self-described insurance salesman, gave the Executives' Club of Chicago a major rah-rah session, accented by a fly in the ointment.

Ryan showed a packed Fairmont Hotel ballroom, flanked by a who's-who of Chicago bid-ness, two tear-jerking videos about the virtues of a completely privately-funded 2016 Summer Olympics in Chicago ("We're up against national governments, we're just little private guys, but I think the little guys can win," Ryan said).

The key points?


Video one
: To those who don't know our fair city, "which was built by immigrants," it's full of surprises, including "the most exciting fine dining in America" and "the people in diverse neighborhoods." Stationing the proposed Olympic village "in the heart of the city," the narrator also referred to Chicago as "the heart of the nation" and, if we were to win the bid, "the focal point of the world."

Video two: Our city is full of active and passive sportsters. This piece profiled twelve Chicago kids talking about how the prospect of a Chicago Olympics fuels their dreams to become star athletes.

Ryan also hammered home corporate Chicago's hand in funding the bid--big wink American Airlines!--and the "legacy" programs that will better Chicagoans lives through sports regardless of whether we get the Games or not. He also went out of his way to press into his enthralled audience that this bid was "all about the people."

In fact, Ryan mentioned that as he and the rest of the 2016 bid committee have hosted 102 of the 112 International Olympics Committee members, they've often witnessed those members to "be surprised by the ethnicity of our city."

You would be too, if you'd seen the videos. Aside from nice shots from Ukrainian, Chinese, Polish and Mexican parades and music fests, Chicago looked pretty white. For a bid committee whose web site goes out of its way to tell the story of the 1.8 million Chicagoans of Mexican-American heritage, not a single Hispanic kid made it into the athlete video.

I won't harp on the fact there was also not a single Latino on the dais--because they were Executives' Club members, not strictly Bid Committee members--not that I could find any trace of Hispanic representation on the leadership team in an extensive clip search.

I wasn't the fly in the ointment, though. Bringing the lack of Latino representation up to the politely surprised Ryan didn't amount to nearly the fuss the Rev. James Meeks kicked up when he confronted Ryan about Chicago's educational disparities.

"How can we have a world-class city and second-class schools? What is the 2016 committee going to do about changing the funding formula for public education in the state of Illinois?" Meeks had asked during the Q&A. Ryan responded with a nod back to the legacy programs he'd already touched on.

Out in the foyer afterwards, firmly ensconced in the video camera glare, Meeks held forth some more, asking--rhetorically, this time--why the business community and the media were not concerned about the school funding crisis and why Chicago should want the Olympics when there are murders tearing families apart.

OK, so the Rev. has a point: bad schools and murders are indeed a crisis that demands immediate attention. Those facts--and little things like, oh let's say, U.S.-born Hispanic residents like Salvador Contreras getting threatened with deportation by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in this "city built by immigrants"--pretty much flies in the face of Ryan's happy proclamation that this city has been "bonded across racial, social and economic boundaries" by the bid.

But what's Chicago's Olympic committee supposed to do about any of that?

I don't care how patriotic the 2016 Bid Committee members are, they're business people salivating at the economic boom that could be generated by the international spotlight an Olympics could shine on Chi-town.

I can respect Rev. Meeks' desire to clang his very worthy school reform bell anywhere it'll jar the silence, but shouldn't there be some more thought to picking the battles?

I mean what's next? Is he going to block the runners from crossing the finish line at the Chicago Marathon in the name of poor students? Will he stage a hunger strike at next year's Taste of Chicago? "How can you people cook and eat food in the park when there are poor children being left behind?!"

Sure, the guy knows how to get himself on TV, but I'm seeing little else emerge from his very worthwhile crusade.

Chicago is a city on the take. If it beats out Madrid, Tokyo or Rio--which Brazilian President Lula proclaimed had been "created by God for the Olympics," according to Ryan--there'll be all kinds out looking to get in on the Olympic action.

Meeks is just the tip of the iceberg. A delegation from every conceivable special interest group--from angry Hispanics to ticked-off animal rights nuts to a coalition of miffed left-handers--will be breathing down the necks of the 2016 Olympic bid committee until the winner is declared on October 2, 2009 in Copenhagen, and then beyond, if Ryan gets his way.