CHICAGO (MCT) — A delegation from Chicago will visit NATO headquarters in Brussels this week to boost the city’s profile ahead of the international defense organization’s summit in May.
The delegation — headed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn — will have the opportunity to wine, dine and chat up NATO officials and foreign press without having to worry about the potential problems that could mar the May 20-21 summit, like unruly protests in the streets, traffic tie-ups and security threats.
And as the first U.S. city other than Washington to host a NATO summit, Chicago is playing this advance trip to the hilt. The opening of a Chicago exhibit at NATO headquarters Thursday will include a mini version of the annual food festival Taste of Chicago, with such guilty pleasures as Garrett’s popcorn, Manny’s corned beef, Lou Malnati’s pizza and Eli’s cheesecake. A military band will play Chicago tunes.
At a NATO event that evening, the cuisine gets swankier, with Girl & the Goat chef Stephanie Izard preparing dinner for top dignitaries at Truman Hall, a Flemish country estate that is home to Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO. A concert by the Lonnie Brooks Blues Band will put a final Chicago touch on a packed day.
Though NATO summit host cities generally like to introduce their countries to NATO personnel, “the scale of this is probably unprecedented in terms of NATO headquarters history,” said Lt. Col. Tara Leweling, senior policy adviser to Daalder.
“I’m not saying it’s over the top,” she said, “but there’s a lot of energy being put into it.”
For all its aspirations as a global center, the city remains lesser known than top-tier cities such as Paris, London and New York.
“All the delegations are excited about going to Chicago, but they don’t know a lot about the city,” Leweling said. The event is aimed at informing them “about its architecture, music, food and culture,” she said.
Quinn and the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau will also make efforts to attract business and tourism to the city in the longer term.
The governor will speak at an American Chamber of Commerce conference on trans-Atlantic trade, meet with the European Union’s trade commissioner and the U.S. ambassador to the EU, and meet with potential and existing Belgian investors in a roundtable discussion.
The aim is “to continue recruiting new businesses to Illinois and expanding access to global markets for our companies,” Quinn said in a statement. Belgium is the state’s ninth-largest trading partner.
The convention bureau and Chicago-based United Airlines will be selling the city as a tourist destination to tour operators during a luncheon Wednesday. And on its way to Belgium the bureau will promote the city in London, with help from celebrity chef Izard. The stops are part of the city’s push to revive slumping international visit levels.
Some observers say it makes sense for the city to make its case before the summit.
“It’s better to get the story out in Brussels without the protesters,” said Allen Sanderson, an economist at the University of Chicago. “Getting out of Dodge is probably not a bad way to do this.”
And these sorts of trips can help efforts to boost the city’s global standing, said Dick Simpson, head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“I don’t know that it gets an immediate response, but to build up the general notion is probably a good idea,” said Simpson, a former alderman and co-author of “Twenty-First Century Chicago.”
Lori Healey, executive director of the city’s summit host committee, declined to disclose the cost of the trip but said “there is no cost to taxpayers.” The trip will be funded by private donations to the host committee and World Business Chicago, the city’s nonprofit economic development agency, she said.
The NATO summit originally was to be paired with a Group of Eight summit, and Emanuel played a key role in landing both and promoting them as a way to attract business and tourism. President Barack Obama moved the G-8 to Camp David, Md., citing a desire for a more intimate setting.
Given the political capital Emanuel has invested, it is somewhat surprising that he is not traveling to Brussels. A spokeswoman cited prior commitments.
His wife, who has preferred to stay out of the limelight, will take on her first major ambassadorial role.
Asked whether Emanuel’s absence could offend top NATO officials, Healey said it would pose no problem.
“A lot of decision drivers about travel schedules ... happen to be spouses,” she said. “So everyone is thrilled.”