CHICAGO – In the final days of Chicago’s quest to host the 2016 Olympics, President Barack Obama is making himself a central player in the race to bring the Summer Games to his adopted hometown, raising the political stakes for the White House with no assurance that the Windy City will win.
Obama announced Monday that he will fly to Denmark for a speaking part in Chicago’s final presentation to the International Olympic Committee, ending what has been a concerted behind-the-scenes lobbying effort by the White House and Obama friends on behalf of their hometown. First lady Michelle Obama, born and raised on the city’s South Side, will also address IOC members, who will make their decision Friday, choosing among Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.
Obama said in mid-September that health care legislation probably would keep him too busy to make the trip, but he now plans to leave Washington on Thursday night for Copenhagen, returning Friday afternoon.
“I think the president believes health care is in better shape,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “I believe he felt strongly and personally that he should go and make the case for the United States, and that’s what he’s going to do.”
The competing cities will each be represented in Copenhagen by a head of government, but Obama will be the first U.S. president to make such a personal pitch.
Gibbs called the Chicago bid “far and away” the strongest of the contenders and said in response to potential criticism: “Surely it’s within the purview of the president to root for America.”
A recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll suggested that the city’s residents are divided. Forty-seven percent favored the bid, while 45 percent opposed it.