Can Oprah Winfrey seal Chicago's Olympic deal?

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BY LISA DONOVAN Staff Reporter

Strolling into an Olympic gala at the Art Institute of Chicago on Monday night, Oprah Winfrey said she was there to do what she does best: chat.

The talk-show queen was about to talk up Chicago to the 13-member Olympic evaluation team, which is in town to assess Chicago's pitch for the 2016 Summer Games.

"What I'm hoping is we can have a real, honest conversation about how great this city is and the possibilities it will bring not only for the citizens of Chicago, but the citizens of the world," Winfrey said.

A red carpet was rolled out for Winfrey and other luminaries at a Columbus Drive entrance. Winfrey was greeted by a crush of reporters and more than 30 protesters chanting: "Hey Oprah can't you see, we don't want the IOC," referring to the International Olympic Committee's evaluation team.

"It's huge, it's enormous, I don't know what they're complaining about," said Winfrey before heading into a night of lobbying, entertainment by Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor and a dinner by award-winning Spiaggia chef Tony Mantuano.

"It's only going to be good for everybody," she said of the possibility of bringing the Games to Chicago.

Along with about 100 other guests, Chicagoan Valerie Jarrett, President Obama's senior adviser, attended the gala hours after she met with the evaluation team.

She pledged to create a White House office to help coordinate security -- typically overseen by the federal government of any country hosting the Games, if Chicago wins the 2016 bid.

Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro also are finalists.

"President Obama's philosophy is one of embracing the Olympic movement," she told reporters.

Monday was day three of the Olympic delegation's closed-door sessions with the Chicago 2016 bid team, Mayor Daley and others. They toured the city on Sunday.

The evaluation team is assessing everything from proposed sporting venues to the city's transportation system.

The delegation will then report back to the full 107-member IOC, which will announce the selection in October.

The White House also promised to pave they way for global competitors and fans to enter this country for the Olympic games.

In a recorded message to the evaluation team, native Chicagoan and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "If the city is selected, all the members of the Olympic family will gain entry into the country in a streamlined and expedited process."

The 2016 bid team also laid out its $4.8 billion financial plan for the Games.

The cost includes a $976 million price tag for an Olympic Village south of McCormick Place, which officials say developers will finance.

Officials anticipate $3.8 billion in revenues.

Chicago organizers want to fund the games with private donations, but they have created a financial safety net that includes a $450 million "rainy day fund"; as much as $375 million in IOC cancellation insurance; an additional $500 million in insurance coverage, and a "last-resort" $500 million guarantee of taxpayer money from the city of Chicago.

The state also has set up a guarantee of $250 million.

Asked about cost overruns for other Olympic games, Lori Healey, president of Chicago 2016 told reporters: "We are convinced we will deliver the games on budget, and that we have proven safeguards in our financial plan to protect the IOC as well as the taxpayers of the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois."

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Chicago would be a poor choice to host any Olympic event. The city could not hope to guarantee the safety of visitors or participants. Why on earth Oprah Winfrey would speak out on this is beyond me anyway. She is the most unathletic personality on TV today.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mark Bieganski published on April 7, 2009 10:12 AM.

O-lympic push: Winfrey guest at dinner welcoming International Olympic Committee in Chicago was the previous entry in this blog.

Chicago mayor: Oprah Winfrey stole the show wowing Olympic committee is the next entry in this blog.

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