Chicago's world-class city complex

At NATO headquarters, Rule, Rasmussen and Quinn struggle to catch a buzz off of Berghoff root beer, while Emanuel's smiling visage lurks in the background.

At NATO headquarters, Rule, Rasmussen and Quinn struggle to catch a buzz off of Berghoff root beer, while Emanuel's smiling visage lurks in the background.

If you haven't already heard from the glut of local broadcast journalists vacationing on assignment in Brussels, Belgium, this has been "Chicago week" at NATO headquarters. Heads of Chicago cultural institutions, sports teams, universities and unions jetted over to schmooze a few ambassadors in advance of May's NATO summit at McCormick Place, the event Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his summit host committee have positioned as a "global crossroads" for the city.

Yesterday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and limelight-shy Chicago first lady Amy Rule arrived on the scene in Brussels to offer a taste of what NATO ambassadors can anticipate come May: Manny's corned beef, Lou Malnati's pizza, Garrett popcorn, Ann Sather's cinnamon buns and Eli's Cheesecake. (Did the Belgians, in a volley of the cliché, feed the Chicago delegates waffles?)

"We brought you some of our greatest hits," Rule announced, in all seriousness. Then the first lady, Quinn and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen sipped Berghoff root beer in front of a wall-size timeline of Chicago's 175-year history that condescends to onlookers of all ages: Pssst…did you know Michael Jordan once played for the Chicago Bulls?

"It's a great opportunity to come here, to talk about the city, to showcase the city's attractions," said NATO summit host committee chief Lori Healey, whom you might remember from such roles as former president of the Chicago 2016 committee. Healey did such a bang-up job landing us the Olympics, it's a wonder Emanuel entrusted her to court NATO.

The junk-food fest at NATO is a small part of the mayor's master plan. "If you want to be a global city, you've got to act like a global city and do what global cities do," Healey said at a summit press conference in late January. Quoth Emanuel at the same event: "We're a world-class city with world-class potential." 

And there it was—Emanuel's favorite buzz phrase: world-class city. Rahmbo's statement—and restatement—of Chicago's interplanetary greatness has become his trademark rhetorical reflex. (Not "fucknutsville" and other inventively foul four-letter derivatives, as some guessed the notoriously hot-headed pol would favor.)

When he announced his candidacy in November 2010, Emanuel said, "The choices we make in the next few years…will determine whether we remain a world-class city—or fall back." He echoed that in his plea to voters on the eve of Election Day last February: "Our next mayor faces tough decisions that will ultimately determine if Chicago remains a world-class city. I'm ready to make those tough decisions, but I need your help to get there." And on the day of his inauguration last May, Emanuel spoke with the Sun-Times about his duty to ensure "this city continues to be a world-class city."

The mayor's underlings, cannily picking up his mannerisms, have begun parroting the expression, too. Over and over—about the city's economy, its recreation, its transit system, its airports. (Peruse the epic list of quotes compiled below.)

I agree with some of the administration's marketing-speak about this city's ascendancy. A quick look at some of the hard-luck stories coming out of other Midwestern towns suggests we're not doing too poorly for ourselves. While the mayor's pursuit is worthwhile, publicly self-identifying as world class just reeks of a distinct lack of class. The same goes with cool: If you say you are, you probably aren't.

In Emanuel's striving, there is an undercurrent of the dreaded "second city" complex, shades of hey-guys-wait-up! desperation. ("Guys" in this case being New York City and London.) Is desperation what Aon Corp. smelled before it announced plans earlier this month to move its global headquarters from Chicago to London? Hearing the mayor harp on Chicago's world classiness gives me the same pang of agita I get trying to digest the Tourism Bureau's new "Chicago: Second to None" marketing materials, which made an appearance alongside the hunks of Eli's cheesecake at NATO headquarters this week. As so often happens, an inferiority complex has flipped and become a superiority complex.

Instead of trying to sell the world on Chicago's world-class status at every turn, Emanuel and his administration could more often let the city quietly embody global greatness. That would be nice. Classy even.

Emanuel's world-class city complex, quote by quote

Alta and their partner Public Bike System Company are the global leaders in bike sharing programs, and will set up and operate the new system that will be a key part of achieving our goal of making Chicago a world-class city for bicycling.—Mayor Emanuel; March 14, 2012

A thriving minority- and women-owned business community is essential in a world-class city.—Mayor's Press Office;  March 14, 2012

On Sunday, our great city celebrated its 175th year since being incorporated in the spring of 1837. Over this time, the dreams of so many different Chicagoans have been forged together in a common purpose: to create a world-class city for all to enjoy, anchored in her immigrant history, and adorned with rich, diverse neighborhoods.—Mayor Emanuel; March 5, 2012

ThyssenKrupp’s decision to locate their North American headquarters in Chicago is a testament to the world-class business environment the city offers.—Mayor Emanuel; February 2, 2012

Having world-class infrastructure is a key focus for any world-class city.—Mayor Emanuel; January 17, 2012

We have a responsibility to provide every child in every community with access to a world-class education.—Mayor Emanuel; December 6, 2011

Every child in Chicago deserves to have access to a world-class education, to compete and win in tomorrow’s economy, but too many schools in our communities are not giving students the tools they need.—Mayor Emanuel; November 29, 2011

Mayor Emanuel encouraged investors to consider all that Chicago has to offer and discussed the changes the administration is making in four key areas to ensure Chicago is a world-class city with a secure future.—Mayor's Press Office; October 20, 2011

Chicago is a world-class city that attracts global businesses, innovators from across the country, and families looking to build a life here—we must invest in our city to ensure we provide a solid foundation for our future.—Mayor Emanuel; October 14, 2011

One of my goals is whether it’s this event or whether the upcoming G-8/NATO event, when the whole world will be watching like on Sunday, is to make people understand that Chicago is a world-class city with world-class events, and the top of that list is the Chicago marathon.—Mayor Emanuel; October 7, 2011

Chicago is an international, world-class city, and my administration is committed to investing in what’s right, to make sure every piece of it shines.—Mayor Emanuel; September 20, 2011

Chicago’s unmatched transportation links are central to our status as a world-class city.—Mayor Emanuel; September 1, 2011

Ensuring every child has a world-class education is a top priority for my administration, and making sure we have the best possible school leaders is key to our children’s success.—Mayor Emanuel; August 15, 2011

Mayor Rahm Emanuel today announced ThinkChicago, a special program that will bring top students from regional universities to Chicago for meetings, lectures and interactive sessions designed to foster a better understanding of Chicago’s world-class business climate.—Mayor's Press Office; August 3, 2011

Chicago’s particular reputation as a green city continues to grow, enhancing
our brand as a world-class city.—Mayor Emanuel in the Chicago Nature & Wildlife Plan Update: A Strategy To Enhance Urban Ecosystems 2011–2016; August 2011

Mayor Emanuel thanked the committee for its commitment to help make Chicago a world-class city for people with disabilities.—Mayor's Press Office; July 29, 2011

The new concessions program in Terminal 5 will reflect our City’s world-class shopping and dining experiences, featuring local, national and international brands.—Mayor Emanuel; July 28, 2011

I’m committed to ensuring that Chicago continues as a world-class hub of innovation, technology and business.—Mayor Emanuel; July 14, 2011

The City Colleges has set a goal of becoming a world-class community college system which ensures the success of every student.—Mayor Emanuel; June 9, 2011

A generation later, what was once a nagging urban eyesore is now a world-class urban park [Millennium Park].—Mayor Emanuel in his inaugural address; May 16, 2011

The leaders in my administration all agree: It's our responsibility to help keep Chicago safe and clean. Working together, we can make sure that years from now our children and grandchildren will call this world-class city home.—Mayor Emanuel; May 14, 2011

Even in tough fiscal times, a world-class city like ours cannot sacrifice our world-class transit system.—Mayor Emanuel; April 21, 2011

Together, we will make government more effective, deliver better services more affordably, and enhance the city's programs, economic growth and sustainability to ensure that Chicago remains a world-class city.—Mayor Emanuel; Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2010 fiscal year

Emanuel's associates

Chicago is a world-class city and under Mayor Emanuel's leadership, the Bloomingdale Trail will be a world-class addition to the city's park system.—Beth White, director of the Trust for Public Land's Chicago office; March 12, 2012

"[G-8 deciding to meet at Camp David and not Chicago] is a disappointment for us and frankly for the people who would have visited a world-class city to do their business."—40th Ward Ald. Patrick O'Connor; March 6, 2012

"The G-8 Summit presents an opportunity for our mayor and business leaders to demonstrate that Chicago is a world-class city that, foremost, invests in its social infrastructures and the upward mobility of its residents, especially poor people."—Rev. Calvin S. Morris, executive director of the Community Renewal Society; February 24, 2012

Our expectation is a peaceful event, our expectation is a minimum of disruption to the downtown area, and our expectation is to bring Chicago through this with the sense that we're a world-class city hosting a world-class event.—Police Supt. Garry McCarthy on the G-8 and NATO summits coming to Chicago; February 16, 2012

We look forward to hosting this important delegation [the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates] and showing them what we all know—Chicago is a world-class global city."—Michael Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management and vice chairman of World Business Chicago; November, 17, 2011.

Chicago is a world-class city that deserves a world-class river."—U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin; November 6, 2011

Mayor Emanuel has set a clear goal of making Chicago a world-class city for bicycling, and bike sharing is a critical part of achieving that goal.—CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein; September 21, 2011

Using gaming revenue for infrastructure could free up additional funds to address other needs that are critical to maintaining a world-class city for Chicagoans.—a joint statement from Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez and Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council; August 17, 2011

This compelling new sculpture [The Runners] helps promote Chicago as a world-class city and is a welcome addition to O’Hare’s remarkable artwork collection.—Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino; August 2011

We believe this area is a world-class location known for its close partnerships with the business community.—Greg Brown, chairman and CEO of Motorola Solutions on his company announcing the addition of 400 jobs to Chicago by the end of 2012; June 14, 2011

This is an opportunity not only to protect public health, but to make a clean and healthy Chicago River the centerpiece of a revitalized waterfront and world-class city.—Gary Belan, director of American Rivers' clean water program; May 17, 2011

You have to be a global city, a world-class city, or you're nothing, really.—Sheila O'Grady, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association; February 24, 2011

The Latino Film Festival is one of Chicago’s biggest and most diverse international cultural events. The Festival is a jewel for the City of Chicago, and has contributed greatly to its positioning as a world-class city.—Chicago Film Office

Chicago's status as a world-class city makes it important that Chicago‟s airports are able to accommodate access and provide a variety of transportation services to its citizens, visitors and businesses.—Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino

The Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture is dedicated to promoting Chicago as a premier cultural destination to domestic and international leisure travelers, providing innovative visitor programs and services, and presenting free world-class public programs.—COTC promotional materials

Following the evening [World Theatre Day] event, please attend a reception celebrating all that Chicago theatre artists contribute to making our home a world-class city.—Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)