CHICAGO - President Barack Obama's decision to personally lobby for Chicago to host the 2016 Summer Olympics was greeted with hope and skepticism on Monday, with some in his hometown wondering if he didn't have better things to do.
The trip to Copenhagen, announced on Monday, will make Obama the first sitting U.S. president to attend an Olympic session. Some Chicagoans were as divided about him as they were about whether winning the games would be a lucrative jobs program or a huge construction headache.
"I think we have more pressing problems to deal with than the Olympics in 2016," said Brad Stotlar, 37, an unemployed construction worker in a Chicago suburb.
"The last time I looked we had double-digit unemployment in Illinois and I'd rather Obama dealt with that than jetting off to Copenhagen," he said.
Others wondered what took Obama so long to decide to go.
Until Monday, first lady Michelle Obama had been officially slated to travel, with Obama's aides keeping everyone guessing on his plans. Leaders from Spain, Japan and Brazil -- touting bid rivals Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro -- will be there for the International Olympic Committee (IOC)'s choice on Friday.
"He's been supporting the Olympics; why not do what other world leaders have done and try to bring it home?" said Eliot Moskow, 39, a payroll manager out walking his dog near Lake Michigan.
"The Olympics will bring some worldly attention to Chicago, and I'm hoping that in the end it boosts Chicago's economy a little bit," Moskow said.
Obama, a Democrat, took office in January and has seen his early high public approval ratings dip as he grapples with the recession and a domestic agenda that includes trying to push through reform of the healthcare system, as well as wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
NICE, BUT WHO PAYS?
Pleased and likely relieved that Obama decided to go, Chicago bid leaders Mayor Richard Daley and insurance executive Patrick Ryan issued statements from Copenhagen.
"There is no greater expression of the support our bid enjoys, from the highest levels of government and throughout our country, than to have President Obama join us in Copenhagen for the pinnacle moment in our bid," Ryan said.
Atlanta was the last U.S. city to host the Summer Games, in 1996. The contest between the four rival cities this year has been seen as very close, with no clear front-runner.
There was concern among Chicagoans about the cost of building sports venues and the athletes' village if the city does win the bid, and worries that taxpayers would be on the hook if the games failed.
"It's nice that Obama is going to help back our bid, but what I'd like to know is how we're going to pay for all this," said Doris Pullman, a 68-year-old retiree out shopping in a suburban mall. "I'm worried we'll be stuck with a huge bill for this a few years down the line."
One woman waiting for a ride downtown who refused to give her name called Obama's trip "a total waste of time, but I don't like anything he's done."
"We've got to have the Olympics," said construction worker Sam Berkland, 38, buying a taco at a curbside stand. "We need the work."
Berkland gave more weight to the fact that Chicago's other best-known celebrity, TV talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, was also going to Copenhagen to lobby for the games.
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