VIEW a photo gallery of the events in Chicago on Nov. 3.
CHICAGO – Win or lose, Barack Obama will be greeted by a welcoming party of unprecedented proportions when he arrives at Grant Park tonight.
City officials and event staff are preparing for a crowd about 1 million strong and spent yesterday blocking off roads and securing the event site. All city police officers will be on duty and the U.S. Coast Guard will patrol the nearby Lake Michigan shore.
The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that firefighters were told to bring their gear home with them, in case of emergency.
The Secret Service has and will continue to sweep the site of the event, keeping Grant Park off limits to anyone not part of the swarming legions of media from across the country. About 30 media trucks, powered by massive generators, hummed along the park’s western border.
Onlookers strolled past throughout the afternoon, many taking advantage of the strangely warm weather to take a peek at the commotion before the crowds arrived.
Dan Williams, 27, brought a co-worker from South Africa down to Grant Park during a lunch break so he could see all the activity. He said he thinks the fanfare serves more than one purpose.
“Honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with the Olympics. I think Mayor (Richard) Daley was looking for something to prove that he could handle the capacity and the Cubs and (White) Sox kind of bailed on him,” he said. “He was really planning on using them as an example this year, so he’s using the Obama campaign as his example that we can handle the Olympics.”
Whatever Daley’s motivation, the event is good for Chicago, Williams said, because it brings people into an area that 10 years ago couldn’t handle such crowds. Then there’s the presidential race itself.
“When’s the next time you’re going to have a president running in a campaign like this from Chicago?” he asked. “We could probably go the rest of our lifetime and might not have another president or another candidate from the state of Illinois.”
Those attending the event (Williams will not), applied online for tickets as soon as they became available. According to the campaign, only 70,000 were given out.
Susan Cartwright and Barbara Kerastas said a message on Facebook alerted them that the ticket registration was open about a week ago and Cartwright applied right away.
“They just told us today (that they got in), so I’m really excited,” Cartwright said. The gates won’t open until 8:30 p.m., but the two women plan to arrive around 5 p.m. They won’t be alone – the Tribune reported yesterday that the hotels nearest the park were already filling on Monday.
Because the race won’t be won in Chicago, Cartwright said she worked with the Obama campaign in Indianapolis a few weeks ago. Kerastas went out to Iowa and is taking today off to work with the campaign in Wisconsin.
“As everyone knows, Illinois is not going to be much of a contest,” she said. “But it’s pretty interesting and pretty satisfying to be somewhere and make a difference.”
Being in Obama’s hometown gave Chicagoans time to get to know him before he was a candidate, which is why so many people here believe in his message, Cartwright said.
“There’s a real sense of pride, but I don’t think it’s just about Chicago,” she said. “It’s about the country and the world and what he can do for us.”
Normally, Cartwright’s neighborhood would be full of Republican signs, but not this time, she said.
Regina McGraw and Suzanna Strassberger also both worked for the Obama campaign: McGraw in Youngstown, Ohio, and Strassberger in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin. They both said they nervously anticipate an Obama win tomorrow.
“We just can’t believe this is finally happening,” Strassberger said. “It’s been a long time. It’s just so amazing that he’s actually going to make it.
“It’s partly his hometown, but it’s mainly that he’s Barack. You know, he’s amazing; he’s like the American dream. He came from nothing into this.”
McGraw said she may come back tonight because of the historic nature of the event. Also, it’s going to be a huge party, she said.
“It’s going to be fun because everyone will be happy, because he’s gonna win.”
Contact metro editor Theresa Bruskin at [email protected]