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January 7, 2000
International Party Boosts Chicago Mayor's Image
J M Shenoy
Chicago Mayor Richard M Daley, a Democrat heavyweight, is a presidential potential, many believe. But right now, some people want to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Nearly a week has passed since Daley hosted what many call a one-of-its-kind, International New Millennium party, and some of the guests haven't stopped singing praises of the mayor.
The party brought together "common people" including a Ramakrishna Mission monk from India and a cab driver from Sri Lanka. And there was a prison chaplain from Ivory Coast and an attorney from Swaziland.
The gala and concomitant events cost about $ 3 million; the guests had their round trip airfare paid, and at least a week-long stay was taken care of. The city spent about $ 1.5 million and Daley raised the rest from city businesses.
Couples from more than 200 countries and territories were invited to the gala. The selection was, for most part, made by consular officials of the respective countries. Bangladesh reportedly went about the selection the best way. The Bangladesh Association of Chicago sponsored an essay contest which was won by a 32-year-old Dhaka schoolteacher, Tahmina Akhter, who wrote a 3000-word piece about Abraham Lincoln.
When the news of her selection went around, The Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau treated her and her husband to a train ride from Chicago to Springfield, and took them to Lincoln's home and Lincoln's tomb.
Ibrahim Afeef, a scuba driver in the Maldives, said he had seldom felt so welcome. Though he has many friends from abroad, Afeef says it was a wonderful learning experience to meet with people from around the world and welcome the new century.
Like other invitees, he too visited some of Chicago's fabled museum, spent a few hours around the historic lake-front area and rode to the top of Sears Tower.
Mayor Daley wants to build up Chicago's image worldwide, and the millennium gala was certainly a step in that direction. The city, facing an acute shortage of teachers in its public schools, has just launched an effort to garner dozens of schoolteachers from the English-speaking countries.
"It's more than I expected," said Afeef, 42. "I never thought the people would be so welcoming. Everywhere we've gone the people have been nice."
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