The full complement of downtown security concerns remains however. Chicago will keep the NATO meeting, meaning diplomats and protesters still will descend on Chicago by the thousands for a gathering of world leaders May 20-21.
The abrupt change of venue came after Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city's host committee spent months pumping up the events as an international showcase for the city, important because both the G-8 and NATO gatherings hadn't been held in the same city in three decades.
After the announcement Monday, the mayor's office insisted that nothing had really changed. And no one was talking publicly about the miscalculation that Chicago would make a great place for G-8 leaders to hash out a broad range of economic, political and security issues.
A brief White House announcement suggested that, in hindsight, Chicago would have been too big and distracting a scene to have fruitful talks. "To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G-8 partners, the president is inviting his fellow G-8 leaders to Camp David," read a statement issued by press secretary Jay Carney.
The spotlight that shines on Chicago this spring might not be quite so bright, with the potential to lessen the throngs of protesters who had circled that weekend as a prime chance to air grievances about economic injustices they say are imposed by the developed world.
Past G-8 meetings have attracted large and violent demonstrations, and the shift to the remote presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains could reduce the chances for an election year embarrassment on the streets of Obama's hometown.
That said, the early word from protest leaders is that they will not be deterred by the change and still plan to descend on the remaining NATO gathering en masse. That will require little letup in the same tight safety precautions for what was supposed to have been back-to-back meetings starting May 19.
In the past, G-8 summits have mostly been held in remote locales, and National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said there was a desire to keep it that way. "This was really about the president looking for a more informal setting with these close partners," she said. "It's not about Chicago being able to handle logistics."
Aides to Obama said he started contemplating the change in venue a couple of weeks ago.
Emanuel, who served as Obama's chief of staff before returning to Chicago in 2010, lobbied his old boss to set both high-profile meetings in the city. For months, Emanuel has been touting how the sessions would pay off richly for the city in both international stature and economic investment.
Time and again, the mayor stressed how rare it was for any city to play host to both summits, even referring to the coup as his Olympics — a not-so-subtle dig at the failed attempt by former Mayor Richard Daley to land the 2016 world games for Chicago.
Emanuel chose to stay out of the public eye Monday after the midday White House announcement. His spokeswoman, however, said nothing had really changed, and the NATO meeting alone would reap huge rewards for the city.
That sentiment was echoed by leaders of the summits' host committee, many of whom were handpicked by Emanuel. "It ultimately will have minimal impact," predicted Lori Healey, the committee's executive director.
The two summits feature an overlapping cast of players, though they have different missions. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, formed in the early days of the Cold War, is a military alliance of 28 Western nations that among other things is involved in the occupation of Afghanistan. The Group of Eight, consisting of the U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, is focused on economic policy.
After their weekend retreat in the mountains, most or all of the G-8 leaders are expected to head to Chicago for the NATO meeting, one reason that security will have to be just as tight here regardless of the number of summits to be held.
Even so, Ald.Patrick O'Connor, 40th, the mayor's City Council floor leader, said city officials told him the call to move G-8 out of Chicago was made for security reasons. But O'Connor wasn't sure if that was spurred by a specific threat or the desire to avoid the hassle of protests.
"It's a disappointment for us and frankly for the people who would have visited a world-class city to do their business," he said.
Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, said the loss of G-8 won't ease security headaches for the city. "NATO is still going to attract demonstrators," Moore said. "We are still going to need a lot of security for these world leaders, including the president. All it's doing is lessening a little bit of the international luster."
Though the White House announcement made no mention of any political calculus in removing G-8 from Chicago, speculation about that prospect was inescapable at a time when Obama is preparing to defend his presidency at the ballot box.
"I think he's heard from some of his friends (asking), 'What's this going to do to our town?'" said David Yepsen, a veteran of presidential politics who heads the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. "And the calculation was that people were coming to town to do violence, disrupt things, and he doesn't want to get that stain on him."
Memories of violent clashes in Chicago between police and protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention still linger, and security experts said moving G-8 out of the city reduces chances for a repeat.
"The G-8 has always been the more antagonistic event with respect to protesters," said Jeffrey Cramer, head of the Chicago office of Kroll Inc., a security consulting firm. "You've lessened the chance for that kind of craziness by moving it to the most secure compound in the world."
Harvey Grossman, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, agreed that interest in demonstrations may be dampened slightly by shortening what would have been a full weekend of Chicago summitry that commenced with economic talks.
"Some of the primary concerns people had have been taken off the plate," Grossman said. "People wanted to reach out to that audience. They wanted to show their level of dissent to the economic policies."
Protest leaders insisted they had only peaceful intent. At the same time, however, they also said they had no intention of backing away from Chicago because the summits had been scaled down.
In short, many said they saw NATO and G-8 as interchangeable tools of oppression in an era when the Occupy Wall Street movement has energized dissent over policies that favor the wealthy while imposing austerity on the poor.
"They moved (G-8) to avoid us," argued Joe Iosbaker, a protest organizer. "The G-8 leaders were going to be the targets of the largest protest in the United States against their agenda. They decided, let's move them someplace where it will be much harder for crowds to assemble."
To Iosbaker, the move to Camp David was nothing short of a victory for protesters. "We're still marching," Iosbaker said of plans to demonstrate in Chicago.
Tribune reporters Hal Dardick, Rick Pearson and Jeff Coen contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun