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Congressman Mike Quigley

Representing the 5th District of Illinois

Chicago Tribune: What if Mike Quigley is right about Wrigley as a potential terror target?

Apr 12, 2016

The following article appeared in the Chiacgo Tribune on April 12, 2016. A link to the article can be found here.

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley is nobody's fear-mongering right-winger. He's a liberal Democrat — smart, practical, prudent — whose district roams from Chicago's North Side west into DuPage County. Many of his fellow congressional Democrats don't like to talk much at all about terror threats; they think doing so is bad for the Obama administration's image. They leave the terror talk to Republicans.

But Quigley also sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and on its Emerging Threats Subcommittee. He is briefed regularly on the threats facing America from terrorists within and without. He knows things that most of us don't.

So Quigley caught our attention Monday when he offered a serious proposal a few hours before the Cubs' home opener: Should the city close major streets around Wrigley Field during baseball games, and presumably concerts and other big events, to cut the risk of a terrorist attack on the Friendly Confines?

His reasoning is sound: "Forty-two thousand people is an attractive target for people who want to hurt us," he said on WLS-AM. "A ballpark that's about 6 feet, at one point, from the street is as big a target as any we can imagine. So I think we need more resources, and I think we need to redouble our thoughts on how to keep ourselves safe."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel scoffed at Quigley's proposal, calling it "a swing and a miss."

But this isn't a moment for glib political quips. What if Quigley is correct about a Chicago stadium being too soft a target? Should public officials whose first mission is keeping people safe discuss the city's vulnerabilities now — or after some dread event leaves Chicagoans asking, "Why didn't Chicago prevent this?"

Quigley isn't the first to suggest street closures. Crane Kenney, the team's president for business operations, floated the idea at the Cubs Convention in January. Kenney said Major League Baseball requires a 100-foot security perimeter around ballparks, most of which are in less dense settings.

Granted, closing off Clark and Addison streets on game day would mightily snarl already-snarled traffic and incense many in Wrigleyville. It would anger neighbors. Voters. Motorists. Everybody.

What motivated Quigley, who represents Wrigleyville and lives there, to invite that hostility and ridicule?

He has come to believe that the threats are more palpable, more imminent, than we admit to ourselves. "Being on the intelligence committee made me more of a hawk," he tells us. "Maybe I'm over-sensitized to (threats). But (those briefings) tell me we should be a little more protective. This is a changing dynamic, we need to constantly be assessing how we meet the new risks."

He suggests a much broader conversation — not just about Wrigley — on a question confronting every American city: How do we keep people safe in tight quarters?

We won't call balls and strikes on this street-closing proposal. But we'd like to hear more from Mayor Emanuel and security officials than a cry of foul.

Games always cause a massive traffic problem around Wrigley. People who come to ballparks are prepared for it. And those who live in the neighborhoods reap the benefits — the energy, the tourist trade, the bragging rights. Yes, they also suffer the drawbacks — the crowds, the debris, the post-event antics — of living near a global icon of sport.

Soft targets are never truly impregnable. Just look to Paris and Brussels. Determined terrorists can strike at landmarks around town that we all know and won't list here.

It has often been said that authorities are adept at hardening defenses against the last attack, not preparing for the next one. The trick isn't only to imagine where terrorists might strike. History suggests that locales with international appeal and familiarity offer opportunists the most global publicity value. Terrorists, like other thugs, are creatures of convenience. They go where they can make the biggest splash. The trick is to harden the most alluring targets and lower the risks.

Critics often dismiss alarms by pointing out there is no "specific, verifiable threat," Quigley notes. "But let me tell you, there have been over 60 terror attempts on our country since 9/11. The ones that succeeded, there was no specific verifiable threat. I'm not trying to scare people, I'm just trying to lay out the facts. I think it can be very safe to go to O'Hare and Wrigley and Sox park and Soldier Field, but you have to deal with some reality. Just because a threat is not specific and verifiable doesn't mean nearly what it used to mean, in terms of you being able to sleep well at night."

This isn't intended to make Chicagoans — Americans — more paranoid than they need to be. But a dollop of paranoia, carefully applied, is called caution. Or precaution. Or prudence.

Over the weekend, we learned that the plotters of last month's Brussels attacks had originally intended to strike Paris again. That news unsettled Parisians and spurred fears that authorities still don't have a grip on shadowy Islamic State networks in Europe.

Elsewhere in the world, including America, jihadists plot, hoping for the element of surprise, knowing that authorities will weigh security against inconvenience and, sometimes, roll the dice.

Too many U.S. officials think about the last attack. Quigley focuses on the next.