Olympics bid stirs contrasting views at Boston forum

Holding the Summer Olympic Games in Boston a little less than a decade from now would either sacrifice the city's goals to a three-week party for the world elite or give the Bay State a chance a lead the games toward a more frugal and less autocratic future, according to opponents and proponents of the nascent bid.

The two sides met Monday night at a forum hosted by the Boston Globe at the Institute for Contemporary Art, located in a neighborhood that has been transformed in recent years by development catering to science and technology companies.

Juliette Kayyem, a national security expert and former Democratic candidate for governor, said Boston could lead a "new Olympic movement" that values walkable games without the lavish expenditures seen in other recent host cities.

Kayyem, a member of the Boston 2024 executive board, said if the International Olympic Committee wasn't serious about changing its criteria to favor more small-scale games put on by Democratic governments, Boston wouldn't win. She said hosting the games would boost tourism and leave the area with lasting infrastructure investments.

Chris Dempsey, a former assistant secretary of transportation in the Patrick administration, said an Olympic bid would drain funding and attention from more meat-and-potatoes pursuits and leave taxpayers holding the bill for cost overruns.

"At what year does the Olympics become an excuse to not do more projects?" asked Dempsey, a business consultant who is co-chairman of No Boston Olympics.

Dempsey also critiqued the process, noting Boston 2024 has not hosted any public hearings yet and has kept secret its bid submitted to the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Kayyem said the bid is still in its early stages and there will be public discourse about how to proceed if the USOC selects Boston as the country's submission for the 2024 games. Kayyem defended the secrecy of the bid itself by noting that Boston is in competition with San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

"I've actually not read the bid," Kayyem said during the debate, prompting incredulity from Dempsey, who asked, "So, who has read the bid?"

After the debate, Kayyem told reporters she had read the executive summary and worked on one of the bid's binders related to innovation and technology, clarifying that she had not read the whole bid, which she described as several binders worth of material.

Kayyem's post-debate meeting with reporters was interrupted by a critic of the idea, who asked her why she laughed at questions during the debate. The man shoved reporters as he attempted to ask more questions later on as Kayyem was leaving the scrum, and subsequently declined to identify himself to the News Service, saying, "Kick rocks" when asked for the spelling of his name.

Kayyem said that "ideally" the bid would be a public document, but Boston had to consider the competition. She also said, "People are not being displaced," and said Mayor Martin Walsh had approved of allowing the bid to go forward.

An official associated with the process said the bid would be released at some point after the USOC determined whether Boston would be selected as the country's bid, and indicated the timeline for that would be up to the USOC.

Dempsey argued that if Boston is selected by the USOC, decision-making would become "dominated" by national and world players, crowding out local concerns.

"All of a sudden, you start to get a lot of pressure," Dempsey said.

He said Boston should think big about transportation and housing rather than devoting its energy to the Olympics. Asked by Kayyem to account for the political leaders who have lined up in favor of moving the bid forward, Dempsey said, "It's very hard for our elected leaders to say no to a party."

Dan Walsh, an Olympic rower who now coaches at his alma mater Northeastern University, told reporters he liked the idea of Boston hosting the Summer Games because the plan appears to value the athletes and would offer more venues that are closer together than other proposed sites.

Dempsey offered a different beneficiary, predicting the warehouses around Newmarket in Boston would be demolished to make room for a temporary stadium that itself would be demolished.

"That's great if you're in the bulldozer business, but is that really what we want?" Dempsey asked.

Dempsey said he thought the "Dream Team" in Barcelona's 1992 Olympics was "the coolest thing." Kayyem said the 2012 London Olympics was the best recent games and said the 2008 Beijing Olympics was the worst.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter