The City Council’s first examination of Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games proved to be a marathon of testimony as boosters and detractors swapped turns at the microphone during a five-hour hearing last Friday. While many questions went unanswered, the council did elicit a key fact: Unless Boston’s bid is somehow stopped dead in its tracks, the Olympic conversation will continue at least through summer 2017.
Testifying in front of the council, Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey said that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will receive a letter from the US Olympic Committee this coming September that will officially designate Boston as the country’s chosen host city. That letter will trigger the next step in the formal process: an updated bid proposal that will be due to the IOC by Jan. 2016. The IOC then narrows the bid cities to an international shortlist of three to four cities in summer 2016.
“When the US submits a bid, the US is always on the shortlist,” Davey told the council. A third version of the bid will be submitted in early 2017, followed by formal presentations by Boston 2024 to the IOC, which will then select the 2024 host city in August or September of 2017.
“There is time to alter the bid throughout,” said Davey, who has said that the up-to-40-percent of the bid document that was made public in January could change in the coming months and years. “It is never a firm document even after we’re rewarded the games.”
Council President Bill Linehan, who chairs the Special Committee on the 2024 Olympics, said it was important he lead the committee as South Boston’s city councilor. Calling himself “invested” in the games,” he said that “2024 is the vehicle that will change the future of Boston and change the way the Olympics are run from now on. I always hoped one day I would have the chance to go to the Olympics,” he told the chamber, which included about 75 onlookers in addition to council members. “I never imagined in my life that they would come to me.”
The hearing began as have all others public meetings presented by Boston 2024, the private, nonprofit organization behind the bid for the Olympic games: with a slideshow and presentation from executive committee members John Fish, David Manfredi, and Rich Davey rolling out the basic contours of the games as well as the budget. They again made assurances that no federal money will be used other than $1 billion for security, with a passionate appeal by Fish about the power of sport on his own life as a severe dyslexic.
The hearing also included testimony from Chris Dempsey, co-chair of No Boston Olympics, the more vocal of two groups opposed to the Olympics coming to the city. No Boston released its prepared remarks before the 10:30 a.m. hearing and hours before Dempsey’s testimony, a move that allowed Davey to knock down claims that the games require a “blank check” from the city. While previous games have overrun initial costs estimates, all recent US games have finished “cash-positive,” said Davey. A giant replica blank check carried into the council chamber stayed covered and at No Boston Olympics representatives’ feet during Dempsey’s presentation.
Councillors filtered in and out of the meeting. At-Large member Michelle Wu questioned Boston 2024’s representatives for specifics about cost overruns and transparency. Linehan at times encouraged members of Boston 2024 to note aspects of how the bid fits into the city’s overall plans for growth. He questioned Dempsey’s line of reasoning, taking issue with his statement that there is no bump in tourism during the Olympics. He encouraged the group to continue to “do their due dilligence.”
Criticism, if any, was measured. Councillor Tito Jackson of Dorchester was one of the louder skeptical voices in the chamber. “I think people want to be aware of what they’re signing up for,” he said. “It’s not ‘can we’ … the question is ‘should we?’ Jackson and other councillors also raised questions about the likely displacement of low-income residents and the matter of diversity in hiring for the games.
Councillor Mark Ciommo of Allston-Brighton asked about the proposed infrastructure projects that would likely be a boon to the University cluster that straddles his district: West Station and straightening the Mass Pike at the Allston Tolls site. Ciommo asked Davey if the West Station upgrade was needed for the games, and Davey answered that he didn’t believe so.
As the Reporter found in January, neither project, including many others initially touted by Boston 2024, has had specific funds allocated in the 2013 state transportation bond bill, which Boston 2024 said would green light the projects necessary to host the games. Since then, Davey and Boston 2024 have taken a different tack, saying that the games are “a vehicle for 2030” when Boston will be celebrating 400 years since its founding by the Puritans.
While Councillor Charles Yancey called Fish a “great cheerleader for the city of Boston,” he questioned the city’s ability to focus on the games while delivering things it needs before 2024, including a new high school in Mattapan, which Yancey has been pushing for 20 years. Davey replied that he hopes Boston 2024 can get the councillor his new high school.
Later, while questioning Dempsey of No Boston Olympics, Yancey asked that he clarify the group’s name since Dempsey had noted the group is not actually against the Olympics coming to Boston. “We could see ourselves potentially supporting a different bid or a changed bid; we’re just not there with this particular bid,” said Dempsey.
Councillor Josh Zakim of the Back Bay has proposed putting four non-binding questions about the Olympic games on the city’s ballot this November. Mayor Martin Walsh and others have acknowledged that the only referendum that would compel Boston 2024 to stop pursuing the games would be a statewide ballot question. At the hearing, Fish said, “If the general public feels there is a need for a referendum, we have no issue with that.” He added that the mayor’s city-sponsored public meetings are “gaining traction in a very thoughtful way.”
Over the weekend, the Boston Globe reported that former Governor Deval Patrick, spotted at last Thursday night’s spirited Franklin Park meeting on the Olympics, had joined the group as global ambassador. Then, on Monday, Boston 2024 detailed its current payroll roster, which includes Patrick, who the group says will “not be a full-time salaried employee but will be compensated based on the amount of his travel and efforts on behalf of Boston 2024 – the extent of which has not been determined at this time.”
“When he does travel on our behalf he will be compensated at a rate of $7,500 per day,” said Boston 2024 COO Erin Murphy in a statement. All told, Boston 2024’s 10-person executive committee, excluding Patrick, will be collecting annual salaries adding up to $1.27 million.
Consultants to Boston 2024, who will be paid monthly, include William Coyne, Jr. and former state Sen. Jack Hart, each reaping $10,000 a month for lobbying efforts. Community outreach for the Olympic effort is earning Walsh Strategies, led by former Deval Patrick Super PAC head John Walsh, $10,000 a month. State Rep. Dan Cullinane’s former campaign adviser Brendan Joyce is in for $2,500 per month and $10,000 is on the books for CK Strategies, led by Marty Walsh backers Chris Keohan and including former Walsh press secretary Kate Norton.