Dorchester’s first public meeting to vet Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics Games revealed the bid’s polarizing effect on supporters and opponents. About 125 people gathered at the Cleveland Community Center in Fields Corner on Tuesday to hear the city and Boston 2024, the private nonprofit behind Boston’s proposal, deliver their pitch to residents. A show of hands in the audience revealed about half of those gathered were Dorchester residents.
The meeting brought to light some new information about the evolving plans for the Games. Boston 2024 officials said they release an updated version of their bid —known as “Bid 2.0”— by the end of June. The public will then have the chance to “kick the tires” on that proposal before the US Olympic Committee officially submits its endorsement of Boston 2024 to the International Olympic Committee on Sept. 15.
Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey told the Reporter that the updated bid had been informed by community meetings that “help us think about venues and think about particular community concerns that we want to find a way to address.”
Before the meeting, Davey sought to swat down swirling speculation that the USOC might seek to advance a bid from another US cities should Boston’s bid for the Games falter. The notion of a rival bid from within the US was further fueled on Monday at a Boston City Council hearing, in which a USOC committee member— Angela Ruggerio— said that Boston was not “guaranteed” to be the committee’s final pick.
Davey, in an interview with the Reporter on Tuesday, reiterated that the Boston bid was not set in stone.
“We could decide not to bid on this. We’ve said that 100 times. If in the next few months, if we’re unable to come up with a plan that we believe works, then it’s not going to happen,” Davey told the Reporter.
While previous meetings have sometimes grown contentious, Tuesday night’s revealed a widening gulf between supporters of the bid and opponents, with each side interrupting speakers to heckle, occasionally jeer from the crowd, and to level personal insults.
Some opposed to the Games commented that the room had been packed with 2024 supporters aligned with Mayor Martin Walsh. Just before the meeting began, a group of 50 people, many wearing union-labeled clothing, entered the auditorium carrying “I Believe in Boston 2024” signs.
“The fix is in for this meeting,” said Michael Cutler of Fields Corner as he left the meeting. Cutler, who opposes the Games, said: “This is the biggest snow job I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Tensions flared right from the beginning of the meeting, which bypassed a lengthy presentation that has been typical at other meetings across the city and opened with a question and answer session.
The first question— from Dorchester resident and Olympics opponent Robert Hanson— was addressed by Rich Davey. But when Hanson sought to ask a follow-up question, moderator John FitzGerald intervened, cautioning Hanson that his time was up and that others were next in line to speak. But Hanson persisted, prompting jeers and shouts from the audience to respect the rules laid out by FitzGerald.
Jerome Frazier, one of the attendees carrying a pro-Olympics sign, was among those urging Hanson to stand down.
The situation devolved quickly as supporters and opponents began shouting at each other, before FitzGerald — director of operations and special projects for the city’s new Office of Olympic Planning —regained control of the room.
Frazier, an Olympics supporter and Dorchester Center resident, came to Tuesday night’s meeting because “we’re not talking enough about the young people. We’re getting sidetracked.”
“It’s across the board. If you don’t agree with [opponents], you’re not only an outcast with them, you’re wrong. No matter what,” Frazier told the Reporter.
Pat Rackowski of Fields Corner, who is married to Cutler, took to the mic during the two-and-a-half-hour Q&A session to voice her opposition to the bid. Afterward, she told the Reporter she did not think those in the crowd were representative of the neighborhood. “No one in Dorchester would wear a suit to a community meeting at night like this, other than the elected officials,” said Rackowski as she left the meeting. “They’re talking about investing in the system and building new train stations. What do we need in Dorchester? Lower fares,” she added.
But Davey says that Boston 2024 officials are listening at these sometimes-tense meetings— and gleaning some helpful feedback.
“One in particular, frankly, that may have been the most difficult for us was the Franklin Park Coalition meeting, but we got some good feedback from folks who were open-minded about the games and had some other suggestions on how the park could be improved,” Davey told the Reporter. He was referring to a March meeting with members of the Franklin Park Coalition in which many members of the coalition said initial plans for the park were out-of-line their vision for the space. At the next month’s Roxbury public meeting, Boston 2024 representatives said they would keep equestrian events in passive areas of the Devine Golf Course and find a group to maintain an Olympic-sized swimming pool to keep it open to the community after the Games.
Davey said other concerns raised by community members included displacement and affordable housing.
Ed Laurentis of St. Brendan’s Parish said that the back-and-forth are a trademark of the local community process.
“That’s what makes us Boston,” he told the Reporter. “I think that Boston can show that this type of engagement will ultimately make this the best bid.”
Laurentis, an Olympics supporter, said he attended the February meeting in South Boston.
“We have definitely come a long way since then. People need to see beyond the other countries that have done the Olympics. Boston doesn’t do that. We do it differently.”
Sean Wheeler, of Ashmont, calls himself a skeptical supporter of the bid.
“To see how much this has polarized everyone, I’m not sure how we’re going to be able to come together to solve these problems even if we drop the bid,” Wheeler said, referring to the issues of access and equality dredged up by the Olympic conversation. “This may help attract a large influx of cash precisely when Boston is trying to think about how to position itself is for the future.”
Officials from the city and Boston 2024 have said public meetings will continue over the next two years as Boston hones its bid for the Games.
“Between the venue-specific questions, the good news is that Venue 2.0 isn’t the end either,” Davey said. “There is probably going to be a 3.0 and a 7.0 and a 20.0 when all of this is said and done. But the community meetings like the one here tonight will let us hear community concerns about venues and other specifics that we’re looking to address.”
Another community meeting on the topic is planned for Mattapan’s Mildred Avenue Community Center on July 28 at 6:30 p.m. The IOC selects the 2024 Summer Games’ host city in late summer of 2017.