Former Governor Deval Patrick seems to have caught on that the optics of his $7500 per day pay (plus expenses) for serving as a globe-trotting ambassador for Boston2024’s summer Olympics proposal might not play in some future bid for the Presidency or even a U.S. Supreme Court seat. Nor was it helpful when Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, an enthusiastic Olympics booster, raised his eyebrows at the financial arrangement.
I was less concerned than others about the amount of the pay. This is, after all, a private organization raising and spending (at least for now) private dollars, free to decide what to pay and to whom. But, when the elite organizing committee agreed to go public with the information only when pressured by the Mayor, it reminded us all of the secrecy surrounding so many aspects of Boston2024’s bid proposal, despite its repeated promises of transparency.
Continuing skepticism about bringing the Olympics to Boston and doubts about the organizing committee’s pledge that no taxpayer dollars (save for security and already committed transportation projects) are reflected in the most recent poll done by WBUR with MassINC. Now, just 36 percent favor the idea, down from 44 percent in February and dramatically down from January, when more than half of those polled thought bringing the games to Boston was a dandy concept.
Nearly twice as many of the WBUR poll respondents thought favorably of the opposition group NoBostonOlympics as they did of the Boston2024 organizing committee. And, indeed, despite its high-priced, pedigreed and politically connected consultants, Boston2024 seems to have a tin ear when it comes to what people at the grass roots are thinking.
The MassINC Polling Group spokesman noted that the results came in the wake of mass transit (storm-related) meltdown. But the cooling of Olympic ardor may also be explained because two thirds of voters, after learning some basic truths, now believe that, despite Boston2024’s protestations, big bucks public funding is likely to be needed. That has been the history of the games, with rare exceptions.
Katherine Q. Seelye of the New York Times writes that “this is among the most anemic levels of support ever registered by a potential host city at this stage in the process.” The level of public support in Hamburg, 64 percent as of March 10, was decisive to that city’s beating out Berlin (55 percent) to be Germany’s bid for the 2024 games, even though Hamburg will have to spend more on infrastructure than Berlin would have. Both Hamburg and Berlin had pledged a public referendum on the proposal.
As one letter writer to the Boston Globe put it, it won’t be Boston’s bid until there’s a referendum on bringing the Olympics here. NoBostonOlympics, Evan Falchuk’s United Independent Party and Boston City Councillor Josh Zakim are weighing referenda strategies. And that’s a good thing. A non-binding city referendum is fine as far as it goes, but that doesn’t take the place of a statewide referendum. If Boston2024 is truthful in its claims, it should have no problems with this.
What would help in the process is having some independent entity, with no position on the Olympics, serve as a trusted fact checker, sorting out the data (on costs and benefits), verifying the anecdotes and past histories trotted out by supporters and opponents, and shedding light on what’s really in store for the people of Massachusetts if, indeed, Boston were to be tapped for the 2024 summer Olympics.
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