Now that John Fish of Suffolk Construction, the brains and brawn behind the Boston 2024 Olympics in Boston, has been forced into a referendum by grassroots opposition and fiscal watchdogs, the keys to the future of the Games are who gets to write the language of the popular vote, how much money will be spent on television advertising, and how will the political establishment (along with every group of vested interests) try to manage popular opinion?
Normally the lawyers in the office of the Secretary of State would control the language in the referendum, but that does not mean that there will be intense lobbying by Fish and his high priced consulting team to influence the end product. The language could be so obtuse and complex that voters will get lost, even though the official handout will give both sides of the argument. It would seem that the vote language should be crystal clear – let the Games move forward without a nickel of taxpayer money. But some smart lawyers and PR flacks might be able to turn the language around in ways that create opportunities for taxpayer handouts. This referendum language phase of the fight will be the most critical stage of the democratic process.
Then it is on to television, radio, the Internet and social media. Fish and his group have gobs of money ( as witnessed by the willingness to pay former Governor Deval Patrick $ 7500 a day for saying to anyone who will listen that Boston is a world class city). On the other side of the argument the grassroots groups and fiscal watchdogs have zero dollars and will have to use their shoe leather and Twitter to get out the message. As many others have remarked already, we are on our way to casinos in large part because of the advertising money that bought time on the local television channels. Look to be overwhelmed by commercials that show Boston transformed into a world class city with no mention of cost or debt.
Finally, while the Governor and legislative leaders are currently skeptical about the cost issue and taxpayers holding the bag, these guys and gals often get swept up in the frenzy of showing off the Commonwealth, having their picture taken with world class athletes, being interviewed by reporters from every corner of the planet, and of course getting a ton of free meals and drinks in those courtesy tents. Not to be too cynical, but you just can’t trust what these guys and gals say when the chips are down and a the state is caught up in referendum politics.
So be careful, be very careful as we head to a 2016 referendum on the 2024 Olympics, And remember there is no such thing as an iron clad promise or a debt free Games. Somehow, someway, we will pay.