The City That Said No

July 28, 2015

Boston will not host the 2024 Summer Olympics, which to a majority of the residents of the city is a good thing. The prospect of huge traffic jams, monumental security concerns and most importantly the real possibility that the taxpayers will be left holding the tax bag if the Games end up in the red.

Right from the start the captains of industry and finance who led the charge for the Olympics displayed a complete misunderstanding of how a democracy works and how to deal with grassroots organizers intent on stopping their grand visions. CEOs like John Fish and Steve Pagliuca are enormously successful corporate leaders but they come from a culture which is not driven by public opinion polls, open meetings and vocal opposition. And so they marched full speed ahead with their plan, which would have transformed the city of Boston, but with shaky numbers and plans that just seemed too good to be true.

Many Bostonians are now relieved that their crowded city will be free of all the commotion and the tax bill that comes with the Olympic Games. But for all the flaws in the 2024 plan what it did was present a dream of how the city would look like in nine years and the energy to move forward with huge improvements in transportation, housing, roads and bridges, and neighborhoods. No matter what the pols and the naysayers say about spending on vital needs rather than a three week international circus, it is likely that Boston will stumble along and make only minor dents in those areas of public life that cry out for major transformation.

Take away the vision and energy of Olympic 2024 (and a drop dead timeline) and Boston is left with its age old reputation as a city that has a history of saying “NO”. Sure there is a building boom afoot in the Hub City, but twenty story science and technology monuments and high end condos are not the same as a new subway system, new highways, new low-income housing, and new schools, and most importantly a can do attitude.

And so another city, perhaps Los Angeles, or the European entries – Paris, Rome, Hamburg or Budapest – will get the opportunity to go into debt and have huge stadiums sit idly for decades. But say what you will about the flawed dream of John Fish and Steve Pagliuca, at least they had a vision of a new Boston and the energy to make it happen. Now all Boston is left with is NO.

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Boston 2024- Not a Fair Fight

March 26, 2015

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.