When Boston 2024, the group trying to bring the Olympic Games to the city that year, made their presentation to the United States Olympic Committee behind closed doors last December, they were joined by Mayor Marty Walsh. The mayor gave the USOC a speech in which he apparently made an odd promise. “I've spent my life building bridges between communities—on the front lines, standing up against things that were wrong. I know what community opposition looks like. I don't dismiss it lightly. So believe me when I tell you, we don't have real opposition [to the Olympics] in Boston. Everyone who is engaged; everyone who has listened; everyone who has faith in our future—understands the opportunity this represents for our city,” Walsh said, according to a draft of the speech.
Unsurprisingly, this claim was met with indignation from the city's very real opposition.
Here is part of a statement from Jonathan Cohn, a city resident and member of the group NoBoston2024:
We find it confusing, even insulting, that Mayor Walsh spoke of the support for the city's Olympic bid as "broad" and "deep" and wrote off the existence of any real opposition when he held no open community meetings in advance of the submission of the bid. The first open community meeting was a month and a half after the submission of the bid. What right does he have to speak of the views of the people of Boston when he did not have the decency to ask them what they thought? It is, furthermore, strange and—again—insulting, for him to speak of how "everyone who is engaged" or "who has listened" agrees with him when he neither engaged nor listened to the public for whom he claims to speak.
And here is a statement from Christopher Dempsey, a Brookline resident and co-chair of the group No Boston Olympics:
Boston was the only city with an organized opposition group in existence a full year before the Mayor's speech to the USOC. If there was no real opposition why did Mayor Walsh need to mention it in his remarks? Polls have shown that bid opponents now outnumber supporters in the Boston area and across the state. As long as Boston2024's bid relies on a taxpayer guarantee, citizens in Massachusetts are going to remain skeptical.
Indeed, a recent WBUR/MassInc poll found that 46% of Boston residents said they were opposed to the Olympics, while 44% said they supported them.
Although the mayor's speech was delivered away from the eyes and ears of the general public, two drafts of it were included in a collection of Olympics-related emails that was provided to The Bay State Examiner in response to a public records request.
Our records request to the mayor's office also asked for copies of the documents Boston 2024 submitted to the USOC as part for their bid to host the Olympics. Many of these documents have already been released to the public by Boston 2024, but the group has thus far refused to release some of the most important bid documents, which detail expected land and venue costs. These documents could factor into debates about how feasible the Olympics are and how much taxpayer money they will require.
“[The bid documents] are not in the city's possession at this time,” Laura Oggeri, Chief Communications Officer for the city, said in an email.
Oggeri later clarified her statement. “I am saying that the City has never been in posession [sic] of the [bid] documents,” she said.
If true, this suggests that Walsh may have never read through the bid documents, which raises serious questions about how he can promote the games as a boon to the city in good faith.
I asked Oggeri how Walsh could promote the games if he does not have the bid documents as well as for clarification on what he meant when he told the USOC there is no “real opposition in Boston.”
Oggeri later spoke to me by phone, telling me she wanted to talk “off the record.” I told her I wouldn't promise not to quote her. She then said that she didn't have a response to my questions yet, but that she would get back to me.
Oggeri later sent a seemingly canned statement that did not address any of the questions I posed to her: “Mayor Walsh is focused on working with residents in all neighborhoods to shape Boston's proposal in a way that will provide long-term benefits for the City,” she said. She also said that Boston 2024 has already released its bid documents despite the fact that the group has yet to release all of them.
Walsh previously “promise[d] that this will be the most open and transparent and inclusive process in Olympic history,” however, both he and Boston 2024 have done little to live up to that promise so far.
While the city did turn over emails related to the Olympics, they did not do so in accordance with state law, which requires government agencies to comply with public records requests within 10 days. Our request was sent on February 9, but the city did not turn over the emails until March 5 – nearly a month later.
Beyond flouting the public records law, Walsh previously signed an agreement with the USOC that barred city employees from making negative statements about the Olympics, the USOC, and the International Olympic Committee. He later amended the agreement after facing widespread criticism. Walsh has also said he opposes a vote on the Olympics, even as he is pursuing a lawsuit to allow residents of Boston to vote on a proposed casino in Everett. Walsh has also spoken out against proposed legislation that would create a state oversight commission for the Olympics.
Dan O'Connell, the former president of Boston 2024, previously told WGBH that the group plans on trying to host the Olympics regardless of what members of the community say.
The 2024 Olympics would cost taxpayers billions of dollars and bid documents released so far by Boston 2024 show that the group hopes to build structures for the games on large amounts of public land.
Evan Falchuk, the former gubernatorial candidate and chairman of the United Independent Party, is pursuing a statewide ballot question that would allow voters to decide whether tax dollars could be spent on the Olympics.
“Here's the thing about the Olympics. It's a sporting event, and I like sports, but it's also a business,” Falchuk said earlier this year during an interview with The Bay State Examiner. “And it's a business that's trying to make money with the support of the taxpayers and they're not leveling with taxpayers about the extent to which they want to use our money in order to support this business effort.”
Here is the full statement from Jonathan Cohn:
We find it confusing, even insulting, that Mayor Walsh spoke of the support for the city's Olympic bid as "broad" and "deep" and wrote off the existence of any real opposition when he held no open community meetings in advance of the submission of the bid. The first open community meeting was a month and a half after the submission of the bid. What right does he have to speak of the views of the people of Boston when he did not have the decency to ask them what they thought? It is, furthermore, strange and—again—insulting, for him to speak of how "everyone who is engaged" or "who has listened" agrees with him when he neither engaged nor listened to the public for whom he claims to speak. In fact, the majority of the most engaged people are the ones most vehemently opposed to the bid. They are the ones that have done the most research, are armed with the most facts, and feel like the Olympics would be terrible for our city. It is similarly insulting for him to say that “anyone who has faith in our future” thinks that his and John Fish’s vanity project will benefit the city. We have faith in the future of Boston and believe that future must be designed by and for the people of Boston, not by private entities run by CEOs and lobbyists and for large developers and other moneyed interests.
Although Mayor Walsh claimed that support was “broad…and…deep,” the only public poll released before Walsh’s speech to the USOC said the exact opposition. That poll—part of a gubernatorial tracking poll by the Globe in June—showed a majority of Metro Boston opposed to hosting the Olympics. Moreover, it showed that the more people heard about the bid, the less supportive they became. When people were presented with the leading arguments from both sides, twice as many people said that they agreed with the opposition than with Boston 2024.
We have seen the same dynamic in recent polls. The polling for Boston 2024 dropped over the past month as people had the opportunity to learn more about the bid and hear the hole-ridden case put forth by Boston 2024. And people have consistently expressed an opposition to public funding for the Games and skepticism about the promised benefits.
Moreover, it is difficult to understand how he could say in December of last year that support was “broad...and deep” when neither he nor Boston 2024 had released the bid to the public. There were leaks to the press every now and again, but Boston 2024 did not release parts of the bid book until January--after the bid was accepted by the USOC. Even now, they refuse to release the full bid, only sharing a redacted version with the public. because they claim transparency as “anti-competitive.”
Erin Murphy, who appears to have edited or at least reviewed Mayor Walsh's speech for him, was in fact at the first No Boston 2024 organizing meeting back in November on behalf of Boston 2024. There were several people from Boston 2024 (especially Northwind Strategies) who came, and there was at least one representative from the Mayor’s Office. We allowed them to attend because we, unlike they, valued openness in our meetings. Chris Dempsey from No Boston Olympics gave a short presentation at that meeting, and NBO had already been around for several months, providing excellent information and resources to Bostonians who wanted to learn more about the impact that hosting the Olympics would have on our city. Both Boston 2024 and the Mayor’s office were clearly aware of the existence of opposition. Writing off the opposition as Marty Walsh did is disrespectful and shows what has been clear throughout the public meetings that he finally started having (although always shows up late): that he is not interested in having a serious debate about whether or not the city should host, or wants to host, the Olympics. Everyone that lives here should be incredibly concerned about the deceptive, opaque, and flat-out dishonest statements coming from the Mayor of their city, who one would hope has the interests of his constituents in mind. It is clear that he does not care about what residents of the city think.
If our rookie mayor wants to build a true legacy for himself, he should scrap the bid and start focusing on the real issues that matter to Boston.
Update (3/6/15): Boston.com reporter Adam Vaccaro said he asked Lauren Oggeri about the no "real opposition" claim in the mayor's speech and was told that the mayor did not actually deliver that remark to the USOC (see email screenshot below).
Oggeri never denied that the mayor made this remark to me, leading me to believe that he had. Oggeri still hasn't contacted me to tell me Walsh didn't use the remark.
We plan to ask Oggeri again for more information and get a copy of the final draft of the mayor's speech to see if it included any similar remarks about the supposed lack of opposition to the bid.
Even if it does not, the larger point about the Walsh administration's lack of transparency as well as the questions raised by their claim that they do not possess the Boston 2024 bid documents remain.