Metro

KEVIN CULLEN

Cynicism didn’t kill Boston’s Olympic bid

Mayor Martin J. Walsh was merely stating the obvious when he said people around here would not countenance the idea of being the guarantors to the cost overruns that are endemic to putting on an Olympics.
Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
Mayor Martin J. Walsh was merely stating the obvious when he said people around here would not countenance the idea of being the guarantors to the cost overruns that are endemic to putting on an Olympics.

Who would have thought that, as Monday afternoon rolled around, Whitey Bulger would have a brighter future than Boston 2024?

On Monday morning, as Whitey’s lawyer Hank Brennan was standing in federal court on the waterfront, spinning some jive about Boston’s most notorious criminal deserving a new trial, Marty Walsh was standing a mile away in City Hall, putting a fork in Boston’s Olympic bid.

Whitey’s chances of getting that new trial are slim and none, but that’s still technically better odds than the Olympic bid, which is officially dead and buried.

Advertisement

Marty Walsh was merely stating the obvious when he said people around here would not countenance the idea of being the guarantors to the cost overruns that are endemic to putting on an Olympics. Nor, he said, would we be rushed into the commitment that the United States Olympic Committee was demanding, right now, no questions asked.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“We always anticipated having the time to do our due diligence on the guarantees required and a full review of the risk and mitigation package proposed last week,” the mayor said. “This is a monumental decision that cannot be rushed, even if it means not moving forward with our bid for the 2024 Summer Games.”

The Olympics culture always seemed incompatible with the concepts of a representative democracy. They are different animals. The US Olympic Committee was basically demanding that Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker conduct themselves on the USOC’s terms and schedule, to be unquestioning boosters of the Olympic bid when it was Walsh and Baker, not USOC mandarins, who faced real consequences if everything went south.

Walsh seemed more supportive of the Olympics than Baker, who has been more standoffish. But, in the end, the mayor realized he was being asked to take an enormous political risk in backing something that could leave taxpayers holding the tab while the Olympic juggernaut jetted off to its next destination.

Taxpayer liability, not small-mindedness, was always the elephant in this room we call Boston. Some dismissed it as cynicism, a characteristic peculiar to this place. But it always struck me that most people were being more pragmatic and realistic than churlish and immutably opposed to the Olympics. They, like Marty Walsh, like Charlie Baker, wanted assurances, and when those assurances weren’t forthcoming, neither was their support.

Advertisement

Boston 2024’s organizers tried to address this. They were prepared to make this the most heavily insured Olympic games ever. But it was never going to be enough, not when the prospect of billions of overruns couldn’t be categorically ruled out.

Being so used to being sucked up to, USOC officials were blindsided by the reticence. But USOC expectations were unrealistic. Boston’s bid suffered from its early, maybe even necessary, secrecy and the widespread, somewhat cynical perception that it was the brainchild of already rich people who stood to get richer but not take the fall if things went wrong.

After Boston 2024 retooled its bid last month, offering far more detail, USOC officials suggested they wanted to see the percentage of local public support for the Olympics jump from the tepid 40s to somewhere in the mid-60s by September. That betrayed an incredible lack of understanding of the local culture.

The only thing we pay attention to around here in the summer is the weather and the Red Sox, and the local nine have given us little reason to pay them much attention. The idea that public opinion was going to dramatically shift on such a complex issue, in the middle of the summer, was naive. We don’t care who’s running for president right now. How is it that everybody was going to focus enough to change their opinion on the Olympics? It was never in the cards.

The end of Boston’s Olympic bid was like watching the sun set at Menemsha on the Vineyard. One moment it was there, bright and shiny, hovering on the horizon. Seconds later, darkness. And like the sunset, it was inevitable.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.