Boston 2024 needs to show some humility, shun secrets
The Boston Olympic movement hit a new low this week, and even ringleader John Fish would have a hard time arguing with that.
That would explain all the mea culpas.
“There were some mistakes in communication,” acknowledged Fish, the chief executive of Suffolk Construction, in a lengthy phone interview.
Perhaps the understatement of the year. The public — and now public officials — are tired of Boston 2024 acting like a private club, being exclusive and secretive about everything from venue details to staff salaries. What brought Fish and Boston 2024 to their knees was how the team handled the hiring of Deval Patrick as its global ambassador.
In one stroke, they managed not only to set off the former governor’s enemies, sniping about his $7,500-a-day contract, but blindside Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh with the news.
Neither Baker nor Walsh had any issues with Patrick’s involvement, but they probably didn’t like finding out from the news media.
“I spoke with the governor. I apologized to him,” said Fish, who supported Baker during the campaign. “Unfortunately, these things do happen. I make no excuses.”
Fish had to make the same calls to Walsh and his chief of staff, Dan Koh. The mayor was so upset about Boston 2024’s initial refusal to disclose Patrick’s compensation that he put out a statement Monday asking — ordering, really — the group to come clean. Boston 2024 immediately released salaries of all staff and consultants.
“Walsh was caught off guard,” Fish said. “For that, I apologized.”
Fish is getting a taste of humble pie, and perhaps for the first time we’re hearing a sense of humility, instead of hubris, from Olympic organizers whose bid to host the Games nine years from now at one time felt like a fait accompli.
Up until now, Fish and Boston 2024 have acted as if they can make up their own rules. The logic: They’re just a privately financed group putting on the Olympics.
Instead, it feels like Boston 2024 has become a shadow government, working the system to put on a multibillion-dollar event that could transform the city and the region for decades to come.
And just like that, without even a special election, we now have three seats of power in this town: Beacon Hill, City Hall, and Mount Olympus.
The trouble is that Mount Olympus looks an awful like the Patrick administration in exile: Chief executive Rich Davey is a former transportation secretary, while Doug Rubin, Patrick’s former chief of staff, and John Walsh, his former campaign manager, are on the payroll as high-priced consultants. Walsh Strategies makes $10,000 a month, Rubin’s firm $15,000. Davey makes $300,000 annually.
If patronage was an Olympic sport, Boston 2024 would get the gold.
Fish defends the hires. Davey is a wunderkind manager who knows infrastructure. Rubin dispenses political strategy like Obama guru David Axelrod. Walsh perfected grass-roots campaigning. And Patrick himself is the consummate pitchman who traveled the world as governor to sell Massachusetts. “I am not viewing it from the optics of Democrats or Republicans . . . I can tell you the world does not care,” said Fish. “At the end of the day, you want to put the best players on the field.”
To show that he means business, Fish said he plans to treat Boston 2024 staff the same way he deals with employees at his $2.4 billion construction company.
“If people don’t perform,” Fish said, “I am not one to allow people to hang around.”
But what needs to happen after a week like this is for Boston 2024 to stop acting like a private club. And as many times the group will tell you it does not need public funds to host the Summer Games, it will most certainly need the support of Baker and Walsh to pull off its improbable bid.
Beacon Hill and City Hall are not exactly paragons of transparency, but they’ve sent a message to Mount Olympus:
If you want us as allies, stop with the secrets.
Does Fish finally get it? Boston 2024 may be a private group, but it’s playing in a public space, and with the city’s future. There’s a certain amount of responsibility that comes with that. “I respect that. I absolutely respect that,” Fish said. “I want to approach it with a sense of humility.”