Shirley Leung

New Boston a lot like Old Boston

Mayor Martin Walsh’s hastily called news conference seemed designed to preempt a decision from US Olympic officials to dump the city.
Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
Mayor Martin Walsh’s hastily called news conference seemed designed to preempt a decision from US Olympic officials to dump the city.

And just like that, in a morning news conference followed by an afternoon press release, it was over, an unceremonious death that didn’t befit the massive dream.

No more comparisons with Paris and Rome, no torch-lit opening event nearly a decade in the offing, no transformation of entire swaths of the city that were nothing more than unheralded tow lots seven months ago.

There’s a way to spin this that should make people feel good, and it goes like this: We don’t do track meets here, we cure cancer. We have the world’s greatest universities and hospitals. We are smarter and more pragmatic than everyone else, and that applies to how we spend — or at least risk — our money. We don’t need the Olympics in Boston.


So why then does this feel as if the possibility just gave way to a skeptic’s reality, as if the old Boston just smothered the new?

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Here’s the issue: New Boston acts a lot like Old Boston. We still put up a fierce fight when someone tries something novel. Given the chance to think big about our future, we tied ourselves up in the minutiae of tax breaks and traffic studies. Accusations quickly replaced ambitions.

We used to accept this as the way things got done — or didn’t. In a long-ago era, a cabal of businessmen worked with mayors behind the scenes to impose their vision on the city. It was known as the Vault, and it seemed that former Boston 2024 chairman John Fish and the United States Olympic Committee unwittingly followed their playbook.

It worked, for a while, as newly elected mayor Marty Walsh looked to get out of Tom Menino’s shadow.

But Walsh soon realized that while the Olympics might be a privately funded project, it’s got the public agenda at stake, and everyone needs to see every aspect of the plan. And thanks to Twitter and Facebook, everyone has a platform to blast their opinion to the world.


Too late. The damage was done. Boston 2024 had lost the public’s trust and never regained it — and the weak poll numbers reflected that.

It was nice that Walsh said at his Monday news conference that he had “no regrets” about pursuing the Olympics, but in the aftermath, we will be a region filled with them.

There’ll be regret that the Sportsmen’s Tennis center in Dorchester never got massive upgrades and a world stage. There’s regret in Quincy that one of the most popular Olympic sports, beach volleyball, will never be played on local sand.

There’ll be regret from everyday residents who, unlike some Olympic opponents, didn’t have the time or drive to take to Twitter hundreds of times a week to say they believe that Boston is big enough to attract the Games.

I’m with the legendary Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan on this one. He’s been to 11 Olympics. He loves them, and thinks Boston could have pulled one off — but needed stronger leadership from the start.


Here are my regrets. We could have hosted the Games on our terms. We could have made them sustainable. We could have posed little risk to taxpayers. We could have showed the rest of the world how it could be done.

I regret that Mayor Walsh didn’t get a few more weeks to get comfortable with the insurance. I regret that Governor Charlie Baker didn’t get those weeks to digest his independent report. I regret that the USOC didn’t level with us about its desire to look elsewhere the entire time.

“Boston is our city,” USOC member Dan Doctoroff said during the Globe and Fox 25’s televised debate last week.

There are many who notch this as a victory for Bostonians everywhere. No Boston Olympics and the naysayers certainly are, toasting each other at a Downtown Crossing pub Monday night. But this is no time for a celebration.

To the world, Boston is still the same old, same old — a difficult place to get anything done, a place where we’re happy as we are.

Now our regrets suddenly become Los Angeles’s opportunity.

Let’s only hope that our Olympic legacy isn’t about naysaying all the time.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.