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City Councilor Josh Zakim calls for citywide vote on Olympics

Nonbinding questions to go through council

City Councilor Josh Zakim proposed Monday putting Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics to a citywide vote.

The proposal, which would include four nonbinding referendum questions on this November’s ballot, could put Mayor Martin J. Walsh in a difficult position. Walsh has said he is against a referendum on the Olympics, but acknowledged last month that he supported citizens’ right to collect signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

Zakim’s proposed ordinance does not involve collecting signatures from registered voters. Instead, it uses a different route to get the referendums on the ballot: the City Council.

If the measure passes the 13-member council, the ordinance would go to Walsh’s desk. It would force the mayor either to sign the measure and allow the questions to appear on the ballot, or block the effort and quash a vote.


In an interview, Zakim described himself as “open-minded” about a Boston Olympics.

“I don’t believe this is a pro- or anti-Olympics proposal,” Zakim said. “I think everyone is excited that Boston was chosen. I think everyone knows that Boston can do it. They are trying to get the information we need to decide if we should do it.”

Zakim’s proposal includes four yes or no questions: Should Boston host the Games? Should the city commit public money to support the Olympics?

Should the city make financial guarantees to cover cost overruns? Should Boston use eminent domain to take private land on behalf of the Games?

The measure is expected to be formally introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Council president Bill Linehan said Monday the proposed ballot questions will be referred to a committee newly formed to vet the Olympic bid. Linehan said he was surprised by Zakim’s proposal because the councilor did not mention it to him when they discussed the new Olympic committee.


“It’s premature for us to make a judgment” whether the Olympic bid should be put on the ballot, Linehan said. “We need to do our due diligence as a City Council and then assess to see what is the best way to move forward.”

In Boston, a nonbinding ballot question must be approved by the City Council and mayor at least 35 days before an election, according to Walsh’s office. A question can also be placed on the ballot with the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters, which in Boston would be roughly 38,000.

Binding referendums may only appear on the ballot after being approved by the state Legislature, in addition to the mayor and City Council, according to Walsh’s office. A statewide referendum on the Olympics has been proposed by Evan Falchuk, a failed gubernatorial candidate who is trying to launch a new political party.

Boston 2024 organizers would not address whether they supported Zakim’s push for a citywide vote. In a statement, Boston 2024’s chief executive, Richard A. Davey, said organizers are engaging people at a series of public meetings, answering individual questions, and giving people a forum to discuss “the benefits and concerns of the Olympic Games in Boston.”

On Monday, Walsh’s spokeswoman said the mayor looked “forward to engaging in a robust community process, including working with all elected officials, as we move forward with Boston’s Olympic bid.” But the spokeswoman, Laura Oggeri, declined to address Zakim’s proposal.

“It’s too early in the process to say as it was just filed,” Oggeri said in an e-mail. “The mayor still needs to review the proposal.”


Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.