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Olympics organizers have time to talk

Imagine having this conversation with your fourth-grader. The kid’s precocious. She’s already looking forward to her 18th birthday. And she’s making big plans.

“I want to go to Harvard,’’ she tells you. Sure, honey, I think we can make that happen.

“I’d like to drive a Camry. A nice red one,’’ the 9-year-old announces. You raise your eyebrows but tell her: A Camry. A Corolla. Something’ll work out?

“And I don’t want to live in a dorm. I’d like my own apartment in Cambridge. Something with a river view.’’ Sure. Sure. Sure.

It’s all so theoretical. It’s so distant. Who can plan that far off? Who knows if she’ll even go to college? Make promises now. Make adjustments later.


That’s what members of the local organizing committee for the city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics sounded like to me the other night when they deftly fielded questions and tried to soften concerns about what it might be like if the Olympic torch blazes above Boston.

Please give up the idea of beach volleyball on Boston Common, one man pleaded, noting the fragility of the trees and the grass. “We have backup options,’’ John Fish, Boston 2024’s chairman, smoothly told him.

What about all those costly investments? Those tear-down stadiums? “No white elephants,’’ said architect David Manfredi, a committee cochairman.

What’s in it for us? Will the Olympic Village be built by union workers? “Our intent is to build it union,’’ Fish said.

When one man pushed, asking for chapter and verse on how many jobs, how much pay, and who gets the most Olympic gravy, the group’s chief executive officer, Richard A. Davey, was more direct. “We can make no promises,’’ Davey said, a bit of refreshing blunt talk.

When I pulled Davey aside after the meeting Monday night at the Yawkey Boys & Girls Club of Boston in Roxbury, I told him that the distant games seem to give organizers wide latitude to be vague. To issue broad promises. To make sweeping, patriotic-tinged appeals for the societal glue that sports can supply. To sometimes dance with facts.


“No dance,’’ said Davey, a former state transportation secretary. “But consider this: I’ve been to a lot of public meetings in my career. Never have we talked about something that’s going to occur nine and a half years from now. Most of it was: We have to raise your T fares and we know by how much and we have to do it in two months. That’s not particularly much of a conversation. This is.’’

Davey added: “I have spent more time in the last 30 days in this job thinking about 10 years from now than I did in five years in state government.’’

What happened in Roxbury this week will be replicated 19 times in the next 19 weeks in cities from Lowell to Springfield. And organizers will be heartened if what did not happen in Roxbury does not happen there. Perhaps attendance was depressed by the still snow-clogged streets, but no one stood up Monday and shook their fist at the panel and shouted “Hell, no’’ to the Boston Olympics.

Instead, the right questions are being asked and the organizers are making promises to which they will be held to account. Promises that will get more difficult to shape, and perhaps to keep, as the calendar shortens. Promises for modest games that won’t bankrupt the city, which will largely be paid for with private funds and will leave Boston in better shape after the Olympic flame is extinguished.


Davey said his state government experience has taught him that in order to do big things, you need crisis and opportunity. The recent meltdown of the T is the former, he said, the Olympic Games the latter.

In an era when cocksure cable TV anchors moderate nightly shout-fests from equally cocksure guests, it’s rare that you hear a measured assessment like this one from US Senator Elizabeth Warren.

“I still have a lot of questions,’’ she said last week about Boston’s bid.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.