You can’t be both cheerleader and watchdog.
Mayor Marty Walsh was initially skeptical about a Boston Olympics, promising to protect the city’s interests as assorted bigs pursued a 2024 Games. Now he’s the Games’ booster in chief.
“Make no mistake, we are in this to win it: to bring the Olympic Games to Boston, along with the immense global investment and community benefits that come with it,” he said at Wednesday’s annual meeting of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
Walsh and Boston 2024 are now one. He has fully melded his operation with the one run by John Fish and other titans pushing the Games. His former chief of operations, Joe Rull, has joined Boston 2024. On Thursday, two other Walsh-ites, adviser Chris Keohan and former spokeswoman Kate Norton, were also engaged by Boston 2024.
The mayor is doubling — no, tripling — down on a Boston Olympics, even though public support for it, especially among his own constituents, has slipped in the wake of the debacle that is our snow-crippled public transit system. A February WBUR poll conducted by MassINC found that support for hosting the Olympics dropped from 50 to 43 percent in Boston, with opposition leaping from 33 to 48 percent.
You would expect numbers like that to give Walsh pause, especially since he told WGBH radio as recently as Feb. 27 that he would be satisfied only if 70 percent of the public supports the enterprise.
But no, Walsh charged ever harder on Wednesday, convinced people just don’t get how magical the 33d Olympiad is going to be for Boston. Those who argue that the MBTA’s woes mean we can’t handle the Games have it backward, he said. Instead, the hard 2024 deadline will force us to deal with problems leaders have long failed to address.
Let’s just put aside, for now, the depressing thing this says about the quality of our leaders, that they’re incapable of fixing transportation without the potential for international humiliation hanging over their heads.
What’s really troubling is how, by going all-in, Walsh has compromised his ability to protect his own constituents. He’s acting as if it’s certain a 2024 Olympics is what is best for his city, when in fact, that has yet to be decided. The public meetings on the Games shouldn’t be sales pitches, but chances to hear people’s concerns. And those concerns are real, not cranky objections from party poopers. Who pays for cost overruns? Which publicly funded transit projects will take priority? What happens to those who work on the properties that would be cleared for gleaming Olympic facilities? Will the donations required to make the Games happen draw money away from other, worthier causes?
Until those questions are answered, the mayor has no business leading the charge. Besides, how can a full-on booster really put his foot down with an International Olympic Committee with a track record of making unreasonable demands?
Other leaders are more circumspect. Governor Charlie Baker hasn’t leapt into organizers’ arms. Nor has Somerville’s mayor, Joe Curtatone; generally positive about the prospect of a 2024 Olympics, he balked when he learned the proposal included a possible Velodrome at Assembly Square.
“Planning for the Olympics must dovetail with community-building initiatives, and simply identifying locations for venues like a Velodrome, which brings no long-term benefits to the community, won’t cut it,” he told Boston Magazine.
Walsh should have put that kind of distance between himself and Boston 2024. Instead, he now owns the bid, and all that comes with it, good or bad. Given the polling numbers, the Olympics are likely to be an issue in the next mayoral election. By then, Walsh had better come up with better answers to his constituents’ questions about the 2024 bid.