Boston 2024 bid opponents make case to Baker, Cabinet
Ratcheting up his scrutiny of the effort to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston, Governor Charlie Baker met Friday with a leading opposition group, which outlined its case before Baker’s top aides that state taxpayers should not provide any funding for the event.
The three cochairs of No Boston Olympics, a small nonprofit that has spearheaded much of the opposition to the idea of hosting the Games, presented their case at the governor’s weekly Cabinet meeting.
“He just asked lots of questions,” Chris Dempsey, one of the group’s cochairs, said of Baker’s reaction. “He’s in listen-and-learn mode right now, and he’s trying to hear from both sides of the issue.”
Dempsey said the group’s message to the governor amounted to: “Taxpayers are on the hook here. If things don’t go according to plan, they’re going to have to make up any revenue shortfalls or cost overruns. The taxpayers pay.”
Asked the reaction from Baker and his advisers, Dempsey replied: “I think the Baker administration is worried about how the dollars and cents add up.”
Dempsey said the group spoke to Baker and his Cabinet for about 30 minutes. He said Cabinet members asked detailed questions that showed they had been studying the issue closely.
One person who attended the meeting said Baker asked specific questions about sponsorships and contribution figures.
“He asked pretty typical Governor Baker questions,” the attendee said, speaking on background to discuss a closed-door meeting.
The unusual decision by the governor to extend the invitation came earlier this week when Baker reached out to the anti-Olympics group. Appearing at his Cabinet meeting could give the organization a boost in credibility as it takes on the financial and civic leaders pushing for the Summer Games to come to Boston.
The group’s other cochairs are Liam Kerr and Kelley Gossett. They had met previously with Baker’s chief of staff, Steven Kadish.
No Boston Olympics leaders will also attend Baker’s weekly meeting with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg on Monday.
This past week, Baker increased the pressure on Boston 2024, the committee working on the Olympic bid, when he called for its leadership to issue a venue and finance plan by early June. The governor has remained publicly neutral in the debate over whether Boston should host the event.
But his comments, coming amid concerns that the effort is foundering and its leadership is in disarray, were seen as a reflection of his frustration that Boston 2024 was falling behind schedule.
His empowering No Boston Olympics by inviting its leaders to the Cabinet meeting appears to be another tweak at the organizers, giving the group a chance to advance its position, with which he agrees, namely that no public funds be used.
A Baker spokeswoman noted that the governor and Cabinet had also met with Boston 2024.
“Since it’s early in the bid process, the administration’s focus is on listening and learning based on different points of view, and we look forward to evaluating the details of Boston 2024’s plans when they become available sometime next month,” said Elizabeth Guyton.
Boston 2024 leaders also attended a leadership meeting with Baker, DeLeo, and Rosenberg at the governor’s request.
No Boston Olympics adviser Ray Howell, a Boston public relations company president who is working pro bono, said the group’s meeting with Baker is part of what it believes are its successful efforts to raise important issues in the debate.
“The No Boston Olympics organization has kept Boston 2024 honest by forcing transparency on the process and exposing the risks to taxpayers,’’ said Howell, a former Weld administration spokesman.