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Arlington meeting debates pros and cons of Boston Olympic bid

ARLINGTON — On one side of the debate over Boston’s bid to host the 2024 summer Olympic Games is Eli Gerzon, a climate change activist from Arlington who worries about gentrification, cost overruns, and misplaced priorities.

“Our public funds should not go to velodromes, it should go to green jobs and climate resiliency,” he said.

On the other is Graham Seline of Lexington. A native of South Africa who said he saw the benefits that country got from hosting FIFA World Cup in 2010, sees the jobs, economic boost, and opportunity to be creative as too important to pass up.

“Renewable energy is wonderful, so let’s come up with a plan so we can incorporate that into the Games,” he said.

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The two men debated their points in Arlington Town Hall Monday night after the 13th “community conversations” meeting held by Boston 2024. The group has promised to hold 20 such question and answer sessions across the state in 20 weeks as it formulates its revised plans set to be unveiled at the end of this month.

Their debate was an example of the tone of the evening.

Some speakers said they simply don’t trust that Boston 2024, the group organizing the plans, can deliver the promises they are making. They worry that families will be displaced, cost overruns will end up being paid by taxpayers, and say there is no reason to believe Boston will not be saddled with the problems faced by Atlanta and other host cities.

Other speakers passionately cited their own athletic experiences, the lessons that can be learned from the Olympic spirit of peaceful competition, and the opportunity for Boston to host athletes from around the globe and showcase itself as a leader in innovation.

The Arlington meeting was organized by State Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly, Democrat of Arlington, who told the approximately 60 people in attendance that he is still undecided about whether the Olympic Games should come to Boston.

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Most in the crowd appeared to have come with their minds already made up.

There were several questions from a group of about six people who described themselves as “a rag-tag group” of opponents who have attended a number of similar meetings.

Nikko B. Mendoza, Boston 2024 vice-president of engagement strategy, who acted as the evening’s moderator, greeted most of this group by name as they approached the microphone to question organizers’ transparency, among other concerns.

Mendoza did not provide any specific answers to satisfy this group of skeptics, instead often repeating her message that “we do listen, and we do rethink some of our ideas,” most notably using Boston Common for beach volleyball.

While there was a core group of opponents, several also came already firmly on the other side.

Cecilia Baldwin of Arlington said she wanted to publicly state her support for the Games.

She spoke of the Olympic spirit, and called the Games “a great idea for our community.”

“There is so much potential here,” she said. “This about all the new and innovative ways to make our games efficient.”

Another Arlington resident, Heather Meunier, a former gymnast, said she came from a family where athletics played an important role in their lives.

Meunier said she clearly remembers being inspired as a 9-year-old girl watching gymnast Mary Lou Retton win the Gold medal in 1984.

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“My daughter will be 9 in 2024, and I want her to be inspired watching the Olympics in Boston,” she said.

“This is a pretty amazing thing to think about, I just hope people can stay positive and come together to make this happen,” she said.


Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.