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Boston 2024 team begins D.C. push for political support

A conceptual drawing of the Olympic Stadium at Widett Circle.
A conceptual drawing of the Olympic Stadium at Widett Circle. Boston 2024/Handout

WASHINGTON — The organizers of Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid brought their pitch for federal money to Washington on Thursday, seeking support in Congress for taxpayer-funded security measures they told lawmakers will cost at least a billion dollars.

The organizing committee’s first meeting with the Massachusetts congressional delegation also highlighted how Bay State lawmakers may try to use the bid to steer transportation and other public works projects to their districts.

The political task to lock in federal security commitments will be tricky, lawmakers said. The state’s all-Democratic delegation will have to enlist allies from across the country — particularly Republicans who control both chambers of Congress — to demonstrate to the International Olympic Committee that Boston can count on Washington’s support.

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“The senators from the other 49 states are going to have to say ‘OK, this one is not in my state . . . but it is an international event,’” said Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville. “Is the country willing to host any Olympic games?”

“At least a billion — and that is a big number — to pay for all the security costs,” said Representative Bill Keating of Bourne, who sits on the Homeland Security Committee. “I’ll be working on that.”

While the actual appropriations would not be required until after Boston is selected, officials said the Department of Homeland Security must designate the Boston games a “national special security event” before final bids are delivered to the IOC in early 2017. That designation makes it eligible for enhanced federal security measures and would put the US Secret Service in charge of those preparations.

Organizers said the bid must contain some sort of declaration from the federal government that it will support the games. What form that assurance would take has not been determined, but it could include a congressional resolution.

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The meeting Thursday with Bay State lawmakers was held behind closed doors in the Ways and Means Committee room on the main floor of the US Capitol. It included most members of the congressional delegation, US Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun, as well as all the top officials of Boston 2024, the nonprofit that is overseeing the Boston bid — including its chairman, John Fish; the chief executive, Richard Davey; and David Manfredi of its Master Planning Committee. Also in attendance was Cheri Blauwet, a three-time Paralympian who is cochairwoman of the Boston 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Movement Committee.

Comments from organizers and lawmakers after the 90-minute session revealed how the planning may be complicated by competing objectives. Some of the discussion, participants said, focused on the opportunities the games might present for their constituents — not just in terms of where the sports competitions are held and the visitors are housed, but how much money might also be secured for transportation and other infrastructure improvements.

“They see the potential there for a real lasting legacy for the Commonwealth,” said Doug Rubin, a political consultant who is also cochairman of the Boston 2024 Public Relations and Marketing Committee, who attended the session.

Representative Richard Neal of Springfield, the longest-serving member of the Massachusetts delegation, the meeting’s host, said he sees the Olympic bid as a means of “regional reconciliation” on matters of federal funding.

He cited the massive cost overruns and delays of the Big Dig, Boston’s controversial Central Artery and tunnel project, which he said delayed many improvements elsewhere in Massachusetts.

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“The rest of the state paid a high price for the Big Dig. Time to ante up,” Neal said.

Neal said the western part of the state could benefit from investment in high-speed rail to better connect it to Boston for the events.

The organizers of the Boston games, who also met with the US Olympic Committee on Wednesday and Thursday, seemed attuned to the political need to include the entire state in the effort, lawmakers said.

“That is something that the 2024 committee is at the front edge of figuring out,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said. “It will be a back-and-forth process that develops over time.

But Capuano expressed doubt that the Games will offer the prospect of additional federal dollars for infrastructure improvements. It will be up to state leaders, he said, to prioritize where to spend the federal dollars Massachusetts would normally get.

Participants also said some of the meeting was spent discussing where individual competitions might be held.

They discussed the belief that the Charles River is not wide enough for crew competitions, but that the Merrimack River, in Representative Niki Tsongas’s district, centered around Lowell, is.

“We are very excited about it up in the Merrimack Valley,” said Tsongas, who said she is hoping to host both crew and boxing competitions if the Boston bid is selected.

But Neal was also quick to point out that the Olympic committee also highlighted the attributes of the Deerfield River, which runs through the northwestern part of the state.

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Olympics 2024 officials said they were taking such suggestions very seriously.

“For the short term they can certainly really give us advice when we are talking about where to locate things and what their issues are,” said Fish.

But regional promotion aside, the real heavy lifting in Washington will be getting the money needed for security, said Senator Edward J. Markey: “The United States is going to have to pay the bill to ensure that we can host it and prove that any terrorist group cannot be successful.”


Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBender.