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Mayor Walsh’s Olympic-sized risk

Mayor Walsh addressed an audience at an event to generate public interest in a bid for Boston to host the 2024 Olympics.AP/file

It’s Winter 2015 and the first contest of the 2024 Summer Games is already underway.

It features Mayor Marty Walsh — the mayor elected by the people — and unofficial mayor John Fish — the self-appointed czar of Boston 2024. And it’s all about control.

In a gold medal political move, Walsh just dispatched Joe Rull, a trusted aide, to be his eyes and ears on the nonprofit Olympic committee. In that spirit, look for more Walsh loyalists to turn up there to oversee critical neighborhood outreach and the overall challenge of staging an enormous, international event.

For Walsh, Olympic-level oversight is a political necessity. He’s already getting blamed for every negative development connected to Fish’s effort to bring the Games to Boston. And if greatness does come out of it, as Boston 2024 promises, he will have to fight Fish for credit. s


In the meantime, it can’t look like the elected mayor of Boston works for the unelected Fish — or Fish as agent of the United States Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee.

Walsh is in an interesting political place right now. According to a recent WBUR poll, the mayor has an impressive 74 percent approval rating. In that same poll, 50 percent of respondents said they support the Games, versus 33 percent who oppose them. With 48 percent saying they are “excited” by the Games, that leaves a lot of room for the unexcited to get even less excited. Meanwhile, three-quarters say they want a referendum on the issue, which Walsh opposes.

Yet recent Olympic news coverage has not been a winner for the mayor. A clause in the agreement he signed with Olympic organizers, forbidding public employees to oppose the bid generated negative national headlines. In response, he told a crowd that gathered for last week’s first community meeting on the bid that offensive language in the bid document “will be fixed.” At that same meeting, he also repeated his pledge to keep public money limited to infrastructure.


Walsh won the mayor’s office with strong neighborhood support. As he works to expand his political base, he can’t neglect his core constituents, and Mother Nature just interfered with that relationship. The mayor got high marks for the first big snowstorm to hit Boston the week of Jan. 26. But the next week, after another 14 inches blanketed the city, he was criticized for going forward with a Super Bowl victory parade while residents were still digging out.

Walsh also took heat for monumental traffic gridlock and poor T service — even though the MBTA and roads into Boston aren’t his responsibility. Governor Charlie Baker decided against declaring a state of emergency when the second storm hit. On roads clogged with cars and snow, cleanup was complicated. The traffic mess also gave citizens a chance to wonder what those same roads might look like during the Summer Games.

The next mayoral election is in the fall of 2017 — the same year the IOC is slated to choose the 2024 summer venue. What happens between now and then with the city’s bid will be a major reelection issue for Walsh — all the more reason for him to make sure he knows what’s going on at Boston 2024. If Boston is chosen, Walsh would then have to win reelection again in 2021 to bask in full mayoral glory when the Games begin.


Fish, meanwhile, reports to a constituency of one — the face he sees in the mirror. While he said his company, Suffolk Construction, will not bid on any projects directly related to Olympic venues, he continues to face skepticism about where the Games begin and his financial interests end. At the community meeting, he repeated a familiar theme — that the Games will benefit the next generation, not his own. But Boston is a small town, and the gang that runs it will be closely watching who is getting paid for what services.

The international stage, on the other hand, is tempting. A glittering, new Olympic Boulevard connecting the South End and South Boston to the harbor, not to mention the world, is a mayor’s dream — or his nightmare, if it stirs up too much neighborhood resistance and resentment.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.