When it comes to the Olympics, what does it take to win over the opposition?
Richard Davey, the new Boston 2024 CEO, is working on it — or, at least, on his most visible critics, the group No Boston Olympics. Davey jokes that their name should really be “Maybe Boston Olympics.” He even had a sign made with the new logo, and presented it to No Boston Olympics co-chairman Chris Dempsey at a Suffolk University forum last week.
So I asked Dempsey directly: Are you guys going to change your minds?
The answer? Technically, it’s “maybe.”
“If this is the best thing for our city, for our commonwealth, moving forward,” Dempsey said, “if we see a deal that represents that — we’re going to vacate our opposition.”
Hold the smelling salts; this is hardly a done deal. Dempsey and his group have laid out some specific demands, some of which Boston 2024 seems unlikely to meet.
The first is transparency, though the details of what that would mean are vague. Dempsey wants Boston 2024 to be “treated much more like a public agency,” with open books and an open process — though he stops short of demanding full disclosure of how much money the group has gotten from each donor.
The second has to do with financing: ensuring that a deal with the International Olympic Committee would explicitly state that local taxpayers won’t be on the hook if the Games run over budget.
The third is a rainy-day fund. Dempsey suggests taking a planned $600 million payment to the US Olympic Committee and putting it in escrow — as a first place to turn if there isn’t enough money left to, say, restore Franklin Park to the way it was before the dressage events.
I asked Davey about those financial demands. He offers a range of technical reasons why they can’t be met, having to do with IOC politics and the intricacies of Olympic financing.
Still, the way he talks suggests a willingness to listen, a search for middle ground. This wasn’t always the case. Back in October, Boston 2024 chairman John Fish griped to the Boston Herald that Dempsey and his crew were “rabble-rousing” and “grandstanding.” In November, Davey’s predecessor, Daniel O’Connell, told me he preferred to talk to elected officials, not “anyone who’s self-appointed.”
Things change. Partly, it’s leadership. Boston 2024 has long needed a frontman whose reaction, when someone questions the cause, isn’t merely condescension.
And partly, it’s personal: Dempsey and Davey once worked together at the state department of transportation. When Davey got the Olympic job, Dempsey sent him a congratulatory text. Davey suggested a beer. Since then, Dempsey and his co-chairs have had a couple of beer summits with Davey, plus a sit-down with Davey and Fish at Boston 2024 headquarters to discuss Olympic ideas.
“We oppose this bid,” Dempsey told me. “We don’t think that it’s inconsistent — and we’ve said this from day one — to also work to make the bid better.”
Cue the cynicism? Maybe. The greater an object’s mass, the greater its gravitational pull, and Planet 2024 seems to be sucking every politically-connected Bostonian into its orbit. Another No Boston Olympics co-founder, political operative Conor Yunits, defected in December, saying he felt that the process had improved and the bid was pretty good.
Yunits, it should be noted, is not on the burgeoning Boston 2024 payroll. Dempsey, who recently announced that he’s leaving his job at Bain & Co., says he and his other co-chairs — all volunteers — would never formally join the Olympic effort.
“I don’t think you’re going to see us take positions or roles with Boston 2024,” Dempsey said. “It’s not why we’re in this, it’s not what we’re all about.”
If his group stood down, there would still be plenty of watchdogging and opposition. The grass-roots group No Boston 2024 has packed community meetings and launched creative media campaigns. Evan Falchuk, who is trying to build a new political party, has been preparing his own ballot question to forbid taxpayer spending on the Olympics.
But No Boston Olympics has long been the establishment voice, the go-to skeptics in the press and at public forums, the ones with the ear of Marty Walsh and elected officials. Davey, who understands politics, sees the value of a loyal opposition.
“The critics, at the end of the day, can make us better, can make our bid better, can make our city better,” he said.
If prominent critics stand down, so early in the process, who else will take the torch?
Joanna Weiss can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaWeiss.