Governor Charlie Baker is right. Boston 2024 needs a plan — and fast.
Anyone who believes the United States Olympic Committee isn’t yearning to switch its 2024 bid from Boston to a less ornery city also believes Tom Brady can do no wrong.
Los Angeles is looking better every day. And, despite official denials, fear of a seismic shift to another coast is driving a potential reshuffling of the Boston 2024 leadership deck. It would ease one wealthy businessman — John Fish — off center stage, while pushing forward another one — Steve Pagliuca, a Bain Capital executive and Celtics co-owner. Two more rich businessmen would be added to the roster as advisers: Red Sox president Larry Lucchino and advertising executive Jack Connors.
But all their money isn’t enough to convince skeptics they won’t be tapping ours. As Baker’s very public push for more detail makes clear, the Boston 2024 team has yet to reveal a credible financial and venue plan — one that can win the hearts and minds of citizens who don’t think Boston needs an Olympics to be world class and don’t want taxpayer money put at risk for it.
Baker’s support is critical to the effort to sell the Olympics to the public. Only the pope has higher approval ratings. Voters trust him on pocketbook issues. If he’s not satisfied with Boston 2024’s math and transparency, the public has every reason to have doubts too.
The USOC unveiled Boston as its choice just as Baker was taking office. Since then, the governor has walked a fine line between being open-minded and noncommittal. He probably doesn’t want the pom-pom shakers to lump him in with the rest of us provincial naysayers. Yet he’s also a smart man with a keen eye for numbers — the kind that turn up in polls and balance sheets.
Recent polling shows significant resistance to the Olympics. While that can change, Baker’s bottom line for Massachusetts does not. This governor won election with a pledge not to raise taxes. He’s also under pressure to address significant budget woes and infrastructure deficiencies. The MBTA meltdown drove that home during the winter. While Boston 2024 boosters argue that hosting the Summer Games could be a catalyst for needed infrastructure improvements, no one has yet been able to show that Olympic needs meet the overall needs of Massachusetts.
Baker also promised accountability and transparency, qualities so far lacking from Boston 2024.
It took a push from Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh for the group to release any basic financial information. It’s still balking at divulging how much money it’s paying to Weber Shandwick, the international media conglomerate hired to reset Olympic spin.
Given all that, it’s no wonder the governor is warning Boston 2024 it needs to deliver a more complete plan by June. The public, he said, needs time to review the roadmap before Sept.15, when the USOC must send the International Olympic Committee an official letter confirming Boston’s bid.
This is a headache Baker really doesn’t need. He must make good on his own promises to voters. Still, some heavy hitters are trying to breathe new life into Boston 2024. Connors, for example, crossed party lines to support Baker in the last election, and hosted a dinner that raised more than $200,000 for the Massachusetts Republican Party and its effort on Baker’s behalf.
It would be bad for Baker if it looks like he is giving in to pressure from political supporters.
So far, it doesn’t seem like that’s happening. Baker is holding Boston 2024 to a high and quick standard of delivery. Meanwhile, he is also pointing out that it’s up to the USOC to decide what to do about Boston. He didn’t say it, but maybe he’s thinking a switch in locales would solve a lot of problems.
Scott Blackmun, CEO of the USOC, told the Globe that LA is not being considered as a fall-back city. “We categorically deny that any such discussions are taking place,” said Blackmun. “We also categorically deny that any such discussions have taken place in the past. If I could say that more strongly, I would.”
Deny, deny, deny. It’s the way of the world, whether you work for the US Olympics group or the New England Patriots.