In his presentation to the US Olympic Commission in December of last year, Mayor Martin Walsh said of Boston, “We don’t have real opposition . . . Everyone who is engaged, everyone who has listened, everyone who has faith in our future understands the opportunity this represents for our city.” He continued, “Boston’s commitment to the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games is broad and it is deep.”
These were strange claims from our new mayor, as he had neither listened to nor engaged the public in the lead-up to the submission of the city’s Olympic bid to the USOC.
Although the origins of the campaign for a Boston Olympics can be traced to shortly after the 2012 London Games, the political effort became clear during the summer of 2013, when the State Senate nearly unanimously passed a bill to create a feasibility commission to study the prospect of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics. When the commission was officially formed that November, it was filled with political staffers and titans from the construction/real estate and tourism industries rather than economists who study the impact of the Games. The commission was chaired by John Fish, the CEO of Suffolk Construction, the largest construction company in New England. Fish, the 33rd wealthiest person in Boston, has gained a reputation as “most powerful man in Boston” because of his closeness with the mayor’s office and the ease with which he receives city contracts.
At first, the Olympics discussion largely flew under the radar in Boston. The late mayor Tom Menino thought the idea was “far-fetched,” and the issue was barely discussed in the mayoral election in 2013. Although the Cambridge City Council took a stance in December against the bid, the Boston City Council ignored the issue entirely. The Boston 2024 Partnership, the successor commission, operated in secrecy. There were no public meetings by Boston 2024 or the mayor in the lead-up to the submission of the bid, and even the bid itself has yet to be released in full.
In November, however, details of the undisclosed bid started leaking out. We learned that Franklin Park had been designated for the equestrian events and pentathlon—but no one had ever asked those who live near and use Franklin Park. Franklin Park is Boston’s largest green space. Created by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1800s, it borders economically and racially diverse neighborhoods like Roxbury and Dorchester. For many Bostonians in these communities, Franklin Park is their only access to large park space. The reality that a private group could swoop in and claim ownership over something that belongs to all of Boston was shocking to us. We decided that if the mayor and Boston 2024 weren’t going to host community meetings, then we would. We held the first open community meeting about the bid, where residents from across Boston and the metro area where able to voice concerns, ask questions and come together to start organizing against the bid.