Here’s What We Learned from the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Emails with Boston 2024

Emails obtained via public records request reveal even more of the bid's inner workings.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid has pledged to have a transparent process, but it’s taken a series of public-records requests by concerned citizens and media outlets to unearth email correspondence between the privately funded Boston 2024 and public agencies. Earlier this month, Boston attorney Joel Fleming obtained a bundle of emails between UMass officials and Boston 2024, including details of previously-secret bid documents. Now, through another public-records request, Jonathan Cohn of NoBoston2024 has obtained a sizable cache of emails and documents between bid organizers and members of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. What’s in those emails? Let’s take a look:

1. The bid’s Olympic and Paralympic Movement Committee is a diverse group.

An Excel spreadsheet contained in the bundle lists members of the bid’s Movement Committee, which includes: Annie Abbruzzese of Wonder Boston; Paralympians Cheri Blauwet and Paul Callahan; Ralph Cox of Redgate Real Estate Advisors; Kevin Cummings of the Bay State Games; Mike Eruzione, of 1980 Miracle on Ice fame; City employee and Olympian Nicole Freedman of Boston Bikes; Olympian Kayla Harrison; Bill Kane of Biomed Realty; Duke Little of Team Impact; grassroots organizer Eric Reddy; Bob Reynolds of Putnam Investments; long-distance runner Ruben Sanca; Shirley Singleton of consulting firm Edgewater; Kim Steimle Vaughan of Suffolk Construction; Olympian and Northeastern University men’s rowing assistant coach Dan Walsh; as well as Boston 2024 Vice President Erin Murphy, Vice President for Engagement Strategy and External Affairs Nikko Mendoza, and Boston Redevelopment Authority project manager John Fitzgerald.

2. The bid has its eye on children.

In a July 28, 2014 meeting, the Movement Committee discussed placing “‘Hometown Hero’ stories featuring athletes in local newspapers,” followed by visits to schools. The committee also discussed sending athletes to schools for field day events, hosting sports clinics and demonstrations for children, and a mentoring program “to cultivate the next generation of Olympic/Paralympic athletes” with a focus on “youth 8 to 11 years old who will be athletes, volunteers, and spectators in 2024.”

In April 1, 2015 email to Boston 2024 Chief Administrative Officer Joe Rull, Boston 2024 Director of Sport and the Community Ingrid Oelschlager makes mention of the bid’s desire to begin including Boston Public Schools stakeholders in its plans: “As mentioned, I just wanted to keep you in the loop that we’re starting to work with BPS stakeholders, including the BPS Director of Athletics, Avery Esdaile. No need to do anything with this, just wanted you to be aware in case it comes up in your conversations with the Mayor.”

3. There are partnerships a-plenty.

“Thanks to our friends at the Boston Red Sox, free parking is available at the lot on Brookline Avenue next to Boston Beer Works,” Mendoza told attendees of an October 6, 2014 event at Blazing Paddles, attended by Mayor Marty Walsh and then Gov. Deval Patrick.

At a Movement Committee meeting in August 2014, members also discussed partnering with professional and college sports teams to co-brand with 2024, including a “special patch for uniforms during time of bid submission or other major milestone.” Also discussed was a possible partnership with ride-sharing app Uber, as well as contracting with “local and minority/women-owned vendors as much as possible.”

Boston 2024 appears to be open to crowdsourcing solutions to the bid’s shortcomings—or at least open to looking like it does. On February 17, 2015, Jacob Auchincloss, the new director of the MIT $100K—one of the nation’s oldest entrepreneurship competitions—reached out to the mayor’s liaison to the bid, BRA project manager John Fitzgerald, to consider a collaboration with the Boston 2024 Partnership. Fitzgerald forwarded the message to Rull, and wrote to Rull:

Sat with this kid last week, way to get startup/institutional competition going. May want to sit down with him and Manfredi and give this kid some issues he could put out there to their community and have a contest to solve it. i.e. temporary stadiums, traffic flow, even financial issues. Whatever we think could be an issue. I think its [sic] worth sitting with him, as well as a marketing tool to get people excited over putting on the Games. This is what hosting the Games will do for the City, get some great young minds thinking about how to do things differently.

4. John Fitzgerald is just as interested in selling the bid as Boston 2024.

Fitzgerald makes several references to selling or marketing the bid. From a January 22, 2015 email to ex-Senator Mo Cowan, now of ML Strategies: “I do see your point on making the state feel more included. It absolutely should. We need to market the entire state, not just the City, if we are to win the bid.”

In a February 20, 2015 email, Fitzgerald tells Rull he’s “at a breakfast now selling Olympics to a couple locals.”

Photo by Sarah Nichols/Flickr

Photo by Sarah Nichols/Flickr

5. Bid organizers love Mul’s Diner.

Several emails reference meetings at the Southie staple, located at 75 W. Broadway.

6. Back in 2014, USOC predicted some of the hurdles the bid might face.

Included in the emails are several pages from the USOC’s2024 U.S. Applicant City Workbook, which the city was required to complete as part of its bid. “Cities proposing the Games in multiple political jurisdictions must demonstrate the governmental support of each jurisdiction,” one passage reads. The deliverable poses nine questions outlining ways to gauge political support for the bid—which, in retrospect, appear prescient. From Numbers 5-8:

  • Do you envisage the implementation of any new laws to facilitate the organization of the Games?
  • Does legislation in your city or state require you to carry out a referendum to be held on this type of project? If so, it should be carried out by Nov. 30, 2014, with results provided to the USOC.
  • Could you be forced into a referendum by opponents of the bid? If so, what would the legal implications be if the referendum were negative?
  • List all elections planned at the city, state and regional levels through December 2015 and indicate whether the outcome of such elections could have any impact on the preparation and staging of the Games in 2024.

In the same deliverable, a copy of the 2020 Host City Contract is included with two questions: “Is your city willing to sign the Host City Contract unedited? If no, what potential issues do you have with executing the contract?”

7. Boston 2024 has suggested some tweets.

Days before the USOC announced Boston as its bid city, Boston 2024 Partnership president Dan O’Connell sent an email to the Boston 2024 Executive Committee, encouraging members to share a video produced by Karen Kaplan and her team at Hill Holliday. “If you and/or your organization are active on Twitter, we encourage you to share our new ‘Believe in Boston’ video with the hashtag #BelieveInBoston. Please see below for sample tweets or feel free to be creative.”

8. According to a Boston 2024 survey, Massachusetts residents trusted Robert Kraft more than the Boston Globe on the Olympics.  

Also enclosed in Cohn’s bundle is an April 10, 2014 memo to the Boston 2024 partnership from opinion research consultant Kiley & Company, containing a survey of how Massachusetts residents viewed the Games. The survey indicates that “Massachusetts residents are receptive to the idea of holding the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in the Boston area,” with a few caveats:

Residents are also receptive to arguments that emphasize legacy benefits, such as expanded affordable housing and public access to new athletic venues. While they are not quite as interested in some of the intangibles we discussed, such as increased civic pride and unity, they see value in these as well…Not surprisingly, many Bay Staters are concerned about the cost of hosting the Olympics and the potential impact on their taxes. Traffic congestion and security are also major concerns, especially in the Greater Boston area itself. Addressing these concerns in a credible and transparent way will be important to building public support for a Boston Olympic effort.

A PowerPoint presentation included in the emails outlines the survey’s findings—and includes a slide ranking the public’s trust in “messengers.” The person Massachusetts trusted most on the Olympics? New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Even given the survey’s timing (well-before the advent of Deflategate), Kraft’s rank—ahead of Mayor Walsh, Governor Patrick, the Boston Globe, and Olympian Aly Raisman—is surprising.

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“Among the handful of potential ‘messengers’ we tested, the most credible is New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft,” the memo says. “Perhaps because his perceived areas of expertise include both business and sports, Kraft is seen as a trustworthy voice on these issues by almost three-of-five Bay State residents.”

9. Boston 2024 provided Mayor Walsh with “themes.”

In a November 5, 2014 email to Mayor Walsh scheduler Pamela Carver, Mendoza invites Walsh to participate in the the USOC’s November 18 visit. “We have divided the day into several sessions focusing on specific themes we want to highlight for the USOC and have prioritized the three below for your consideration The Mayor’s participation is extremely important to this effort and we would love to have him join us at all three of these sessions if possible,” Mendoza says.

For each of the three sessions, Mendoza provides a theme:

  • Boston is a place that draws the world – Boston is a unique combination of education, innovation and sport.
  • Boston is a global center of culture, innovation and you. And we’re all in for 2024!
  • Boston is exciting, international, youth-oriented, university-driven and fun!

10. Boston 2024 organizers want to control the message.

The above tweet bounced from Boston 2024 Vice President of International Strategy Amy Sennett, to Mendoza, to Rull, who asked the BRA’s Fitzgerald if he had anything to do with it. Fitzgerald responded:

Yes, not exactly how I billed it, but I did plan on coming by their next community meeting and introducing myself and taking questions. They told me they would like to focus on the Convention Center Media and Press Center that hasn’t gotten alot [sic] of attention in the media, but they feel it impacts their neighborhood greatly. They also have some issues with that has been planned thru the 100 acre plan and all that, and what do the Olympics mean for that plan. It should not be billed as 2024’s meeting, but rather just the city official coming out to meet with the community group to hear their concerns.

In a February 24, 2015 email to other bid organizers, Sennett gives three suggestions to help “bolster our presentation”:

  • When we discuss venue specific sites, let’s also try to discuss the transportation improvements that could occur around those sites.
  • Avoid mentioning volunteer positions in the same answer as jobs.
  • Expect a lot of questions about transit tonight. Maybe a response like the following: ‘The big proposal referenced projected that the community has expressed interest in and we hope/believe will be completed by 2024 but none of them are absolutely necessary to host the Games. Where funding is not already in place, the Games could be catalyst to find the political will to find the funding to make these projects a reality. But ultimately up to public to decide if they want these projects and want to pay for them.’

11. Boston 2024 is not shy about distributing talking points.

“A member of our staff at Boston 2024 or Suffolk, or the appropriate committee chair will be reaching out to you (if they have not already) to discuss topics and general talking points for your particular involvement,” Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish wrote in a June 30, 2014 email distributed to Fitzgerald, Manfredi, Dan O’Connell, and others, just a day before the USOC’s visit to Boston.

Before a January 2015 meeting between Boston’s Chief of Economic Development John Barros and the mayors of Chelsea, Cambridge, Somerville, Quincy, and Braintree, the BRA’s Fitzgerald reached out to Murphy:

[Barros] told me one or two of them are asking if Olympic updates will be discussed. I told John there isn’t much new to report given it’s still so soon from the announcement, but it does beg the question, would you guys like to use this opportunity to have all these Mayors in the room to perhaps give some sort of update? I am away unfortunately in Montreal Wed-Fri for work (let me know if there is anyone I should meet up there!) but really it’s up to you guys if there is something beneficial in being there. Otherwise I don’t think there is harm in missing it and I would give John Barros general talking points.

From the aforementioned Kiley & Company memo:

In talking about the possibility of a Boston-area Olympics, proponents should emphasize the tangible economic benefits that this effort would generate: improved roads and highways, expanded public transit, strengthened infrastructure, and thousands of construction jobs. Proponents should be as specific as possible, and should stress that these benefits will be with us long after the Olympics themselves are only a memory.

For the October 2014 event at Blazing Paddles, Mendoza gave Walsh a set of talking points:

  • I am pleased to be with you tonight to celebrate our Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
  • Boston is known across the world for its sports prowess. This strong showing of such an impressive group of Massachusetts-bred Olympians and Paralympians is a testament to our sporting spirit. 
  • I appreciate hearing your thoughts tonight about Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Games.
  • Regardless of the outcome, the Boston 2024 effort will promote a better long-term relationship with you, our local Olympic and Paralympic heroes.

12. BRA official admits that public planning has been “encumbered by…provincialism.” You don’t say?

Deputy Director for Waterfront Planning Richard E. McGuinness said in a January 23, 2015 email to architect David Manfredi: “I really enjoyed viewing the rendering for the 2024 games particularly the Olympic Boulevard and the Fort Point Channel. It’s exciting to ‘think big’ and ‘outside the box.’ It’s been awhile [sic] since we have been able to plan the public realm without being encumbered by short-term to mid-term provincialism. You certainly jazzed up the Fort Point Channel Watersheet Activation plan.”

13. Boston 2024 organizers read The Atlantic.

In a December 5, 2014 email, Fitzgerald sent an article from The Atlantic‘s CityLab titled “A Massive Arts Center Will Test the Legacy of the 2012 London Olympics” to Mendoza, Murphy, Kenneth Brown and Bill Coyne. From the email:

This is the kind of after effect [sic] we need to make sure doesn’t happen. I don’t think the housing issue is as relevant because the neighborhoods are not similar to East London but the no local jobs/cost overrun effect is of course not ideal from the “model” we are using/ Just wanted to explore the legitimacy of these numbers and claims made on the budget piece. Anyway we can do that?? Thanks!