Loud and Messy, Boston 2024 Debate Changes Little

Both sides in the Olympic debate clashed in an hour long free-for-all.

Associated Press

Photo via AP

The first televised debate between opponents and supporters of the effort to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Massachusetts had loud moments of brilliance before ending in a cantankerous stalemate, offering red-meat moments for partisans, but little for undecideds.

Boston 2024 Chairman Steve Pagliuca and USOC board member Daniel Doctoroff passionately argued for their bid inside WFCT’s studio, with a mix of offense (the success of the Olympics in the United State) and defense (recently released Bid 2.0).

During this “no rules” free-for-all of a debate, Doctoroff initially came across as thoughtful before devolving into a condescending New Yorker telling Bostonians just how it’s going to be, while a relaxed Pagliuca came across as knowledgeable and pleasant. The opponents, led by No Boston Olympics co-chair Chris Dempsey and Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College, tried to poke holes in any notion that bringing the Olympics to Boston would benefit the city.

Dempsey had the best zingers of the night; though his contentious disagreements with Doctoroff seemed to take on a personal tone, he was clearly the most prepared of anybody on the stage. Zimbalist was nearly a non-factor throughout the first third of the debate, but when he did participate, he spoke as though he were in a lecture hall discussion with students, not a debate with three successful men on live television.

A few thoughts on Thursday’s #OlympicsDebate:

1. That was awful.

Nobody should have gone into that debate expecting Kennedy-Romney but man, that was an hour we will never get back. Thursday’s debate may have been the worst live debate I’ve ever seen. There were too many people on stage, random B-roll footage on the live-feed, too much crosstalk, and not enough clear direction. It is difficult to imagine an undecided observer turning off their television last night and thinking to themselves, “I learned a lot by watching that and it was a good use of my time.” The public would be better served by a debate—if there is one—by having just Pagliuca and Dempsey in a one-on-one debate with one moderator.

2. It was a draw.

Doctoroff and Zimbalist’s performances did not help their counterparts in winning over any hearts or minds to their side. Pagliuca and Dempsey were able to make strong points that helped their side here and there, but they were ultimately canceled out by everything else that went on during that hour long disaster.

3. Boston 2024 wants Bid 1.0 to go away.

Olympic boosters want to forget about Bid 1.0 and the John Fish era of Boston 2024. Early in the debate, Pagliuca and Doctoroff were on the verge of apologizing for what happened in the early days of the bid. “It’s more important to have transparency than confidentiality,” Pagliuca said.

Doctoroff said there were mistakes made in the bid’s infancy, but that the level of detail and planning put into the process by the bid group is outstanding. “In retrospect more transparency is always better, there were clearly mistakes made up until a few months ago,” he said.

Opponents won’t let it go, and have used the bid’s frequent stumbles with transparency as potent weapon against them. Dempsey dismissed Boston 2024’s suggestions that the group is transparent by pointing out that they only agree to release things when they face pressure from the outside.  Pagliuca appeared sincere, however, when he said that he is trying to change things.

4. Boston needs to sign a financial guarantee.

After last night there should be no doubt going forward that the city needs to sign a financial guarantee in order to bring the Olympics to Boston. “To bid on the Olympics you have to sign a host city contract. Unless you do that, you can’t bid for the Olympics,” Pagliuca said.

Dempsey and Zimbalist ripped the organizers for this, suggesting that such a move would expose the taxpayers of Boston and Massachusetts to paying for the Olympics. Pagliuca downplayed their concerns by pointing out that Boston 2024 has crafted a “four-layered” insurance policy that would protect taxpayers. Zimbalist went further, challenging the Olympic boosters to tell the IOC that if they’re so enamored with the Agenda 2020 reforms, they should toss the financial guarantee for cities.

5. Boston or bust.

Doctoroff made it very clear that the USOC is firmly behind bringing the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston. Los Angeles is out of the picture. “Boston is our city,” Doctoroff said. Poll numbers are still an issue for the USOC, and it’s incumbent upon Boston 2024 to raise them. The deadline for that is still unclear. During the debate Doctoroff said the polling numbers need to rise “sooner rather than later,” but told reporters after the debate that “there’s no hard deadline.”

What’s Next?

USOC officials said that this was the first time a local televised debate was held on bringing the Olympics to a city in the United States. It’s unclear when, or if, the two sides will meet again in a televised debate on the issue.

The USOC has to submit a letter to to the IOC that would officially nominate Boston as their bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. In the spring of 2016, the IOC will whittle down the field of prospective applicant cities. A final decision on the host of the games will be made at an IOC meeting in September 2017.