We Really Dodged a Bullet Passing on Boston 2024, Huh?
A year ago this afternoon, Chris Dempsey stood at the bar inside the Beantown Pub, sleeves rolled up, and slugged another Bud Light Lime. Boston 2024 was dead. He had won.
This was the moment he had risked everything for. He had long since left his high-paying consultant job at Bain & Co., and failure would have meant total alienation for the Brookline kid, perhaps even an ignominious exit from the city he loved. But alongside Kelley Gossett and Liam Kerr of No Boston Olympics, Dempsey had given the world a case study for defeating unwanted Olympic bids and the entrenched business and political interests that sustain them, a proprietary blend of grassroots organizing, savvy social media, and a willingness to work with the press.
And here he was, the man of the hour. Progressives who would normally dry-heave at the mention of Bain passed around pitchers of beer and a half-eaten hummus plate, waiting their turn to congratulate the guy who had become the baritone voice of Olympic skepticism.
Earlier that morning, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called a surprise press conference, following a weekend of speculation that the United States Olympic Committee had grown tired of us and would rebound to an eager Los Angeles. Reporters were still arriving when Walsh began his prepared remarks. A month after we wondered if anyone at City Hall had actually read the so-called “bid book,” Walsh now refused to mortgage the city’s future on a three-week party.
“I cannot commit to putting the taxpayers at risk,’’ Walsh said. “If committing to sign a guarantee today is what’s required to move forward, then Boston is no longer pursuing the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
A few hours later, the bid was dead.
To mark the one-year anniversary of Boston 2024’s collapse, WBUR and the MassINC Polling Group surveyed 301 Bostonians and found no evidence of seller’s remorse. Forty-eight percent said the Olympics would have been bad for Boston, while 44 percent were unwilling to snuff out the torch for good. Oddly enough, those are the exact same numbers pollsters found when they asked the same question this time last year.
In life, Boston 2024 was like a Saturday morning cartoon. Each week, organizers would trot out a new celebrity spokesperson playing ball hockey on a roof somewhere, or unveil a sleek, new venue rendering hot off the Elkus Manfredi drawing board, always paired with the most unflattering, flash-heavy photos of the current, economically depressed site. And without fail, before the week was through, the bid would suffer some new indignity. It was terrific theatre.
After the Brattle Group released its state-commissioned postmortem, finding that bid organizers had underestimated costs while potentially overestimating revenue, a zombie Boston 2024 issued the first of what it claimed would be a two-part rebuttal. The second never came, and neither did a response when I asked who was behind it, and what they were being paid for it. Remember, at this point, David Ortiz’s Children’s Fund was still waiting for the $7,500 it was promised.
One year later, this has all wrapped up like the end of Animal House. Celtics co-owner and former bid chairman Steve Pagliuca was briefly a member of Tom Brady’s entourage in their ploy to woo Kevin Durant to Boston. He still blames the bid’s demise on the snowiest winter in the city’s history, and says he’s handed off the bid’s books to Olympic organizers in Los Angeles, where snow is a less likely hindrance. Sara Myerson, Walsh’s Olympic watchdog, briefly helmed Imagine Boston 2030 before taking a job as the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s planning director. Dempsey took his talents to Masabi, the firm behind the MBTA’s commuter rail smartphone ticketing app—a fitting gig for someone with such admiration for the T-riding ex-governor and fellow Brookliner Mike Dukakis.
“The ethos of Boston 2024 will endure well beyond the bid process and the Games,” read the notes from a meeting of Boston 2024’s Movement Committee two summers ago. “We will commit to 1-2 signature programs even if Boston does not win the bid. We will leave the Olympic legacy to the next generation of athletes better than we had it.”
Except, there is no legacy program. There is no bid. And thank goodness.