Boston 2024 ‘Putting Everything on the Line’ With Olympics Referendum Plan

Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish announced the group’s backing of a state ballot initiative about the city’s Olympic bid on Tuesday.
Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish announced the group’s backing of a state ballot initiative about the city’s Olympic bid on Tuesday. –The Boston Globe

There was probably going to be a vote about the Boston Olympics at some point, anyway.

A few weeks before Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish came right out and endorsed the idea in a Tuesday morning speech, he told Boston’s City Council when asked about the prospect of a referendum: “We would never want to ask anybody not to exercise their right.’’ That was similar to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s take that he “wouldn’t stand in the way’’ of a ballot question.

Meanwhile, Evan Falchuk, a 2014 third-party candidate for governor, was already planning to put a question to voters across the state, and given the amount of bid-related angst shown in recent polls, he’d probably get enough signatures to do so. (Falchuk said Tuesday that he felt Boston 2024 is trying to co-opt that process, and told The Boston Globe he is still planning on putting his own question to voters.)

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So, in saying Boston 2024 now supports a vote, Fish isn’t snapping his fingers and giving a referendum the go-ahead. What gives Boston 2024’s call for a referendum volume is that Fish not only said the committee supports a referendum related to the bid, he also said Boston 2024 will not bid if the referendum doesn’t go its way.

There’s a distinction between those two points. Falchuk told Boston.com earlier this month that a statewide ballot question brought to voters by an outside party must move to either enact or repeal a law. As such, Falchuk said his proposed question would focus on whether state taxpayer money could be used to fund a hypothetical Bay State Olympics in 2024. Given that Boston 2024 has said public funds would not be used for Olympic operations or for venue construction, Falchuk said such a proposition “should be non-controversial.’’ And following that line of thinking through, if Boston 2024 was confident it wouldn’t need state funds, then the bid would not necessarily be doomed. It would just face that limitation.

That’s not what Fish proposed on Tuesday, though.

Instead, he said that the Olympic bid would be dropped if the ballot question his group is proposing does not pass in its favor. And, he said, even if it passes in the state but does not have the majority of Boston’s support, the bid would still be dropped. This was further cemented by a news release from Boston 2024 later Tuesday, which said Fish “pledged that Boston 2024 would not go forward with its bid if the measure does not pass or if a majority of voters in the city of Boston do not support it.’’

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In other words, Boston 2024 isn’t talking about a question that would put conditions or parameters on an Olympic bid. It’s talking about a question that asks, point blank, whether or not to bid.

If that’s the kind of question Boston 2024 winds up pushing, questions from the group—a yes-or-no on bidding—and Falchuk—addressing the use of public funds—might not be redundant.

That’s a big “if,’’ and it will remain one until Boston 2024 arrives at the language and substance of its proposed ballot question. The effect of a ballot question would obviously hinge on what Boston 2024 winds up asking.

Doug Rubin, a political and communications consultant who is working with Boston 2024, told Boston.com on Tuesday that it’s too early to say how a question would read. As an added level of nuance, the Globe reported Tuesday that a referendum might need to be put on ballots by the legislature if it sought to measure public support for the bid without specifically implementing or repealing a law.

Asked on Tuesday night what Boston 2024 intends to gauge in the referendum, Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey did not offer much. In a statement through a spokesperson, he said: “We are working with experts to craft a question that passes legal and constitutional muster. We will also reach out to the other stakeholders, including the AG, Secretary of State and the Legislature, to determine the best way to put a question on the ballot in November 2016.’’

However, ballot questions are of the yes-no variety, and on Tuesday, Boston 2024 set its stakes. Fish said he felt that as the public meeting and discussion process continues, support for the bid will grow. If not, he said, it would be time to close up shop. “It’s putting everything on the line,’’ Fish said about a vote.

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Update: Falchuk published his proposed ballot question language Wednesday.

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