The 2 big mistakes in Boston’s first Olympics pitch

Boston 2024 didn’t foresee a ballot question, and it undersold its primary opposition, newly revealed documents show.

New details are out about Boston’s Olympic bid.
New details are out about Boston’s Olympic bid. –AP

Boston 2024 told the United States Olympic Committee last year that it did not expect to see an Olympics-related ballot question in 2016. The bidding group also suggested its main opposition group was unlikely to gain much traction.

In retrospect, Boston 2024 was wrong on both fronts.

Putting the bid to voters would be “burdensome’’ and “onerous’’ for anybody who sought to do so, the bidding group said in its original bidding documents, which were released in full Friday.

The USOC asked groups from cities seeking the national bid to say whether they could “be forced into a referendum by opponents to the bid.’’

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In the bidding documents, Boston 2024 acknowledged that its opposition could seek to put a question on the ballot, but said “the costs to get an initiative petition on the ballot are substantial, usually well in excess of a million dollars. In addition, opponents to an initiative petition have multiple opportunities to object and intervene throughout the process at every step.’’

“If an initiative petition were to prevail, opponents to the petition could seek to have the legislature amend or repeal the petition’s decree through new legislation,’’ the documents read.

Boston 2024’s implication, seemingly, was not to worry about a vote.

By the time Boston 2024 submitted the bid, opposition group No Boston Olympics had already floated the idea of a referendum as a way to fight the Olympics. By the end of January, former third-party gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk had announced his plans to bring the question to voters.

As poll numbers turned sour, Boston 2024 took a different approach to a referendum by mid-March, promising to support a ballot question. It said it did so with the USOC’s support, and earlier this summer, the USOC said it would have expected a referendum no matter where it went. (The referendum outlook for next year remains an open question, though Falchuk has formally moved to bring a question about taxpayer funds to voters.)

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The ballot question consideration is part of the original bid to the USOC from Boston 2024, which was submitted last December. The group had previously put a redacted version of the documents out to the public, but the full version had not gone public until Friday, when two previously unseen chapters were released. Boston 2024 decided to release the documents earlier this week, after facing political pressure from the city council.

Boston 2024 and the USOC say the old plan is superceded by a new plan it calls Bid 2.0, which the USOC helped craft. But a chapter released Friday about political and public support—which includes the referendum section—gives a sense for how Boston 2024 saw the political landscape before the USOC selected Boston in January.

Boston 2024’s representation of its opposition is also a newly unveiled piece in the bid.

Boston 2024 described No Boston Olympics, saying: “four local activists formed a group in opposition to our bid, and while we respect their differing views and their right to promote them, our polling data shows that they do not represent the majority of public opinion. No elected official has publicly endorsed the group, they have not received significant financial backing, and their efforts have been limited to social media.’’

About a week before the bid was submitted, many of the people who would eventually form a second opposition group—No Boston 2024—had held their first meeting in Jamaica Plain, but they were not listed in the opposition section of the bid.

Opponents to the Olympic bid have led the local discussion about it. No Boston Olympics has proven politically formidable, despite reporting limited resources compared to Boston 2024.

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Boston 2024 also included an internal poll in its submission to the USOC, which it did not include in the redacted version. The poll from September 2014 found that, upon being asked out of the blue whether they supported a bid, 45 percent said yes compared to 32 percent who said no.

Upon hearing that existing venues could be used and that infrastructure improvements could be involved, the numbers changed to 56 percent in support. Support has never been so high in independent polls since.

Boston before and after the Olympics

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