Falchuk spearheads statewide Olympics referendum

Boston group still undecided on city vote

EVAN FALCHUK, WHO waged a spirited run last year as an independent candidate for governor, is back in campaign mode, hoping to drive a statewide ballot question that would forbid spending taxpayer funds for a Boston 2024 Summer Olympics. This week, Falchuk formally registered People’s Vote Olympics Committee to raise money for a 2016 statewide ballot question.

Falchuk, who attended Boston 2024’s first public presentation this week, thinks that it is “foolhardy” to believe that the Boston organizers can pull together a high-profile, international event without public funds. “They want to be driving public policy conversation around so many important issues, transportation, housing, economic development, and land use, so we have to have a democratic process for this,” he said.

The Newton resident believes that a ballot question is the only way to hold Boston 2024 organizers accountable to voters. “When I hear John Fish saying how great the Olympics are when they’re done in a democratic country…and then everybody says we don’t want you to vote, it’s a great illustration of the word irony,” he said, referring to the construction honcho helming the local Olympics effort.

The People’s Vote campaign could also help raise the profile of Falchuk’s fledgling United Independent Party. But a campaign to get an initiative petition on the ballot is in some ways more complex than getting a new political party started.

The attorney general’s office must certify a ballot question before signature gathering can even begin. The legal bar is a high one. Only four questions made it to the 2014 ballot; 29 others were rejected. The Legislature and the secretary of state both play roles in the process. An initiative petition must be signed by more than 60,000 voters.

As an initial template, Falchuk is looking to the 1972 statewide ballot question in Colorado that forced Denver to pull back from its 1976 Winter Olympics bid, becoming the first city to ever reject the Games: Coloradans voted 59 percent to 41 percent not to authorize a bond issue to pay for the sporting event.

Crafting a question that is easily understood by voters is another challenge.  “It needs to be pretty straightforward,” said Falchuk.

Falchuk has certain logistical advantages. He attracted enough volunteers to gather signatures to get on the gubernatorial ballot last year and won enough votes to get official state recognition for his party.  Yet he may have to dip into his own pocket to mount the Olympics campaign, as he did with his run for governor. “But you can get it organized without an enormous amount of money,” he said of a ballot campaign.

Falchuk has had preliminary conversations No Boston Olympics.  But he has not reached any formal agreement with the nonprofit group that is mulling trying to put a question on Boston’s municipal ballot this fall.

No Boston Olympics is “a couple of months or more” away from a decision to whether to spearhead a Boston vote, according to Chris Dempsey, the group’s co-chair.

Speaking hypothetically, Dempsey said, “We think that there is the potential to craft language that says we are not opposed to the Games as an idea; we are opposed to the Games as offered by the International Olympics Committee.”

He also noted that a citywide vote could happen sooner than a statewide vote, which would be slated for November 2016

Although No Boston Olympics remains undecided about pursuing a ballot effort, Dempsey said it has support across the political spectrum, with offers of support from both progressive and conservative groups.

“It is ultimately a state issue with the regional impact of the Games and the statewide taxpayer dollars that need to spent,” said Dempsey. “On the other hand, because the mayor of Boston is the one who signs the agreement, we think that there’s a specific question that we need to ask the city of Boston, too.”

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

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Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Dan O’Connell served as CEO of Boston 2024 until Friday’s announcement that former state transportation secretary Rich Davey would take over the job. O’Connell told the Wall Street Journal this week that he did not think opponents could gather enough signatures for a statewide ballot question. He has also suggested that organizers might proceed with the bid even if there was a “negative referendum” on the Games.

“We were very surprised by that,” Dempsey said.