Five takeaways from the Olympics debate
A lot of noise and numbers, but little illumination
THIS BOSTON OLYMPICS DEBATE was a train wreck. There were occasional flashes of insight, but overall the two reporters asking the questions and the four debaters answering them did little to illuminate the subject matter. They tossed numbers around indiscriminately, they got sidetracked on seemingly inconsequential issues, and they ended up all too often talking over each other so no one could be heard. At the end of the hour-long debate, Fox 25’s Maria Stefanos said she wished they could keep going for another three hours. Thankfully, no one paid any attention.
Since there are five Olympic rings, I’ll give you five takeaways from this debate.
There was no clear winner, which means the Olympics opponents probably came out ahead. Steve Pagiluca, the chairman of Boston 2024, and Daniel Doctoroff, a board member of both Boston 2024 and the US Olympic Committee, came into this debate with the challenge of turning opponents into supporters. Public support for the Olympics is currently about 40 percent, with 50 percent opposed. Pagliuca and Doctoroff were aggressive, grabbing a disproportionate share of the debate time. But it’s hard to believe they changed a lot of minds. They were forced to spend a lot of time on the defensive, fending off verbal hand grenades from the opponents — Chris Dempsey of No Boston Olympics (“They’re spending $4.5 billion and not one penny for the T”) and Andrew Zimbalist, an economist from Smith College (“Most of the numbers I have looked at reflect drunken optimism”).
The vision thing was in short supply. To convert opponents into supporters, Boston 2024 has to sell people on the notion that hosting the Olympics can positively transform the city of Boston and other parts of Massachusetts. The format never allowed Pagliuca and Doctoroff to make their case. The first question was about why Boston 2024 was just now releasing an unredacted version of its first bid document, which has been replaced by what many people are calling Bid 2.0. Dempsey suggested Boston 2024 was releasing the old document only because of the threat of a subpoena from the Boston City Council. Sensing where things were going, Pagliuca asked when they were going to start looking forward and not backward. But the first 20 minutes went by and he never got untracked. The questions kept coming about cost overruns, traffic, air rights, tax breaks, velodromes, and taxpayer guarantees. Pagliuca was like a fighter fending off an opponent’s jabs, tiring as the fight wore on. He kept repeating that the last three Olympics had all turned a profit. He repeatedly accused his debate opponents of hyperbole.
There were a few news nuggets. Doctoroff, who was a convincing advocate for hosting the Olympics, said traffic congestion actually decreases during the Games, and the claim came across as believable. Doctoroff also seemed to put to rest gossip that the US Olympic Committee is prepared to walk away from Boston to find a more welcoming community. He said the USOC is “incredibly impressed” with Boston and has no intention of going somewhere else. “Rumors are rumors. They’re not true,” he said. “Boston is our city.”