The Boston City Council dove into the 2024 Olympics pool last week when it hosted the first hearing of the body’s special new committee on the Games. Finally, residents were able to confirm that some councilors actually have tough questions, while the larger group seems to be demonstrating tepid to reluctant support.
For people who have already been following Boston 2024’s slow march of tone deaf “civic engagement,” much of the hearing was a rehash of previous community powwows. Basically, construction magnate John Fish, architectural bigwig David Manfredi, and MassDOT secretary-turned-dancing-puppet Rich Davey testified about how awesome the Olympics would be for the city. You know, because sports fix everything.
There were precedents for this stage show. City Council President Bill Linehan of South Boston showed his colors a few weeks ago when his neighborhood hosted an Olympics summit at the Condon School on D Street. At some point during the almost four-hour long hearing, every councilor made an appearance, with the exception of East Boston’s Sal LaMattina who, after nine years in office, still sometimes gets lost on his way to City Hall.
Meanwhile, last week Councilor Josh Zakim, who represents the Back Bay and Beacon Hill, asked the room what they thought about his push for a non-binding vote on whether the Hub should host the Games. “We would never want to ask anybody not to exercise their rights,” said Fish, who nevertheless dismissed a referendum vote in favor of meetings stacked with plants and boosters, such as the Condon get-together where criticism was heckled.
There was some progress. Roxbury Councilor Tito Jackson raised the specter of gentrification, while at-large Councilor Michelle Wu prodded the 2024 committee to give more assurances that the city would be protected against an inevitable financial boondoggle. “I think the issue of overruns needs to be mentioned over and over again,” said Wu.
Dorchester Councilor Frank Baker jumped on the pile, asking questions about the specific impacts in his district, but wound up blasting the committee’s lack of respect after Manfredi and Fish ducked out early. Moving on, West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain Councilor Matt O’Malley kept his questioning brief, and appeared to be relatively neutral, while Mattapan Councilor Charles Yancey, to no one’s surprise, found an excuse to lead the conversation toward talk of the new high school in Mattapan he has been trying to deliver since the first Olympics in Athens.
Down the line, Linehan, Allston-Brighton Councilor Mark Ciommo, At-Large Councilors Stephen Murphy and Michael Flaherty, and Tim McCarthy of Hyde Park maintained dim-witted solidarity. When not praising the Olympics, they lobbed softball questions and asked for just enough clarification to demonstrate a lack of knowledge or at least a lack of interest in the bid.
As more and more city officials jump ship to work for Boston 2024, it will be increasingly important for the Council to cast a critical eye. Unfortunately, it looks like we will need a lot of turnover this fall to get the oversight we need.