Lawmakers, Boston Olympics backers huddle at State House

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By Gintautas Dumcius

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE — Boston lawmakers on Friday met behind closed doors with top officials from Boston 2024, a nonprofit group seeking to bring the summer Olympics to the area.

Joined by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and his corporation counsel, former Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, legislators and Boston 2024 officials gathered for a private briefing in the House Members’ Lounge, with pastries and coffee catered by Boston Common Coffee.

Boston is on the shortlist of cities to represent the United States in a bid for the 2024 summer Olympics, the U.S. Olympic Committee said in June.

Lawmakers inside the room included Sen. Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell), Sens. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain), Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston) and William Brownsberger (D-Belmont), as well as Reps. Nick Collins (D-South Boston), Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan), Michael Moran (D-Brighton) and Jay Livingstone (D-Back Bay), among others. Donoghue helped pass a law that led to the creation of a commission that held public meetings and explored the feasibility of Boston hosting the Olympics.

James Rooney, the executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, Boston City Councilor Frank Baker and an aide to Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu were also present at the meeting.

Erin Murphy, executive vice president of Boston 2024, and Nikko Mendoza, the group’s vice president of engagement strategy and external affairs, were also in attendance. Murphy is a former communications director for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, while Mendoza worked as Gov. Deval Patrick’s director of operations and under Boston Mayor Thomas Menino before taking her current post.

Dan O’Connell, a former Patrick Cabinet official, is serving as Boston 2024 president. Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, a top backer of the Olympics bid, is serving as chairman. Both were also in attendance.

Chang-Diaz said she emerged from the meeting “less skeptical than before, but still a skeptic” of the effort. She still has “open questions” about a bid, she added.

Collins said the meeting provided a “sense of the planning process.” “We got a lot of good information, a lot of good back-and-forth and feedback about what it would take to host the Olympics, what it will mean for the city’s infrastructure and transporation, how it will be paid for, you know, making sure the city and the state are not footing the bill,” he said.

A vice president of Northwind Strategies, a consulting firm run by Gov. Patrick’s former chief of staff Doug Rubin, told a News Service reporter that the House Members’ Lounge meeting with legislators and others was closed to press.

Opponents of the bid say the effort is unnecessary and that the state’s attention and money should be spent on other priorities.

Patrick has sounded supportive notes for a bid.

“For me, as exciting as it would be to have the Olympics here, and I think it would be, the fact that we are pursuing that I think is hugely important,” Patrick said during an appearance on WGBH Radio last Thursday. “Because it means we are prepared to assert ourselves on the international stage. And I think it’s important for the Greater Boston area and the Commonwealth to let its light shine, to let our light shine. It’s important economically and socially, it’s great to create the buzz.”

Patrick said on a “practical level,” if Boston wins the bid, the impetus to finish his administration’s transportation infrastructure investment plan would be “huge.”

“There, the public would have to invest but in things that the public has already said they want,” he said. “And the opportunity to generate the support of the business community, both in dollar terms and in encouraging the Legislature to make those investments I think is also top drawer.”

Jim Braude, co-host of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio,” cut in, “It seems to me the most critical assurance that’s got to be made is if there’s ever a cost overrun — if we get this thing, and we secure it and we do the Olympics — that not a penny of that is paid by the public.”

“I think that’s right,” Patrick said.

“First of all, there is no public money involved in competing for the U.S. bid, as John Fish said,” Patrick said. “There need be no public money competing for the international bid. The public’s money, if any, would also not be involved in building any of the venues for it. And there’s lots of private interest in that so I don’t think the public’s going to need to be involved. But the connectivity of all of it depends on a first rate transportation system. And you know what? Boston and the Commonwealth need and deserve a first-rate transportation system.”

Boston 2024 supporters also met with former Gov. Mitt Romney this week at the Boston 2024 Partnership’s office in Boston’s Seaport district.

Romney, the former president and CEO of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee, which ran the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, was introduced at the meeting by Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics and a former U.S. Senate candidate.