Boston councilor calls for four Olympic ballot questions

Boston voters will go the polls for a municipal election on Nov. 3

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

BOSTON (SHNS) – A Boston city councilor is calling for the placement of four Olympic questions on the local November 2015 ballot.

City Councilor Josh Zakim, a Back Bay resident who also represents the neighborhoods of Beacon Hill, Fenway, Kenmore, Mission Hill and the West End, filed the order for the non-binding questions on Monday.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Boston 2024, a non-profit headed by Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, are pushing for the city to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and the Paralympic Games. Both have said the venture will be financed with private dollars.

Zakim’s proposed questions ask whether Boston should host the 2024 games, should the city commit any public money, should the city make any financial guarantees to cover cost overruns for the games, and should the city use eminent domain to take private land on behalf of the games.

Boston voters will go the polls for a municipal election, in which city council seats will be up for grabs, on Nov. 3.

Walsh has said he does not support a referendum on the Olympics, though he supports citizens having the right to collect signatures for a referendum.

Zakim’s office said his order will likely surface during the Boston City Council meeting scheduled for Wednesday at noon. The order needs sign-off from a majority of the 13-member city council and Mayor Walsh in order to proceed.

“I have heard from Bostonians in my own district and across the city who are justifiably worried about how they will commute to work, or whether their tax dollars will be used to finance Olympic construction and operations,” Zakim said in a statement. “I applaud Boston 2024 for bringing its proposal for the Boston Olympics into the community for public discussion and scrutiny, but the people of this City deserve even more.”

Bostonians need an opportunity have their voices heard “collectively and on the record,” Zakim added.

The Olympics came up during a sit-down on Monday between Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Swampscott), House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst).

In the press conference that followed, Baker said it was part of the “ongoing dialogue that we’ve been having for the past few weeks as information starts to become available with respect to what the general contours of the proposal look like.”

DeLeo and Rosenberg have both publicly expressed a desire for Olympics events to take place across the Bay State, instead of just in the Boston area. Rosenberg said on Monday the UMass Amherst campus has international students from over 100 nations, so “we’re used to having foreign visitors.”

Asked if he agreed with their stances, Baker said, “I guess what I would say at this point is, I’m a pretty practical guy. I would like to do what works. And for me what works is really going to be a function of the conversation that’s going to take place over the course of the next few months. I don’t believe at this point that I have enough information to know enough about what would work where to be comfortable saying that, you know, ‘the Olympics should be this big, or this big or this big.'”

Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), who joined Baker, DeLeo and Rosenberg at the press conference, said Olympics planning needs “broader involvement in decision-making than we see today.”

Tarr said there should be public hearings and analyses from budget writers on the Olympics bid. Tarr has filed a bill with Sen. Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) to require at least one public hearing on the bid by the House and Senate Ways and Means committees.

Former gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk last month set up a ballot committee for a statewide vote on having Boston as an Olympics host city. Falchuk, who heads the United Independent Party, created the “People’s Vote Olympics Committee” last month.

A community group, EastBoston2020, noted that Boston 2024 officials have floated the site of the Suffolk Downs racetrack in their neighborhood as an alternative location for the proposed Olympic stadium.

“We are not taking a formal position on whether or not Boston should play host to the Olympics, only underscoring our assertion that whatever is proposed for that parcel must meet certain standards and gain support from East Boston residents,” Giordana Mecagni, a co-founder and leader in the group, said in a statement on Monday.

The group, which describes itself as a spin-off from a group originally formed to oppose an East Boston casino, includes a transportation secretary under former Gov. Deval Patrick, James Aloisi, and a former aide to the late Mayor Thomas Menino, Ernani DeAraujo.

Suffolk Downs partnered with Mohegan Sun in a bid for a casino license and lost out to rival bidder Wynn Resorts, which is developing a casino in Everett. Suffolk Downs owners are now exploring next steps for the 161-acre site.

In an interview with the News Service weeks before he died in October 2014, Menino suggested Suffolk Downs as a potential site for the Olympics.

Originally skeptical of the venture, Menino had softened his stance and said he was generally supportive and that the Olympics could spur some “transformative” redevelopment.

City officials plan to hold a community meeting on the Olympics bid on Feb. 5 at Suffolk University Law School. The meeting, one of nine planned for this year, starts at 6:30 p.m.

A group formed to oppose the games, dubbed No Boston Olympics, has questioned whether the Olympics can be affordably brought to Boston without cost overruns and diverting attention away from other more important issues.

Asked about Zakim’s push for ballot questions, Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey said in statement that the organization “looks forward to engaging the public at many grassroots meetings across the city and the state over the next year, answering individual questions personally, providing information, and giving people a forum to talk about the benefits and concerns of the Olympic Games in Boston.”

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