By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Why the Olympics defeat is the Market Basket saga of 2015


Market Basket protesters in 2014

The defeat of the Boston Olympics bid was this summer’s Market Basket story — a feel-good saga about ordinary people triumphing over the moneyed interests. Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi calls the opponents “heroes.”

Of course, there were a lot of good people involved in Boston 2024, and they don’t deserve to be cast as the bad guys. But it was a great moment on Monday when Boston Mayor Marty Walsh stepped to the podium to say that he wasn’t willing to put taxpayers at risk, thus bringing this contentious chapter to a close.

Some of us opposed to the Olympics began cautiously celebrating on July 17, when The Boston Globe ran a story by its veteran Olympics reporter, John Powers, that made it sound like Walsh, Gov. Charlie Baker and the U.S. Olympic Committee were all trying to send a signal that it was over. In particular, Powers noted that the political establishment is always a driving force behind successful Olympic bids, and that was entirely lacking with Boston 2024.

There’s already plenty of discussion about what went wrong with the proposal. Personally, I don’t think anything went wrong. We didn’t want the Olympics, and nobody asked us. A better job of salesmanship wasn’t going to matter. As Michael Jonas writes in CommonWealth Magazine:

Far from being small-minded killjoys, Bostonians proved to be a pretty forward-looking, sophisticated lot. We asked a lot of questions, didn’t settle for half-baked answers, and weren’t overly wowed by the shiny objects the US Olympic Committee dangled in front of us.

As for the public improvements we will supposedly lose now that the Olympics won’t be disrupting our lives for the next nine years, there isn’t a single unmet need — be it transportation improvements, affordable housing or the redevelopment of blighted areas — that can’t be met better without the games. Former WCVB-TV (Channel 5) editorial director Marjorie Arons-Barron writes:

If Boston 2024 boosters are really serious about a long-term vision and strategy for greater Boston, why not join forces with Mayor Walsh in his nascent Boston 2030 planning? If this wasn’t just marketing palaver, they could put their resources (including their unspent budget) and talent together with others in the city (including the No Boston Olympic supporters) to develop and implement a smart and integrated plan to upgrade housing, roads and bridges, public transit, education, creating jobs and more so that greater Boston can express its aspirations in a practical and achievable blueprint that can transform the city and meet the needs of all its people. That would be a gold-medal-winning performance.

Kudos to everyone on a tremendous victory.

More: The Market Basket analogy occurred to Jon Keller of WBZ as well.

Photo (cc) by Val D’Aquila and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Just wondering – did you and Jon Keller talk before writing columns along similar lines, or did you arrive at the same conclusion independently?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: You will never find a better example of great minds thinking alike. And I do mean great minds. 🙂 Jon and I are both obsessed with the Market Basket story. For the record, I also said it on Twitter yesterday.

  2. Thanks for a great posting, Dan. You and Jon Keller are my favorite bloviators!

  3. Jerry Ackerman

    The entire episode raises the question of who, exactly, are the “power structure” of our fair city. Once upon a time this was a relatively simple question: the Coordinating Committee (aka The Vault), plus the reigning mayor and the reigning Catholic Archbishop. If that group could agree, or at least agree to not disagree, there was hope for almost any scheme that came along. The void today is so huge that real estate developers were easily able to jump in–and while it’s wrong to think their motives are evil, neither are they always 100 percent altruistic.

  4. Boston 2024 had always reminded me of a few college frat guys getting drunk at the bar and suddenly saying, ‘Hey! Let’s get the Olympics here!’ Lots of ideas sound great when you’re drunk at the bar. Then you wake up the next morning and say the same thing, and everyone looks at you strange.

  5. Mike Rice

    Thankfully, the whole proposed mess is now dead and buried.

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