The rhetorical getaway shot is one of the great devices in New York’s civic discourse. Bang! A public official fires off a verbal barrage, then declares some messy dispute over and drives away.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s response after the defeat of the West Side stadium was a great example of the getaway shot (a phrase I first heard used in that sense by Newsday reporter Dan Janison). He essentially asserted that opponents of the Olympic/Jets stadium were unpatriotic: “We have let down America.”
The mayor’s remark followed on U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth’s widely publicized letter telling state legislative leaders their vote against the West Side stadium “would grievously damage New York’s Olympic bid and America’s Olympic movement.”
Now that the city’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics is officially dead, it’s worth pointing out that if anything, the U.S. Olympic Committee should kick itself, not stadium opponents. It rejected a bid from San Francisco, which had already built 80 percent of its facilities, in favor of a New York plan that existed mostly on glossy paper.
The U.S. Olympic Committee decided to overlook this shortcoming after New York traded on its citizens’ 9-11 heroism to argue that the Big Apple is up to any task. Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose presence evoked the city’s post-9-11 comeback spirit, was chosen to give the NYC2012 closing argument to the USOC in Colorado Springs on November 3, 2002. “If you choose New York, if you do us this honor, we will say in no uncertain terms, we will not fail you,” he told the panel, according to news accounts. “We will do whatever it takes to bring the 2012 Olympics home to the U.S. We will make you proud. New Yorkers never give up. Never have, never will.” (Bloomberg echoed that line in his presentation in Singapore, according to news accounts.)
These were large promises from Giuliani, whose book Leadership would subsequently advise, “Underpromise and overdeliver.” He was so convincing that the British paper The Guardian headlined its report on the vote “Giuliani Wins Games B id for Big Apple.” Anne Cribbs, an Olympic gold medalist who headed San Francisco’s bid, later complained in a letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee that New York’s victory was a “foregone conclusion” after the 9-11 attack, according to The Denver Post. (The USOC did not return a phone call.)
It’s ironic, then, that post-9-11 downtown rebuilding was the reason Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver offered for nixing the West Side stadium deal at the Public Authorities Control Board. Those who blame Silver and other stadium opponents for losing the Olympics should look to the city’s own Olympic bid and the International Olympic Committee evaluation to find out what went wrong.
NYC2012 claimed in the bid that it “has encountered no organized opposition to bringing the 2012 Olympic Games to New York. In fact, New York’s . . . Plan has received overwhelming public support, though isolated concerns regarding traffic and the environment have been expressed about a few sites.”
The IOC’s poll in December found otherwise. The question to New Yorkers was as favorable as Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, founder of the city’s bid, could have hoped for: “To what extent would you support or oppose New York hosting the Olympic Summer Games?” There was no mention of the West Side stadium.
New York finished last, with 59 percent approval, trailing Madrid (91 percent), Paris (85), Moscow (77), and surprise winner London (68). Worse was the poll of residents of would-be host countries. Only 54 percent of Americans surveyed approved of having New York host the games; 79 percent of the French supported staging the Olympics in Paris.
Bloomberg-Doctoroff failed to sell the games to their own people: That’s what went wrong. If the Olympic plan really had the “overwhelming” public support the bid document claimed, any opponent would have been overwhelmed.
Cablevision’s ads helped sway the public against the stadium because it’s true that what most New Yorkers regard as greater needs are not being met, whether it’s schools or rebuilding downtown or reasonable contracts for municipal workers, including those who responded to the 9-11 attack.
The great cry that followed the West Side stadium’s rejection-that it’s impossible to think big in New York anymore-was really just whining about the fact that for once, someone stopped big developers from putting their interests ahead of the general public’s.
Before the Olympic B plan was rushed together, with its new stadium proposed for Queens, NYC2012 had told the International Olympic Committee in its bid that the West Side stadium project was “moving forward rapidly”-but not so rapidly as its supporters have had to backpedal in their getaway.