Opponents weigh proposing ballot referendum on Boston's bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics

Associated Press

Opponents of bringing the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston are looking into a voter referendum, an effort that could jeopardize hopes of bringing the Summer Games to U.S. soil for the first time since 1996.

Christopher Dempsey, co-chairman of No Boston Olympics, said Friday that the opposition group is considering pursuing a ballot question for either the 2016 statewide election or this year's citywide election.

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He says the group also is considering legislative options that could block the games outright, or at least improve the current proposal, which critics fear will come at a significant cost to taxpayers, despite what Olympics supporters promise.

Dempsey's comments come after Evan Falchuk, who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year, filed paperwork Thursday forming an organization called People's Vote Olympics Committee to support a binding statewide referendum.

"We are still evaluating the best strategy. If we decided to do statewide, we'd envision working with (Falchuk's) effort in some fashion, but it's too early to say," Dempsey said. "If we pursued a citywide initiative, we don't think that is at all inconsistent with what Evan is doing."

To get on the 2016 ballot, opponents must file a petition with the state attorney general's office by August and gather roughly 65,000 signatures from registered voters by early December, according to the secretary of state's office.

To get on this year's Boston ballot, opponents would need to either secure approval from both the mayor and city council at least 35 days before the election or gather nearly 40,000 signatures from registered city voters 90 days before the election, according to Mayor Marty Walsh's office.

Daniel O'Connell, who stepped down Friday as president of Boston 2024, the business-backed group spearheading the city's Olympics efforts, says it's too early to say what the organization would do if voters rejected an Olympics bid.

"The language of referendum is critical," he said earlier this week. "We just have to see what's put on the ballot ... how the question is formed, whether it's a Boston referendum or a statewide referendum. (There are) so many uncertainties to how that might come out. ... We'd wait to see how that unfolds before we make a decision."

A spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, which picked Boston over Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., says the committee has no plans of changing its chosen host city. The USOC must submit its final bid to the International Olympic Committee in September. The IOC is expected to announce its pick in 2017.

"Boston has an exciting vision for the Games," USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky. "As the public learns more about what the games could mean for the community, we're confident the bid will have overwhelming support."

Local referendums are nothing new in Olympics decision-making.

Robert Livingstone, founder of GamesBids.com, a website on the Olympic host city selection process, notes that Berlin has called for a September referendum on its 2024 bid and rival Hamburg is also considering one ahead of Germany's final pick. Last year, Krakow withdrew its 2022 Winter Games bid after voters in that Polish city rejected the proposal, joining a growing list of cities backing out of that competition.

And Denver holds the distinction of being the only city in the modern Olympic history to relinquish the games after winning them. Voters in Colorado's capital rejected the necessary public funding as preparations were under way for the 1976 Winter Games, which ultimately went to Innsbruck, Austria.