The hits just keep on coming for John Fish, the chair of Boston 2024. The past week has seen Mayor Marty Walsh’s support of him questioned, his previous anti-Olympics criticism dredged up, and Fish once again going after anyone who dares to question the Olympic bid.
The appearance of a construction magnate such as Fish heading up the bid—even with Suffolk Construction’s recusal from the project—will simply be too much for the voting public to swallow come November 2016. If the proposal to host the games wants any chance to be passed, it’s going to need a new face behind it. Richard Davey, who has valuable experience as transportation secretary and previously at the MBTA, was a smart pick to lead the charge as the CEO, but there needs to be someone as the face of the bid who’s able to add excitement and project a vision for the 2024 Olympic Games. And it needs to be someone other than Fish.
As I’ve called for on multiple occasions dating back to last spring, Fish needs to step aside. Even if Suffolk stays away from any projects, his company would certainly benefit from any increase in construction and development. A bigger and bolder Boston is only a good thing for John Fish. And while we might think a bigger and bolder Boston is in everyone’s best interests, is it really going to help a middle-class couple in Hyde Park that simply wants a good education for their kids and safe streets at night? What do they get out of the Olympics? And that’s the hitch in the entire argument, right? But it’s one that Fish fails to acknowledge.
But who should fill Fish’s shoes? There’s one answer that initially seemed farfetched when I pitched it early this year, but it seems like an idea that could have some legs. Larry Lucchino should head the Boston 2024 campaign.
Lucchino can certainly take a lot of criticism, but he’s done a masterful job with the Red Sox on the business side of things. His biggest fault in the eyes of some might be middling with the roster, rest assured that he won’t be picking the fourth member of Team USA’s 4×100 relay, and I don’t think Coach K (or maybe coach Stevens by then) will ask him who should be the 12th man for the U.S. basketball team. He will be in charge of the business side of things, and there’s simply no debating the job he’s done with the Red Sox, turning what was mostly a potential goldmine into something very close to an actual goldmine. He hired Janet Marie Smith to oversee Fenway Park’s renovations, and having connections to such a renowned stadium architect, who built such gems as Petco Park and Camden Yards, is only a plus in the Olympic process. Sign me up for a Janet Marie Smith-designed Olympic stadium. I might not even want that to be temporary.
His ability to sell every square inch of stadium space to sponsors and advertisers would be a plus for the Olympics, as would his ability to monetize the Olympic experience. How much would you pay for a replica torch? Or a brick on the torch runway? The Yale-educated lawyer would likely find out.
Lucchino’s availability is certainly in doubt, but coming on the heels of a spring training report (that was since debunked) that he’s less involved in the Red Sox organization than in the past, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he take an indefinite leave from the Sox to head up the Boston 2024 bid. If it fails at the polls in November 2016 or is shot down by the IOC in 2017, then it’s back to the Sox. But if it succeeds, then he can move forward, cementing a legacy akin to what Peter Ueberroth left with the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A.
Maybe Fish knows he’ll need to step aside and he’s waiting till closer to the referendum to do so. If he waits till next spring to hand the reins over to a new chairperson, they can sell the voters on the promise of transparency and the hope for change in an Olympic process that has so far been a sour experience for most of the city’s residents. Lucchino turned the Sox history of 86 years of heartbreak into a cash cow and a franchise that is admired across the country. Surely, he can help lead a turnaround of Boston 2024 after a bunch of rough months.