Hosting the Olympics in 2012 is supposed to put Washington on the map. Except that we’re already on the map.
Photographs by Charles Steck
It’s a little before 7:30 on a recent Wednesday morning, and Dan Knise, the man in charge of bringing the Summer Olympics to the Washington area in 2012, is tooling around the pastel-colored banquet room of the Plaza Hotel in Hagerstown, Md. The chamber of commerce of this slow, dusty city has invited him to drop by for its monthly “Eggs & Issues” event to explain to members what the Olympics will mean for their community.
Hagerstown, situated at the crossroads of a couple of major freeways, has created a stout economy of factories and businesses that cater largely to truck drivers. From downtown Washington, the place is a good two-hour drive along some of the most monstrous highways you’ve ever seen. That’s precisely why the chamber’s leaders hope to get in on the Olympic act. Tom Riford, the organization’s amiable chairman, fancies Hagerstown as a docking point for Olympic spectatorsticket-holders could stay in the city’s hotels, and shuttles would transport them back and forth from Metro stations in Maryland. Knise has a similar vision for this and other outlying communities.
Crouching on the peach-and-purple carpet of the banquet room, where a breakfast buffet of Sterno-warm eggs and bacon beckons not altogether invitingly, Knise, in a sharply pressed brown suit, is trying to set up a few easels for his presentation when Riford interrupts him.
“Dan, a TV reporter from NBC is here to speak to you,” Riford says. “OK,” Knise smiles, abandoning his construction effort to glide over to the reporter.
To a person in the spectacularly dismal situation Knise finds himself in this morning, the possibility of getting on television and reaching a large audience ought to come as fairly exciting. After all, Knise woke up before 4 a.m. to make this meeting, and it’s a big letdown: The gathering, held in a distant, bland room, has attracted only 21 local folks, and his presence doesn’t seem very much appreciated. When Knise delivers his “Eggs & Issues” talk a little later, some audience members doze off, and one guy sitting a few paces away from the podium blithely talks to a friend on his mobile phone.
In truth, Knise, whose shoulders are bearing almost all of the burden of winning the Olympics for the region, could be doing much better things with his precious time. There are sporting events to sponsor. Funds to raise. People to convince. Business lions to meet. Volunteers to scare up. Local Olympians to locate. A Web site to revamp. Reports to write. More funds to raise. Brochures to circulate. Taxes to file. And most important, the impending do-or-die visit by a United States Olympic Committee (USOC) task force to prepare for.
But Knise, the president and CEO of the effort, is just as excited to see the television reporter as he is nice to the Shoney’s waitress who serves him coffee. That is to say, Knise is an always-upbeat guy who is perfectly pleasant to every single person he meets. What’s more, Knise, 45, is nice-looking, with chestnut-colored wavy hair, biggish brown eyes, a slightly larger-than-average forehead, and the build and grace of a dancer. If he’s talking to you, he repeats your name a lot.
Knise introduces himself to Lyn Bell, a news reporter with the local NBC affiliate, and she begins to ask him questions for background purposes before the camera starts rolling, scribbling his answers into a notebook.
Bell: “How many bids were submitted?”
Bell: “Who else besides us?”
Knise: “Tampa, New York, Houston, Dallas, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.”
Bell (staring at her notebook): “That’s eight!”
Then she continues, with the camera on.
“So what are our chances?” she asks.
“They’re pretty good,” Knise responds, preparing to launch into his standard spiel. “We really believe we’re going to bring home the gold! We”
“What does Washington, D.C./Baltimore have that the others don’t?” Bell interrupts him.
“We have exciting venues,” Knise answers, unfazed. “We have great public transportation. We have a culturally diverse community. We have an ethnically diverse community. We’re going to provide a great backdrop to the Olympics.”
Afterward, they chat for a few seconds. “You were great. You’re made for TV,” Bell says.
“Oh, really?” Knise responds. “I still get nervous when I do this.”
“Do you plan to come back [to Hagerstown]?” she asks finally.
“Definitely,” Knise smiles.
Believe it or not, there are a bunch of people out there who’d love to be in Knise’s shoes. One woman in particular has filed a lawsuit against Knise and his corporate godfathers because, she alleges, the job was snatched away from her.
And Knise seems to have an infinite amount of patience for the tasks at hand, even though he knows very well that his work could amount to absolutely nothing. The Washington/Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalitionas the hybrid effort to win the Summer Olympics has been awkwardly namedis not a shoo-in for landing the 2012 Games. There are several mountains to climb before all this planning can become a reality. First, because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) prefers to share the wealth among the world’s continents when it comes to awarding the Olympics, in order for Washington/ Baltimore to become the site of the 2012 Games, Beijing must win the right to host the Olympics in 2008. Although China is certainly the front-runner to get the nod, its shoddy human-rights record, not to mention its tension-filled relationship with the United States, could persuade the IOC to vote instead to give the 2008 Games to Toronto, which is considered the strongest contender behind Beijing.
The IOC will issue its decision about the 2008 Games later this year. If Toronto is ultimately selected, then a North American city almost certainly won’t stage the Summer Olympics any sooner than 2020. Ironically, members of Congress have been maneuvering to deny Beijing the Olympics for reasons of geopolitics. Yet it’s a gesture that could very well prevent the U.S. from getting the Games for two decades or longer.
Then there’s the fact that Salt Lake City officials bribed IOC members and connived to win the 2002 Winter Olympics. To send a message, the IOC may overlook the United States for several yearsor as Mitt Romney, the president of Salt Lake’s Olympic committee, put it, the 2002 Games will be “the last Games on American soil for a long, long time.”
Regardless, the USOC has begun reviewing the eight bids for 2012, which were submitted last December. Next year, the panel will settle on one city to submit to the international committee. The Washington/Baltimore bidall 631 pages and three volumes of itis considered strong, but it is by no means the strongest. If the USOC picks another contendersay, Tampa, Fla.then the Washington regional coalition has an almost zero chance of bagging the Olympics for decades. That’s because after the USOC settles on a host-designate, it will likely submit that city’s bid for future Summer Olympics until it is finally chosen by the international committee.
So if the USOC does go with Washington/Baltimore, it’s almost a certainty that, at some point, the region will get the Games. But if that happens, the USOC will require that a single city become the designated host. Knise says that city will ultimately be Washington, because it’s the nation’s capital. Still, Knise maintains that the Olympics would be a regional event. To underscore that point, opening ceremonies would be held in both cities. A regional Games in practice isn’t all that unusual, of course; most Olympics are nominally hosted by a city, with the venues orbiting around it at some distance.
The Washington/Baltimore Olympics bid contains some other bumps, one of which is the fact that many proposed venues for the events exist more in imagination than reality. And finally, there’s the inconvenient little fact that, if Knise and the regional coalition manage to snare the Olympics in 2012, the event could permanently rattle the way D.C.and the entire regionoperates, looks, and feels.
So why would we even want to host a Summer Olympics? The answer isn’t terribly easy to understand. By contrast, the seven other candidatesthe largest group of U.S. cities ever to pursue the Gamesall have pretty good reasons. A mayor seeking to secure his legacy (New York), downtowns in need of tourism dollars (Tampa, Houston, Dallas, Cincinnati), a desire to repeat the experience (Los Angeles), a simple case of “Hey, if L.A. wants it a third time, shouldn’t we?” (San Francisco).
It is true that Baltimoreassuming it doesn’t get overshadowed by Washingtoncould certainly benefit from all the attention that the Olympic Games would bring. That city needs to energize its hotel-and-hospitality sector, and the worldwide notice that comes with holding the Olympics could go a long way toward that goal. In other words, Baltimore has a stake in being put, as the saying goes, on the map.
How the District would benefit from the Olympics isn’t as clear; the city is possibly the most recognizable capital on earth and already has a humming tourist industry. But one good reason could be to change the world’s image of the District as a corrupt city that couldn’t afford toilet paper a few years ago. Olympics boosters also offer up money, fun, regional camaraderie, and civic pride on their list of benefits.
Still, there’s a natural amount of bellyaching about what a pageant of this scale would mean for D.C. With 200 countries participating in the Olympics, the stakes are phenomenal. Organizers plan to sell 500,000 tickets a day during the 17 days of athletic competition. They estimate that more than 5 million people would travel to the area. The television audience would be in the billions.
Not surprisingly, some critics worry about terrorism. Given that the District is home to the president, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the rest of the federal government, it could very well prove an irresistible target for would-be Olympic bombers. Others worry about the opposite: overzealous police officers scrutinizing routine activities as if they were suspicious acts.
In a region that already ranks as suffering the third-worst traffic congestion in the country (behind Los Angeles and San Francisco/
Oakland), the prospect of an Olympic Games here also evokes wretched images of a knotted Beltway piled with automobile traffic and Metro cars so stuffed that people would suffocate. And what about Washington’s notorious summer heat and humidity? Wouldn’t sweltering ticket-holders suffer all manner of heatstroke and other maladies as they watched outdoor tennis matches and long-distance runners? Critics predict that local residents would treat the whole occasion as if it were an oncoming hurricane: They’d flee town or hole themselves up in their homes as streets, restaurants, bars, and shops were overrun with overheated sports fans.
Knise and his supporters present an entirely different vision of the 2012 Olympics. “This is a win-win for everyone,” Knise asserts. Worries are misplaced, he argues; the region is up to the job. He says the area’s law enforcement and military forces are more than prepared to handle potential dangers. Plus, he says, the region has a handsome transportation network that can handle the masses: He points to three airports; subway, bus, commuter rail, and train systems; and a vast spaghetti of highways.
Richard Stevens, Metro’s director of business planning and development, has been working with Knise on the Olympic bid. He says Metro would have no trouble handling the ridership boomlet that would result. “We’re much bigger than [Atlanta’s transit system],” he observes. “And by then, we’ll have made many improvements to the corethere will be a New York Avenue station, and we’ll have more [Metro] cars. I’m confident we’ll be able to handle it.”
Clearly, the city’s gentry are geared up to see the region get the Olympics. The effort is supported by such bigwigs as Washington Post Chair Donald Graham and Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin. Several important area corporations are also funding the application, including the Bank of America, Arthur Andersen, Verizon, Giant, Legg Mason, MCI Worldcom, Marriott International, and the Mobil Corp. So far, the coalition, with a staff of five, has raised $8.4 million.
Likewise, the area’s elected representatives are behind the push. The mayors of D.C. and Baltimore and the governors of Virginia and Maryland have signed letters endorsing the bid, and the city councils of both cities and the legislatures of both states have passed proclamations of support. “People are excited about this,” Knise says. A poll conducted last September by the coalition showed that 82 percent of the 1,059 people surveyed were in favor of the idea. And 86 percent regarded a future Games as a real economic blessing.
Supporters contend that the area wouldn’t require much plastic surgery to host the Games. The bid calls for a judicious use of the region, relying principally on a hopscotch corridor of venues from George Mason University in Northern Virginia to Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. Construction projects would be relatively few. Unlike Cincinnati or New York, both D.C. and Baltimore have stadiums and sports arenas largely in place. Archery would be located on the Anacostia waterfront, basketball at the MCI Center, boxing at the D.C. Armory, the media center at Howard University, the Olympic Village at the University of Maryland. The most ambitious plans involve erecting a temporary swimming arena at George Mason and razing and rebuilding RFK Stadium, which would be made into an 80,000-seat Olympic stadium for the extravaganza.
The benefits of snagging the Games, the organizers calculate, would be both substantial and intangible. They suggest that the Games would be a spiritual experience, rallying regional cooperation and feelings of good will. Community pride would swell; people would feel connected to each other. Virginia, Maryland, and the District could show what good neighbors they really are.
“This is regionalism brought to life!” reads a coalition information booklet, which in two pages addresses why the group wants the Games. “The Olympic Games are a great uniting force that is helping people rise above parochial interests or past disagreements and work together on planning the 2012 Games.”
Another plus, as the coalition foresees it, would be that the hosting gig would provide a dose of public relations steroids. Like Sydney, Australia, which hosted the Summer Olympics last September, the area would grow in distinction. Inside the booklet is the bold promise that the experience would “further enhance this region’s reputation as the international business, diplomatic, sporting and cultural center of the world.” On the more practical side, supporters say, the region would become a more livable place. Because of the Olympics, there would be a broad consensus to make transportation upgrades to Metro and New York Avenue, not to mention a new train line to Dulles Airport.
The biggest boon the boosters are promoting, though, is cash. Knise is often asked how much money the region would rake in if the application won, and he always says, “It will result in $5.3 billion worth of positive economic impact.” This projected stimulus would result from visitors buying things and all the myriad expenses of pulling the Games off, such as hiring local consultants, contractors, and even private jet pilots. Also, alongside the Olympics would come other businesses that spend big money, such as legions of media crews and publicity agents.
“It’s like bringing a Fortune 500 company to the area,” says Lisa Delpy Neirotti, an associate professor of tourism and sports management at George Washington University. “Atlanta said they made $5.1 billion. Even if we made half of that, it’s still great. And it’s not just direct economic impact. You’re bringing in CEOs of companies. You’re bringing in wealthy individuals. These people will consider moving businesses here. Did you know Sydney is scheduled to be the No. 1 destination for conferences, meetings, and exhibitions worldwide in 2001? That’s because of the Olympics.”
Ask residents whose houses hug the northern end of Rock Creek Park about the Legg Mason Tennis Classic and they’ll likely cringe, moan, and shake their heads. The matches are held every summer at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center in the park, and with the nine-day event come streams of cars, trash, noise, and lost people.
Given the intestinal flutter this one tournament createsnot to mention the fervent demonstrations and opposition that the construction of nearby communications towers has promptedit seems odd that the community has not given the regional Olympics coalition any trouble over its plans to use the Fitzgerald Center as an Olympic venue. The organizers identify Fitzgerald as the sole venue for tennis in all of their literature and, in the executive summary of the bid application, plan to enlarge it or, as they put it, have it “renovated to host Olympic tennis.”
Curious as to how they resolved this tussle, I decide to call people near the center.
“Whaaat?” exclaims James Jones, chair of the area’s advisory neighborhood commission, after I ask how he feels about the plans for the center. “I didn’t know anything about this. I’ll be doggone.” A pause later, he adds, “I cannot believe they made this a part of their proposal without coming to us.”
A week passes, and Jones reports that people in the neighborhood are dismayed by the coalition’s designs, but they aren’t terribly worried. That’s because the coalition’s been informed by the National Park Service that it doesn’t have clearance to occupy the center for the Olympics and would, if it wanted to try to use it, have to hold a series of community meetings and conduct an environmental impact statement.
In a letter to Knise dated June 30, 2000, Terry Carlstrom, the regional director of the Park Service, explained that use of Fitzgerald is not a fait accompli. “Because of the significant impacts of this venue on the neighborhood and the resultant controversy, we cannot consider a provision for the Olympic use of the tennis center without a public process involving a supplemental environmental evaluation,” he wrote.
“Therefore, we have a dilemma. You need a tennis venue for your submission to the Olympic Committee by November and we would require at least 9 months to conduct a public process. Further, we need funding from you to conduct such a process, but cannot predict a favorable decision. Under the circumstances, we cannot promote the tennis center as a definite venue at this time. However, this does not preclude the site from consideration, pending completion of a public process at a later date.”
In other words, the group’s brochures and its Olympic bid are misleading, because they list the Fitzgerald Center as a venue for the tennis portion of the Games when its availability is far from certain. “They haven’t followed the rules and it bothers me,” says a disgruntled Jones. “They’ve been disingenuous with the Park Service. They didn’t tell us. Why are they hiding these things?”
When I ask Knise why he included the Fitzgerald Center in the application, he says that the bid is merely a plan of action, that this plan is in its earliest stages, and that the community will have more input after the coalition’s bid is accepted. “We understand this will need to be approved,” he says. “We’ve been laying out in conceptual terms what we want to do. We’ll make a formal application at the right time.”
As it happens, the Fitzgerald promise isn’t the only one that may prove false. The bid also proposes holding the opening ceremonies simultaneously on the National Mall and at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Subsequently, the Olympic Torch would be fixed somewhere on the Mall. Although the coalition does suggest that the ceremonies and torch might be located elsewhere, pictures and documents included in the bid would lead anyone to believe that billions of people all over the world could expect to watch the torch journey down the Mall with the Capitol and the Washington Monument on view to frame all the splendor.
To that end, a staggering drawing of huge bleachers running the length of the Mall is included in most of the coalition’s materials. It seems the stunning tableau of the National Mall is intended as the application’s KO punch: A line in the executive summary of the official bid submissionwritten in blue for emphasisreads, “The Olympic Torch Relay will bring the Olympic flame to the Mall.”
But the Park Service has repeatedly denied the organizers approval for use of the Mall. It contends that the ceremonies on the Mallan unprecedented use of the space that would, in effect, require construction of a stadium on top of itwould be incredibly destructive. The event would ravage the land and preclude access by tourists and residents for countless weeks.
“We have told them they are not going to use the monumental grounds for the opening and closing ceremonies, but they keep showing it in their literature anyway,” says Sally Blumenthal, the deputy associate regional director of the Park Service. “What are we, potted plants here? We’re not going to allow it. And even if we were going to allow it, it would be the kind of thing that would have to go through a public process. I can see it being controversial. If you thought the World War II Memorial was controversial, you can imagine what this would be like.”
On the seventh floor of an office building near L’Enfant Plaza, Tom Fitton is walking into a conference room, exuding the jittery excitement of someone who has just set fire to a slow fuse.
“This is where those famous depositions were given,” proclaims Fitton, the boyish-looking president of Judicial Watch, as he approaches a large glass-covered table at the center of the room around which are arrayed 12 red-and-black chairs and bookshelves lined with legal tomes.
Judicial Watch, the conservative law center founded by right-wing activist Larry Klayman, is the organization responsible for more than 18 lawsuits against Bill Clinton when he was president. Most notably, Klayman sued the former president for alleged 1996 campaign-finance misdeeds, events surrounding Commerce Secretary Ron Brown’s death, and the handling of Linda Tripp’s Pentagon filesuits that have been depicted by Clinton supporters as mere ploys to scrape up embarrassing information. (Klayman, who is known for using suits to harry just about anybody, has even taken his own mother to court.)
The official battle cry of Judicial Watch is “Because no one is above the law!” Today, the “no one” in question is Post Chair Graham, former Mayor Marion S. Barry, the Washington/
Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition, and the USOC. Fitton’s group filed a lawsuit last year against this crew on behalf of Elizabeth Ganzi, the woman who in 1996, by all accounts, hatched the dream of the Olympics in the nation’s capital. “There is no bid without Elizabeth,” Fitton explains.
In 1997, Ganzi, a public relations executive and events promoter, sold then-Mayor Barry and corporate executives on the idea of the District hosting the Olympics and was, for a while, in command of the campaign. But things went awry for Ganzi in 1998, after the publishers of the Post and the Baltimore Sun concluded that the District and Baltimore should co-host the Olympic Games. Graham, at an unlikely powwow of elders from around the region, walked over to Ganzi and said, according to her lawsuit, “Don’t worry, little honey, you’ll get a job out of this.” Shortly thereafter, her role was terminated, and after various attempts to regain command of the effort, she approached Judicial Watch. Last year, the group moved the battle to court, alleging corruption and other malfeasance on the part of some of the region’s most significant business and political leaders. Ganzi’s asking for $20 million in damages.
“Both the USOC and the Washington/Baltimore Coalition have a real problem,” Fitton warns. “In other circumstances, not only would the capital of the United States have a good shot at winning the Olympics, it would be a slam-dunk. They’ve jeopardized that because of what they did to Elizabeth.”
Then Fitton adds, “This is a really exciting case for us.”
Even so, Mike Moran, a spokesperson for the USOC, calls the case “baseless” and says it will have no effect on the region’s bid.
“I give Elizabeth tremendous credit,” says Paul Wolff, an attorney and member of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which controls RFK Stadium. “She was the first person to say we should go for the Olympics….I have no idea what the merits of her lawsuit are, but I can tell you it’s quite destructive to have this lawsuit out there. It’s not good. It’s so unfortunate that a role couldn’t be found for her.”
The campaign to bring the Games to Washington and Baltimore began as entirely separate enterprises led by entirely separate teams. For a time, in fact, the two factions saw each other as opponents and publicly slammed one another. John Moag, the chair of the Maryland Stadium Authority and CEO of the Baltimore Olympic committee, would often raise the issue of the District’s wobbly fiscal state to undermine the effort of his neighbor city.
The catalyst for both bids was the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. As coincidence would have it, individual visionaries from both Baltimore and Washington attended those Games, and each returned home mesmerized by the idea of hosting the Olympics. In Baltimore’s casea story richly detailed in the Suna local attorney went to Atlanta as a ticket-holder, and once he witnessed the spectacle, he was hit with the fantasy of an Olympics in Maryland. Not long after, a committee was assembled and a legitimate Baltimore bid for the Games was under way.
In the District, the dreamer was Ganzi, a 30-year-old small-business owner who flew to Atlanta to do publicity work for a client, Coca-Cola, that also happened to be a major Olympic sponsor. As she worked behind the scenes, she became convinced that D.C., with its rich history and visual allure, could host the Games. “I kept coming back to our city and thinking, ‘Why can’t we have the Olympics in our nation’s capital?’” Ganzi, who refused to be interviewed for this article, told the Sun a few years ago. “I found 67 percent of the Olympics had been granted to [capital cities] over 100 years. And we’re the most international and powerful capital in the world.”
From there, Ganzi plowed forward. She met with Barry and received his endorsement, created the Greater Washington Exploratory Committee, hired a small staff, and enlisted eight influential political and business leaders to serve on her board of directors. Still, Barry made it clear that the city wouldn’t lend her effort any public money, so Ganzi had to raise funds on her own.
On May 1, 1997, Baltimore and Washington each became official bid cities when they submitted piles of notarized documents and paid $100,000 to the USOC, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. Baltimore had no problem raising funds, and Moag flew to Colorado to hand-deliver its package. Ganzi, on the other hand, shipped the paperwork in an overnight envelope and wired the money three hours before the deadline. Moag was surprised. He told reporters he had never thought Ganzi would meet the USOC’s first round of deadlines.
At about this time, Kenneth Sparks, the executive vice president of Washington’s Federal City Council, a regional economic-development association, began to get involved. He met with Ganzi and offered his support. He also spoke with Moag, who, by then, concluded that the two applications should be melded into one. “We’ve got an Olympic bid in Baltimore,” Moag told Sparks, “and there’s one in Washington, and they ought to be brought together.”
Sparks was in touch with Graham, as well, and the newspaper scion began to see the competing bids as problematic. “It would make it quite a bit harder for either city to win,” Graham told Sparks, according to the Sun. Soon, Graham called Mary E. Junck, who was the publisher of the Sun at the time, and the two decided that the region’s players needed to brainstorm about how to proceed. Sparks was asked to organize the first of these gatherings. Later, he invited Ganzi, Moag, and around 100 of the area’s business and community leaders to come to Belmont Manor, a mansion on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which is owned by the American Chemical Society. At that meeting, held Dec. 3, 1997, the powerful attendees decided to form a joint steering committee to investigate the possibility of merging the bids.
A few weeks later, Ganzi went to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Ganzi says she went on behalf of clients, but her visit there has proved controversial. USOC members accused her of violating their rules while in Japan. These rules prohibited representatives of bid cities from going to an Olympics and trying to cozy up to IOC members to win endorsements.
In March 1998, the USOC sent a letter to Ganzi reprimanding her for inappropriate conduct. Soon after, the Belmont business barons decreed, on the basis of Sparks’ recommendations, that the separate city efforts be dismantled and supplanted with a new regional committee and a single regional bid. That committee would later become the Washington/Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition.
Ganzi was not happy. Her role under this new order was drastically downsized. She and Moag were each allowed to appoint a member to the committee’s new board of directors. Otherwise, board members would be limited to people who had donated $500,000. (Later, area political leaders were also given opportunities to appoint additional board members.)
Whereas Moag was satisfied with this arrangement, Ganzi wanted a leadership position and the power to make more board appointments. So, rather than work with this new group, she tried to proceed as if what the business chieftains had decided were irrelevant. “My impression was that she was not willing to play a team role,” says Wolff, who attended the Graham-Junck meetings. “She wanted it to be Washington and that she run it. No one else came with non-negotiable terms.”
Soon, Barry and Kurt Schmoke, the mayor of Baltimore at the time, wrote to the USOC asking that the petitions from the separate cities and the Ganzi and Moag committees be voided and that the regional coalition be instated as the official bid committee for a joint Washington/Baltimore campaign to vie for the 2012 Olympics. The USOC complied with the request. On June 30, 1998, the merger became official.
In her lawsuit, Ganzi contends all these actions were not only improper and demoralizing, but illegal. Only she could relinquish her committee’s right to bring the Olympics to Washington, her suit contends, because the USOC had granted her these proprietary rights almost a year earlier.
More incendiary is Ganzi’s allegation, buttressed by three affidavits accompanying her lawsuit, that Barry was bribed to dump her. In the suit, Ganzi claims that members of the business steering committee “promised Mayor Barry that they would provide funding for his retirement if he would abandon Ganzi.” She maintains that the pledges to Barry included a $1 million endowed professorship for him at Howard University.
So far, Barry’s response to the lawsuit has been silence. He didn’t return the Washington City Paper’s calls for comment, and his lawyer, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., says he knows nothing about the status of the lawsuit. “I don’t know anything about this,” Cooke says, “but Barry isn’t the occupant of an endowed professorship at Howard University, is he?”
“Elizabeth will never be whole again after what’s been done to her,” says Fitton. “They made a decision about her and her life as if laws don’t apply to them. That’s the arrogance of power. That’s why they need to be held accountable.”
In response to a request for an interview with Ganzi, Fitton said he and his client would provide a statement. But even after a couple of
follow-up requests, they never did.
On a bleak day in March, there is no one at the reception desk at the Washington/Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition’s offices near Farragut Square. The walls of the sixth-floor suite are lined with 24 framed posters of past Olympic Games. A stack of brochures headlined “Make the Dream Come True” rests on a counter.
Inside each glossy flier is a request for money: You are encouraged to give a donation so that you can become a member of the WBRC 2012 team. For instance, $25 buys you a Bronze team membership; $500 buys Platinum status. Members, depending on the size of the gift, are awarded goodies like pins, T-shirts, jackets, and, should the Games be held here, discount tickets to Olympic events.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but when you get down to it, money is the real purpose of staging the Games. Sure, Knise and his group plan to donate $200 million to encourage youth and amateur sports and $10 million to refurbish area parks and other properties. But creating a new source of cash for the local economy is the lureif not the sole reasonfor all this work. You have to wonder, though, if the Olympics would really be such a gravy train and kindle the “$5.3 billion in positive economic impact” that Knise promises.
“It’s useful to look at the aftermath of the Atlanta Olympics,” says Ronald Utt, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank and author of Cities in Denial, a study of the effects of sports on urban economies. “It was a huge retail catastrophe. For example, the restaurants were all empty. None of the people who were in town could afford to spend their money on anything but fast food. And the people who would normally go out to restaurants didn’t, because they were afraid of the crowds.
“Do we want more tourist clutter?” Utt continues. “The Olympics may have benefited Sydney, because they put a relatively obscure city on the map. But this is not going to happen in Washington. We’re not America’s best-kept secret.”
Another complication in Knise’s calculations is how a lot of the projects necessary to pull off the Olympics would be funded. Rebuilding RFK would, according to the coalition, cost at least $100 million, and the District will have to fund thatas well as New York Avenue renovations and other beautification efforts envisioned in the plan. By comparison, Georgia doled out about $8 million just to plant new flowers and greenery along the state’s freeways. Knise insists that these projects are necessary and desirable regardless of the Olympics and would happen eventually. But maybe they wouldn’t, and maybe not on this scale.
To be sure, the cost of the Olympics to local taxpayers is not factored into Knise’s winning formula. The organizing committee and some businesses such as hotels might make money, but it would come at taxpayer expense. Needless to say, taxpayers would not see any direct benefit from the things that generate the big bucks: the corporate sponsorships and television contracts. And the proceeds the organizing committee stands to reapin Atlanta’s case, more than $5 billiondon’t account for the costs borne by local governments.
Before the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, staging an Olympics was a losing proposition. Denver, which won the right to host the 1976 Winter Games, decided to pass after contemplating the costs. Montreal, which hosted the 1976 Summer Games, lost $1 billion. The village of Lake Placid had to borrow money from New York state to mitigate the $6 million it lost hosting the 1980 Winter Olympics. Cities were so loath to take on the massive losses associated with the Olympics that Los Angeles won the 1984 Games by default. But L.A. then went on to change the dynamic when the organizers generated a $225 million surplus by commercializing the Olympics. They did so by aggressively selling TV rights and mining corporate sponsorship for millions of dollars.
Los Angeles changed something else as well: Previously, city governments had been responsible for overseeing the Olympics; in Los Angeles’ case, a nonprofit corporation was created to run the show. And it boasted a profit. This didn’t surprise Peter Ueberroth, who led the L.A. effort. He concluded that all of the previous Olympic Games had actually been solventonce you eliminated the construction and public-service costs from the ledgers. Today, the Los Angeles approach has become the model. But because the host city’s role is now separate from the committee’s, it throws the accounting out of whack. The largest costs are often hidden in a series of city budgets, leaving the organizing committee free to claim lavish revenues.
And the government’s bills can be huge. Consider the gargantuan expenses the District would have to assume to donate land, police officers, firefighters, transportation officials, and sanitation workers to this effort. Would the District (and Baltimore) be better off siphoning this money directly into education or health care? Could the District even afford these investments? It’s not as if the city’s budget woes are ancient history.
As it happens, a recent spat between the District and a group of high-powered athletic officials just might prove a harbinger of the kind of financial squeeze the District could find itself in by taking on the Olympics. In February, the city hosted the NBA All-Star Weekendand found itself holding the bag. When the events were over, the promoters said the weekend had been of such economic benefit to the city that they weren’t going to pony up $77,000 in police expenses they had previously agreed to cover. The deputy mayor for public safety told the NBA that “it is not financially possible for…the District to absorb the cost of extra security,” according to the Post. Yet even as the mayor’s deputies were standing their ground over the $77,000, Mayor Anthony A. Williams was boasting about how the NBA event had fattened the local economy by $50 million.
The truth is, hosting an Olympics is a great idea in the abstract, but it can be an overwhelming task. Interestingly, boosters parry questions about foreseeable problems by insisting that everything will be worked out in time. After all, they say, 2012 is a long way away.
But it’s not, really. The IOC will make its decision about awarding the 2012 Games in 2005. By then, if Washington/Baltimore were to get the nod, it’s not hard to imagine politicians and other leaders so spooked by the responsibility that they would make poor and hasty decisions. This is what seemed to happen in Atlanta when, after the IOC selected the city, the Atlanta bid committee started wielding enormous clout throughout the region. Its CEO was given broad authority to decide, practically by fiat, where stadiums would be built, which neighborhoods would be pulverized, and how roads would be rerouted. Critics regarded much of the activity as old-style urban renewal dressed up with Olympic rings, and they decried the effects on poorer neighborhoods and the displacement of such decidedly nonphotogenic elements as the homeless.
Making the Washington region Olympics-proof would require re-envisioning traffic patterns and highway design. Employers would have to adjust work schedules to stretch out commutes. “It would be a considerable challenge to our roadway infrastructure,” says Justin McNaull, a spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “But it would create opportunities to invest in our regional infrastructure.”
Steve Schwartz, executive director of the D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, wonders just what kind of “opportunities” might be pursued. Specifically, he says, the Olympicsespecially a regional rather than a city-focused eventcould give new life to vast development plans that engender urban sprawl. Such projects might include a second beltway around I-495, or the so-called techwaya proposed highway to connect Reston, Va., to Rockville, Md.
“Many of the same boosters of the Olympics are the same boosters of an outer beltway,” Schwartz says. “What everyone should watch out for is that the Olympics will be used to unstick stalled transportation projects. It could also be used to get approval for wider highways.”
In the fall of 1998, when he was hired to spearhead the region’s campaign for the Summer Olympics, Knise wasn’t looking for a new job. He was preparing to leave his position as an insurance executive to take things easy for a while and spend more time with his wife and three young boys at their home in McLean, Va.
Knise says he’s a workaholic and wanted to put the brakes on things; he was traveling often and missing out on being a father and a husband. One day, while doing some local volunteer work, he was told about the opening at the coalition and decided to go in for an interview.
“I went to the first interview and thought, I’m not the man for this. It seemed like a job for a politician,” Knise says. “But suddenly, they became real interested in me. And I began to realize there was real work to do. There was a business plan to write, deadlines to meet, and a staff to hire. I started work on Nov. 5, 1998, and never looked back….Two weeks later, the Salt Lake City scandal broke.”
His days are obviously busy again, but at least he is usually home to put his boys to sleep and see them wake up in the morning. Besides, they understand what he does for a living a whole lot better nowadays. “They think what I’m doing is pretty cool,” he says.
After the event in Hagerstown, Knise drives me back to Washington in his 1999 metallic-gray Jeep Grand Cherokee. He’s speeding, but only slightly. I begin to ask him about the problems facing the coalition, and he shrugs them off. No doubt he’s heard them all before.
There’s Ganzi’s lawsuit (“It’s an example of how anyone can say anything. This bid belongs to the community. It doesn’t belong to any one person…”), the fears of unwanted development (“We’ve been careful to build the bid around existing plans”), a Salt Lake City backlash (“It focuses the competition much more on the merits”), the District’s fiscal instability (“I’m not worried….Plus, we have the federal government…”), 17 days of traffic gridlock (“When L.A. hosted the Olympics, they had the best two weeks of traffic. We’ll have the same experience”) longstanding regional conflicts (“This isn’t about making Baltimore like Washington or Washington like Baltimore. It’s not about homogeny. It’s about emphasizing differences…”), and the oppressive D.C. heat (“Have you ever been to Houston in the summer?”).
It’s 9:30 a.m., and Knise has already been through a full dayand yet he’s barely begun. He’s got meetings scheduled, and he has to prepare for tomorrow, when he’ll pay a visit to Baltimore and meet with lawmakers. As we talk, Knise takes large sips of coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Actually, he has an insatiable appetite for coffee, to which he adds gobs of sweeteneror, as he calls it, the “blue stuff.” This forces him to run to the bathroom a lot. When we first met, he bumped into me on the way to the toilet.
“If this were only about the 17 days, you wouldn’t do it,” Knise explains. “It wouldn’t be worth it. It’s really about a seven-year window and what happens afterward. As good as the 17 days will be, you have to think legacy.”
It isn’t until I begin peppering Knise endlessly about the Atlanta experience that I start to feel as if I’m getting under this affable man’s skin. “We’ve looked at Atlanta,” he says in response to another question. “And we learned from it. We’ve learned about managing expectations.”
Even so, I’m not convinced that the event that served as the impetus for the D.C./Baltimore effort was such a resounding success. To make my point, I pull out a thick pile of documents from my briefcase and start reciting all the negative stories about what Atlanta went through.
As we get closer to our destination, I seize on a particularly depressing document: a 1997 study of the effect of the Games on Atlanta that was written by urban-planning professors at Georgia Tech University. I tick off the dismal facts the professors reportthe nose dive in retail and restaurant sales, the vendors going bankrupt, the huge outlays by taxpayers, the smaller-than-imagined spike in tourism, the roughshod treatment of low-income neighborhoods.
“Well…well,” Knise stammers from fatigue or frustration or confusion, or all three.
“Well, you know,” he finally responds, shifting his body as he holds the steering wheel. “I could show you piles of documents 10 times that size. And they would all say the exact opposite of what those say.” CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Charles Steck.