Council Debates How Watertown Can Have a Voice in the 2024 Olympics

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If Boston hosts the 2024 Olympics, one of the biggest events on earth will take place just minutes away from Watertown, but right now the town is not on the list of towns participating in the planning. The Town Council wants to change that, but disagreed on how to do so.

On Tuesday, the Town Council discussed whether to create a committee to plan for the Olympics and fight to get Watertown a voice in decisions being made about the Olympics.

Councilor Tony Palomba, who first proposed the Ad Hoc Watertown Olympic Committee, said some of the events could be as close as Harvard University, and if they come he hopes Watertown can benefit from the games.

“The fact that Watertown is such a unique place could be marketed to benefit us economically,” Palomba said. “There will be an enormous amount of of planning and an enormous amount of money spent. It would be nice if Watertown is in the mix.”

Palomba also read over the report by the Boston 2024 Committee about the games, and noticed that Watertown was the only community that borders Boston not mentioned in the document. He called this a “red flag” and was a reason he wanted to start the local committee.

A majority of the Council, however, opposed the creation of the committee, for a variety of reasons. Making an “Olympic Committee” did not sit well with Councilor Cecilia Lenk.

“I think it is an endorsement,” Lenk said. “I have and a number of people I’ve spoken to have concerns about having the Olympics in Boston.”

Others said that 2024 is nine years away, so they felt it was no hurry.

Two residents who took part in discussions about the Olympic Committee at the Human Services subcommittee said they believe it is important for the town to act now.

Resident and former-Watertown Veterans Agent Bob Erickson has attended meetings about The Hub’s Olympic bid in Boston, Cambridge and Malden and said he would like to see Boston host the games. He added that even though the Olympics would not take place until 2024, planning is well underway.

“In September they have to submit another packet of information (to the International Olympic Committee),” Erickson said. “The reason Watertown was not included is because (other communities) have been lobbying since December and January.”

Elliot Friedman took part in the planning for the redevelopment of what is now known as the Seaport in South Boston, and he said early planning helped the project be successful.

“The planning process (for the Olympics) is already underway,” Friedman said. “We started the planning process early, and it allowed us to take advantage of opportunities we never event thought about.”

Councilor Angeline Kounelis objected to creating the Ad Hoc Olympic Committee because of the groups make up, which is proposed to include Town Council, the School Committee, the Watertown Belmont Chamber of Commerce, Belmont Watertown Local First and representatives from the town’s Recreation Department and other town officials. She did not believe the Town Council should make a group that includes bodies outside of the council.

“We have not jurisdiction to make (School Committee members) be part of the committee,” Kounelis said.

Councilor Aaron Dushku, who also serves on the Human Services subcommittee, said he supports including the School Committee.

“No body will force the School Committee to be on the (Olympics) committee, but there is a seat at the table for them,” Dushku said. “I thought the School Committee would want to be part of it because of all the potential educational opportunities for the children of Watertown.”

Along with the Summer Games, Boston would also host the Paralympics, and Erickson said he hopes Watertown’s Perkins School for the Blind can benefit, and perhaps even host Paralympic athletes.

Other councilors said they do not want to commit Town employees to attend meetings about the Olympic planning. Lenk said she would rather let the town’s State Representatives – Jon Hecht and John Lawn – and State Senator Will Brownsberger represent the town.

Town Council President Mark Sideris said there may be another option.

“The Mayor of Newton (Setti Warren) is trying to convene a meeting of communities who also want to be part of the planning process,” Sideris said. “We might want to work together with other communities to be part of a bigger group.”

This appealed to the Council, which voted to join the effort being started by Newton’s mayor, as well as sending the proposal for a Watertown Olympic Committee back to the Human Services Committee to make some changes.

In addition, the Council voted to send a letter to the Boston 2024 Committee to ask for Watertown to be considered when planning for games coming to The Hub.

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