Olympics in New York: Lights Out, Charm On

Olympics in New York: Lights Out, Charm On
New York Times

February 24, 2005

Any thought that the leaders of New York's bid for the 2012 Olympics would try to charm the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission with understatement exploded last night along with the fireworks arcing over Columbus Circle.

NYC2012 mustered every bit of glamour it could manage, entertaining the 13 members of the commission with aperitifs, A-list celebrities and a performance by Wynton Marsalis at the Time Warner Center's Allen Room, then dropped a curtain to reveal the entrance to Central Park, where fireworks lit the clear, cold night.

Afterward, the commissioners were whisked to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's house for an equally star-studded dinner, where the guest list included Meryl Streep, Whoopi Goldberg, Henry Kissinger and the artists of the moment, Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They shared a classic American meal of roast turkey and cornbread stuffing and a dessert of Statue of Liberty cookies, while Paul Simon serenaded them.

This was clearly the day city leaders hoped to impress upon the commission, and by extension the full 117-member I.O.C. that will pick the 2012 Olympic city in July, that the people who matter here back the Olympic bid - and those people can throw a fabulous party.

"We're not trying to be anybody else," said Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor and head of the bid committee. "We can only be who we are, and we think that's pretty good. We're just trying to exhibit the energy and openness and excitement of New York City in our own way."

That meant rolling out the stars, trying to top the royal welcome the commission had received in Madrid and London earlier this month and the fanfare yet to come in Paris and Moscow. The Jazz at Lincoln Center performance featured dancers and Broadway performers, clips of hundreds of movies filmed in New York, everything from "West Side Story," to "Ghostbusters," to John Travolta strutting to "Saturday Night Fever," which drew a roar from the audience.

Introductions were provided by the likes of Streep and Goldberg and Barbara Walters, who stressed what they loved about the city: its energy and its diversity.

"We have Asian people making pizza," Goldberg said. "We have Italian people serving soul food. You don't see that anywhere else. We are the world. We truly are."

The hard sell was punctuated when the curtain dropped and the fireworks began, and a lighted NYC2012 sign descended from the ceiling.

The day had started with a different kind of hard-sell, delivered by a roster of political heavy hitters. Bloomberg; Gov. George E. Pataki; Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York; and Roland Betts, whom President Bush has appointed his adviser to the Olympic bid, delivering presentations meant to convince the evaluation commission of the support of every level of government. President Bush sent a videotaped message played for the commission expressing his enthusiasm for the Games.

Pataki stressed his backing of the controversial Far West Side stadium in far stronger terms than he had in months, in effect throwing his political weight alongside Bloomberg's to quell any doubts among the commission members about whether their planned Olympic Stadium would be approved before the I.O.C. votes on the winner of the 2012 Games on July 6.

"I am confident the stadium will go forward," Pataki said. "It's the right thing for New York. Not just for the Olympics, although it is a critical component for winning the 2012 Olympics, but if you look at the Javits Center and that the state is contributing $350 million to expand it and we need still to have a larger convention center in New York City.
"It is important to the city, its economy and to the state as well."

The commission's four-day visit concludes today with tours of the Olympic sites not yet visited, including Staten Island and the Meadowlands. Then, the chairwoman Nawal el-Moutawakel will lead the only news conference of the trip.

Doctoroff could not muster any royalty to top the commission's dinner with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace during their trip to London or the soiree hosted by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia in Madrid. But Doctoroff and Bloomberg unloaded everything else they had in their charm arsenal.

"As far as comparing to the Queen of England, we did go to Queens yesterday, so that was a very positive step," Doctoroff said.

The business part of the day, marked by presentations on security, financing and marketing, was also a way to impress the commission with New York's strengths.

First up were Bloomberg and Pataki, who took on not only the stadium issue, but also the matter of guaranteeing that any shortfall in the budget will be paid for. They said a $492 million contingency exists in the current budget for any overruns and Pataki said that the state would never allow a shortfall to become an issue.

Betts assured the commission that the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security would do "whatever necessary" to ensure a secure Games, which would draw designation as a national special security event. Rangel told the commission that Congress would remove any immigration barriers for athletes, coaches and officials entering the country, as it did for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"I think they were pleasantly surprised by the level of commitment from all levels of government," Pataki said.
But pleasant surprise turned to standing ovations and awe as the bid committee rolled out the evening's spectacle.
"Our city is your city," Bloomberg said to the commission. "But the honor is ours."

And the fireworks were for everyone.

Michelle O'Donnell contributed reporting for this article.

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