<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>


By John Hanchette

OLEAN -- It is a newspaper's duty to warn its readers of looming misfortune and bad government decisions, no matter how far away. So here goes.

This one, granted, is about seven or eight years away, but so was the current Erie County Revenue Shortfall and other Western New York eco-politico catastrophes when they could have been avoided or cured.

This disaster-in-waiting also will spell potential municipal bankruptcies, additional taxpayer hardship and significant loss of regional employment if it comes to fruition.

I'm talking about the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. What's that have to do with us up here in our frozen little corner of the state? Plenty.

Even the dimmest of upstate citizens have come to realize when New York City gets in financial trouble, our wonderful state legislature and whoever is governor bail the Big Apple out -- mainly by taxing the living crap out of everything north of Westchester.

And New York City is about to get in more fiscal trouble, this time in amounts that will make its normal drunken-sailor spending seem like the very model of fiscal probity and prudence.

New York City is vying with four other global metropolitan areas -- London, Paris, Moscow and Madrid -- to host the Olympics seven years from now. The Manhattan elite see only dollar signs as they dream about all the tourist business, filled hotel capacities, restaurant reservations and innumerable income streams that flow from an international event like the Olympics. Also, it is terrific publicity to host the planet's biggest sports event.

Barcelona got such good press 13 years ago it went from sixteenth to a current third in European tourist destinations. Four years earlier, good things happened to Seoul in terms of subsequent world trade after all the publicity.

New York City, which in recent weeks spent about $30 million to strut its stuff in front of decision-makers from the International Olympic Committee -- hauling out Donald Trump and various movie stars to participate in browning up the IOC poohbahs -- is going all out to make a successful bid for the games, which in 2008 will be in Beijing. (The Chinese government has already spent in excess of $15 billion to convert from coal to natural gas in meeting air pollution curtailment standards the government-like IOC insisted upon.)

The Manhattan moguls throw around numbers like gross proceeds of $12 billion from hosting the Olympics. Prospective host cities always do. They also build immense stadiums and other venues usable in practical terms for a just a few weeks. The NYC investment crowd is hoping to build a massive West Side sports complex for the games, which would also host the pro football New York Jets -- a big selling point to NFL-crazy New Yorkers and a possible refutation to the warning that Montreal's problem-in-perpetuity will settle on Manhattan.

Montreal hosted the 1976 summer games. It has placed a crushing financial burden on the city that was once the pride of Quebec. Montreal is still trying to pay off a $1.2 billion debt that once was anticipated as a fiscal windfall for the historic Canadian town. Montreal is also wondering what to do with the giant aging Olympic stadium that is unused, unfinished and was unwanted in the first place. Other international cities have suffered similar economic consequences.

These days, a host city always peddles exclusive commercial and naming rights to various events and then inevitably brags it made a profit. The trick is this: In the popular modern method of accounting -- lying -- these cities never include taxpayer-absorbed expenses like police and firefighter overtime, like crushing demands on mass transit, and like disrupting productive money-producing pursuits and tax income from thousands of frustrated citizens who couldn't give a damn about the games.

The Manhattan boosters are using the same mind set in projecting the 2012 numbers -- a cost of only $7.2 billion, gross income of $12 billion. Here's a prediction if New York City's bid is successful. The cost will be about double that, the income half. And even now, the NYC leaders are asking that taxpayers fork over $3 billion of the projected $7 billion-plus expense.

Guess who will get the brunt of that putative municipal handout? Upstaters, who are already by-and-large broke with few prospects. You think someone who worked at Carrier in Syracuse, or the steel mills in Lackawanna, or any one of the hundreds of ghost industries that fled south or abroad or no longer exist has casual dough to hand over to Gotham?

The only good news is that New York City is an underdog to be named 2012 host. Paris or London are favored. You should be praying for the campaigning Queen Elizabeth or all those haughty Frenchies who are bad-mouthing us as a nation. They want the 2012 Olympics, too.

And don't tell me the Games of the Whatever Olympiad themselves -- and the ensuing trumpet fanfare introductions every time one turns on the tube -- are worthy spectacles in themselves that any city or state should be proud to host. Phooey. In modern geopolitics, they have become boring athletic jokes -- like Super Bowl halftime shows.

They are necessarily propped up with flame-carrying, banner-waving, bad-singing, bad-dancing, foolishly costumed displays that have zero to do with the hallowed concept of the world's amateur athletes striving to excel and everything to do with professional athletes on illegal drugs trying to enrich a career with global exposure and surreptitious steroids. Don't even get me started on the appeal such a venue would have to Islamic terrorists sworn to kill us all. We might as well rebuild the World Trade Center towers.

New York City, you are a wonderful place to visit, a fine place to live, and a stunningly unique metropolis filled with fine arts, fine theater, fine dining, fine investments, fine libraries, fine museums, fine art galleries, fine street scenes, fine ethnic neighborhoods, and fine, fine people.

Just get the hell out of our pockets.

Here's something else you might have missed.

George Bush the Elder late last week praised his onetime rival Bill Clinton, for being a fine, unselfish human being because Clinton -- who ran Bush out of the White House 13 years ago -- gave the much-older Bush sleeping rights to the only bed on the airplane they were using to fly around tsunami-damaged nations in a cooperative international relief effort that raised considerable emergency funding.

Clinton slept on the hard and lurching floor of the not-too-comfortable aircraft. He was aware Bush the Elder has a bad back, and he was aware he faced lengthy surgery when he got back to New York for removal of new scar tissue pressuring one lung after his earlier heart operation.

"We could have switched places, each getting half a night on the bed," said the former president Bush. "But he deferred to me. That was a very courteous thing, very thoughtful, and that meant a great deal to me."

When Bush got back from the devastated region, he heaped more compliments on the frenetic Clinton, who bounced from country to country, trying to connect with recently studied cultures and traditions in each.

"You should have seen him going town to town, and country to country -- the Energizer Bunny here," recalled Bush. "It killed me."

All this is ironically stunning to a reporter -- me -- who covered the 1992 presidential campaign between Bush and Clinton. The dialogue between the two then wasn't near as friendly. It was the bitterest I've encountered between White House aspirants in a quarter century of national reporting.

"My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos," Bush the Elder said of Clinton and Al Gore, his running mate and vice presidential candidate.

Clinton responded that Bozo (a popular TV clown of some decades ago) "makes people laugh, and Bush makes people cry."

Well, Millie was a smart dog, once whizzing on ABC newsman Sam Donaldson's shoes to the delight of his colleagues. But I'm not sure the gentle spaniel was too versed in foreign policy. Maybe, though.

Maybe Millie wouldn't have let Saddam Hussein out of American grasp in 1991, nor have gifted him with all his attack helicopters back -- like Millie's master did -- so the Baghdad despot could spray deadly nerve gas on a city full of Kurdish political opponents who had been urged to revolt by the American president.

At another mid-campaign political stop, Bush the Elder said Clinton's policies "can be summed up by a road sign he's probably seen on his bus tour -- Slippery When Wet." This came after GOP operatives had labeled Clinton "Slick Willie" for his ability to weasel out of tight political corners, no matter what the accusation.

Gee, it's so nice to see old political enemies kiss and make up.

John Hanchette, a professor of journalism at St. Bonaventure University, is a former editor of the Niagara Gazette and a Pulitzer Prize-winning national correspondent. He was a founding editor of USA Today and was recently named by Gannett as one of the Top 10 reporters of the past 25 years. He can be contacted via e-mail at Hanchette6@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 15 2005