NEW YORK -- The role of underdog doesn't come naturally to a
city that calls itself "The Capital of the World," but that is
how New York's Olympic boosters are casting themselves as they
scramble to recover from a setback that nearly wrecked their bid
for the 2012 Summer Games.
The campaign, launched in 1994, seemed doomed when a
three-member state committee rejected plans for a new, showcase
stadium in Manhattan -- just a month before the International
Olympic Committee meeting on July 6 to choose a 2012 host city.
Alluding to that setback, and backed by a walking, talking Statue of Liberty,
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered a feisty Fourth of July
pep talk in Singapore Monday on behalf of his city's bid -- saying an
11th-hour change in stadium plans was evidence of pluck and
"New Yorkers have shown that when they get knocked down, they
get back up," Bloomberg said. "We didn't drop out, we didn't cry
America's Independence Day marked the first full day of lobbying
in Singapore by Bloomberg, who was joined at a news conference by
Olympic champions, President George Bush's personal representative,
and a woman with green-painted skin dressed in a contest-winning
Statue of Liberty costume.
Bloomberg said he hopes to convince undecided IOC delegates that
a New York-based Summer Games would be an economic boost for the
Olympic movement and international sports federations.
"America is the biggest sports market in the world -- it's a
market that they have to approach,'' he said.
He also emphasized New York's ethnic diversity, saying, "We
have our own Olympic Village every day in New York.''
After a day or so of despair when the three-member state committe turned down the stadium plan, New York officials devised a
substitute plan for a cheaper stadium in the less-than-glamorous
borough of Queens, and began depicting themselves as plucky long
shots who could persevere through adversity.
"If the IOC wants a city with heart, a city that can overcome
its differences, that can pull together during trying times and
will do everything possible to host a great games, then New York
meets that test," Bloomberg said when the Queens stadium plan was announced.
Paris and London remain the favorites in the five-city field,
but the quick recovery at least enabled New York to avoid
embarrassment and make a final pitch for a bid that -- all along --
raised several persistent questions as well as the prospect of a
truly spectacular games.
On the plus side, New York boosters have accurately promoted
their city as perhaps the most multinational of the contenders; its
schools have children from 199 of the 202 nations that competed in
the 2004 Olympics.
"The World's Second Home" became one of the bid committee's
slogans; its brochures promised that every country would enjoy
The plan proposed an imaginative mix of new and existing venues,
arrayed in the shape of a giant 'X' across all five boroughs.
Baseball would be played at famed Yankee Stadium, basketball at
Madison Square Garden, the triathlon would circle through Central
Park. Newly built venues would include a waterfront aquatics center
in Brooklyn and a mountain biking course atop a sprawling landfill
on Staten Island; athletes would be housed in 4,400 spacious new
apartments across the East River from the United Nations.
Other highlights of the candidacy include a no-strike pledge by
local construction unions; a promise of free marketing assistance,
over the seven years ahead of the games, to 28 international sports
federations; and inclusion of boxing great Muhammad Ali in the U.S.
delegation that will travel to Singapore for the IOC vote.
On the negative side, many New Yorkers were clearly unenthused
about the Olympics. Some felt New York already had global stature
to spare; others worried about congestion or security threats.
When the IOC conducted its own public opinion surveys, gauging
support for hosting the games in the bidding cities and nations,
New York fared the poorest by far -- only 59 percent of city
residents and 54 percent of all Americans supported the bid.
A majority of New Yorkers were opposed to the planned $2 billion
Olympic stadium to be built on the West Side of Manhattan. But
boosters were stunned when an obscure state panel rejected the
plan; said a dismayed Bloomberg, "We have let America down."
Within days, a revised bid was in the works -- hinging on a $600
million stadium to be built by the New York Mets in Queens, next to
the existing Shea Stadium, that would be converted into an Olympic
stadium should New York be selected. The city and state would
provide funds to convert the stadium from 45,000 seats to 80,000
for the Olympics.
Dan Doctoroff, New York's deputy mayor and leader of the bid
campaign, believes the stadium turmoil did not harm the city's
candidacy in the eyes of the international Olympic community.
"My overwhelming impression is that people can't believe we
responded so quickly," he told The Associated Press. "We've been
tested, and we passed the test."
In Queens, long accustomed to existing in Manhattan's shadow,
reaction to the new plan was mixed. A city councilman from the
borough, Tony Avella, said traffic during the games would be
unbearable. But a U.S. congressman whose district includes part of
Queens praised the plan while evoking the terror attacks of 2001.
"Just as we did following Sept. 11, New York City has once
again proven that it can rise from the most challenging of
situations," Rep. Joseph Crowley said.
The Sept. 11 attacks provided some intriguing context to New
York's Olympic debate. Some skeptics said the city shouldn't be
seeking a role that would give terrorists seven years of planning
time, while others -- immediately after the attacks -- said the
international community should bestow the 2012 Games on New York as
a gesture of solidarity.
In the end, an IOC evaluation committee judged that all five
competing cities faced roughly comparable security threats and had
roughly comparable abilities to deter them. New York officials went
so far as to assert that the experience of Sept. 11 gave their city
and its 36,000-strong police department an edge.
"Given what New York went through after 9/11, given the way we
responded and deployed our resources, it really prepares us
uniquely to manage any conceivable threat," Doctoroff said.