New York City plays rare underdog role
Paris and London remain the favorites in the five-city field.
NEW YORK (AP) -- 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.
After a day or so of despair, 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," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
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 home-field advantage.
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.
No harm done
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.