Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has been touting how the former governor of Massachusetts saved the Olympic Games in 2002. If you do a search for Mitt Romney and the Olympics you’ll get a whole lot of recent headlines from liberal blogs saying that Romney didn’t do anything special for the Olympics. So I went back and searched the 2002 archives, and found plenty of stories about Romney’s role in turning around the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and going from a budget shortfall to a big surplus.
The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City generated a whopping $56-million overall surplus, organizers will announce today, testament to first-rate organizational and logistical plans and a vivid reminder of the financial possibilities inherent in staging the Games in the United States.
The net surplus, $40 million, will be divided two ways. Most of the money, $30 million, will go to the nonprofit Utah Athletic Foundation, which oversees facilities built for the Salt Lake Games. The rest, $10 million, goes to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
You’ll hear liberals gripe that Romney used some government funding, (as if they’re opposed to federal spending) but according to the same article, putting on the Games had always been a public/private venture.
The Salt Lake surplus underscores the unique nature of the U.S. method of staging the Games, which relies on a partnership between government and a privately run organizing committee.
So, how bad was the committee in the red when Romney took over? Bad, as The New York Times reported in April of 2002.
When Romney took over as committee president in February 1999, the organizers faced a $379 million deficit. He cut the budget by $200 million, signed new sponsors and raised money. Salt Lake City sold $183 million in tickets. (By comparison, Nagano, Japan, sold $80 million in 1998.)
”Our Games were perfect,” Romney said by telephone. ”There were no surprises from the weather, security or anything else that made us use the contingency fund.”
A recent Los Angeles Times article highlighted how Romney cut the budget. He started out by getting rid of a pricey office, and downsizing to something a little less lavish.
It was furnished with broken desks cast off by federal agencies. Its stairs were so steep that Cindy Gillespie, the head of federal relations for the Olympic committee, refused to have guests visit.
“It was a nightmare — I couldn’t stand it,” Gillespie recalled. “But Mitt just adored it. He thought it was totally appropriate.”
The message, of course, was that frugality was the new watchword of the organization, which had been battered by revelations that Salt Lake officials had showered more than $1 million in gifts on International Olympic Committee members in their effort to land the 2002 Winter Games.
Scaling down the Washington office was one of the many moves that Romney made to wipe out the scars of profligate spending. Recruited in February 1999 to take over the beleaguered Olympic committee, Romney deferred his $280,000-a-year salary until the Games were over and its finances secure, then donated it to charity. (He had taken a leave from Bain Capital, but was still receiving substantial payments from it.) He got rid of catered food for board meetings and instead offered pizza at $1 a slice.
Frugality and leadership – those are two qualities we find lacking in Washington, DC these days.
Mitt Romney ’75 doesn’t exactly fit the image of a hard hat kind of guy. But the graduate of Harvard’s law and business schools grabs his hard hat–stamped with the Olympic symbol–in the same way other people who wear business suits grab their briefcases, as if he wouldn’t go anywhere without it. He’s leaving his downtown Salt Lake City office, striding to one of the many Olympic sites in the final stages of construction about 100 days before the biggest event that has ever hit this city. And he’s in the middle of it all, an omnipresent force in a community that for years and years has been girding, with an equal mixture of excitement and trepidation, for a fortnight in February. The Winter Olympics will go on here, he is almost sure of it, and he has spent most of the past three years preparing for the best and the worst that the Games has to offer. It’s not the kind of job where your hands get dirty and your muscles ache at the end of the day. But, considering what he faced when he arrived on the job and what he has faced since then, he has earned the right to call the hard hat his own.
In February 1999 Romney became CEO and president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC), a white knight called in to save an organization in disarray and a city in distress. At the time, the Justice Department and the FBI had just launched investigations into a bribery scandal, in which members of the Salt Lake Bid Committee had offered International Olympic Committee officials money and gifts, reportedly in excess of $1 million, in exchange for hosting the Games. (In November, a federal judge dismissed fraud charges in the case against two committee officials; the Justice Department is considering an appeal.) The scandal, said Romney, “dispirited and devastated the psyche of this community and probably the entire Olympic world.” There was another problem too. The original budget for the Olympics, about $800 million, had proven to be low–more than $1 billion low, in fact. And the SLOC, responsible for 70 percent of the cost, had secured only a pittance of the $500 million needed in sponsorships to balance the budget. “We were in a severe financial crisis,” said Romney.
Read the whole thing. I remember watching the games in 2002 and listening to the announcers talking about this guy who turned around the Olympics. It didn’t seem political to me at the time, but I remember telling my husband “He’d make a pretty good president.” Now the Democrats want to make you believe Romney had nothing to do with that smashing success.
In his Wisconsin speech yesterday, Romney recalled talking to Olympic gold medalist Derek Para about his experience at the games. Para had told him the most moving moment was carrying the World Trade Center flag in to the opening ceremonies and how emotional he was when the wind blew the flag during the national anthem. Here’s the video from that moment. It was quite moving, and thanks to Romney’s leadership, it was a beautiful moment that wasn’t tinged by scandal.