A bitter pill to swallow for D.C. and Baltimore

In defeat, mayors pledge new spirit of cooperation

August 28, 2002|By Robert Little and Stacey Hirsch | Robert Little and Stacey Hirsch,SUN STAFF

The mayors of Baltimore and Washington pledged yesterday to turn the region's failed bid for the 2012 Olympics into a new standard of cooperation between the neighboring cities, as both men struggled to find solace in an announcement that clearly caught them and their staffs by surprise.

Seconds after the defeat was announced, Mayor Martin O'Malley called the dual-city bid the greatest cooperative effort between Baltimore and Washington since the War of 1812.

"When people look back years from now, they'll say that these relationships started with the process of this bid," O'Malley told Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams in a phone call, shortly after their cities were eliminated from contention to host the Olympic games. "This was a positive and good thing for both of us."

But any positive spin seemed strained inside City Hall, where dozens of volunteers and government officials gathered to watch the U.S. Olympic Committee select two finalist cities. They teetered silently in front of a large-screen television and released a collective gasp as the city's defeat by New York and San Francisco was announced.

Silence quickly returned as bid co-founder George Stamas shuffled papers, Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger rubbed the back of his neck and O'Malley's glance fell to his shoe tops.

The scene was much the same in Washington, where a burst of audible disappointment was followed by Williams burying his face in his hands.

Both cities had expected their bid to survive yesterday's round of elimination. They gathered together local athletes and political officials - former Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes sat at the front table in Baltimore - and planned a series of inter-city teleconferences for what they believed would be a collective pat on the back.

Instead, the proceedings degenerated into a jumble of brief, stammering comments, impromptu news conferences and slow shuffles out the door. An after-announcement party at ESPN Zone proceeded as planned, though officials quickly renamed it a short reception.

"There have been literally thousands of volunteers and years of work, and it all boiled down to this semifinal vote," said Stamas. "I'm not sure how to express on behalf of all the people it took to get here what our emotions are at this moment."

Few words were wasted in a search for answers, as officials and volunteers quickly pledged to support the remaining cities and move on. Some suggested that Washington's position as the political center of an often-controversial global power might have weighed against its chances and that the Sept. 11 attacks might have lent sympathetic support to New York's bid.

"A lot of factors went into the decision, and one of them, I'm sure, was the world political climate," said O'Malley. "And that's something you can't control."

But no one could point to obvious weaknesses or omissions in the two cities' bid, and no excuses were offered.

"Obviously, we're all very disappointed in the outcome, but I respect the USOC's selection process and wish the remaining cities the best of luck," O'Malley said. Besides, he added, "What are we going to do, file an appeal?"

Williams suggested that Washington might try again to win the favor of the Olympic selection committees, saying that his city will continue to be "a beacon of world peace" and foster the Olympic spirit of partnership and cooperation.

"We look forward to having the Olympics here one day," he said. "I believe we are a determined community, and we will continue to fight."

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