Thrills, Agony As Mike Seeks ’12 Olympics

Dan Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development, says he doesn’t gamble. If he did, he might be tempted to put his money where his mouth is: Internet bookies are offering 7-to-1 odds against New York’s hosting the Summer Olympics in 2012.

Mr. Doctoroff already has anted up on New York’s behalf. On January 12, he handed a 65-page sketch of the city’s Olympic plan to a yellow-clad DHL messenger bound for Lausanne, Switzerland, seat of the International Olympic Committee. On Jan. 15, the guardians of the Olympic torch will begin considering responses from the nine candidate cities and the competition will begin in earnest.

This is a high-stakes play for Mr. Doctoroff, a trim 45-year-old with curly hair and a permanent smile. It’s also a gamble for his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The I.O.C. will decide on the 2012 site at a meeting in July 2005, just four months before Mr. Bloomberg is due to stand for re-election.

If the bookies are onto something and Mr. Doctoroff’s efforts do not pay off, New Yorkers may wonder about the rationale for policies tied to the Olympic bid. Those policies range from a planned Olympic Stadium on the far West Side to City Hall’s attempts to block construction of a power plant on a Brooklyn site designated for Olympic archery competition.

“The Bloomberg administration has put all of their eggs in the Olympic basket,” said Christine Quinn, a City Council member from the West Side who is fighting the stadium plan. “If the Olympics falls through, Mike Bloomberg is going to be vulnerable. People will say, ‘This guy put it all in delivering the deal, and he couldn’t deliver the deal.'”

Some of Mr. Bloomberg’s potential rivals for 2005 are already displaying their concern.

“Should every decision be linked to the Olympics that is made in terms of land use or budgeting?” asked Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president. “I’m not sure that that’s a very wise approach.”

Mr. Doctoroff responds that the Olympics are just a “catalyst” for development. If New York makes a good pitch to the I.O.C., Mr. Doctoroff said, “our chances of winning are very, very good.”

But across the Atlantic, the Europeans who will play a dominant role in choosing the site say they agree with the bookies, considering New York a long-shot contender behind Paris and London.

“So far, everyone has said that London and Paris and Madrid are the front-runners, and New York has been dealt out of the pack,” said Patrick Hickey, a top Irish member of the I.O.C. and secretary general of the European Olympic Committees. But Mr. Hickey added a warning. “I think [New York] will be a player at the end of the day,” he said.

The problems with New York’s bid have little to do with the city’s $3.6 billion plan. For one thing, the I.O.C. is deeply Eurocentric-nearly half of the committee’s 125 voting members come from European countries, and only three are from the United States. European anger at America over matters from the Iraq war to new fingerprinting systems at the U.S. border remains high. “If a vote was taken today, it wouldn’t be good news for New York,” said one I.O.C. member, who proceeded to cite anti-American jokes in that day’s newspaper in his European country.

Some insiders also feel that 2012 will be Europe’s “turn” after the 2008 Beijing Games. The bid from Paris, hungry after a failed 2008 bid, gets roughly even odds from the online bookies. Paris ranked highest in a recent survey from a Web site that follows the Olympics, New York placed fifth, after Paris, Rio de Janeiro, London and Istanbul and ahead only of Madrid, Moscow, Leipzig and Havana.

“When 2012 comes around, in a geographic sense the I.O.C. may be looking to let the games come back to Europe,” said Ed Hula, the editor of an Olympic-insider newsletter, Around the Rings .

The I.O.C.’s executive board is expected to make a first cut this May, and the full committee will vote by secret ballot on July 6, 2005.

Leaders of the European bids wave off Mr. Doctoroff’s confidence.

“They may adopt whatever sales pitch they wish to, because we intend to provide stiff opposition to them,” said the chairman of the British Olympic Association, Craig Reedie. “London will produce technically a very competitive and good bid, and we expect to be serious competition.”

A spokesman for the Paris bid, Jerome Lenfant, told The Observer that he thinks his city’s time has come.

“Paris has been running for the games for several times and has been on the short list several times,” he said. “We learned from each of those failures, and today we think we are presenting a strong project.”

That’s the field. Then there’s Mr. Doctoroff, a relentlessly genial graduate of Wall Street. He is New York’s not-so-secret weapon, its driving force, and its only hope of beating the odds.

“Everyone agrees that Dan Doctoroff is the most impressive man in the room whenever there is a meeting,” said an I.O.C. member who watched him buttonhole Olympic electors at December 2003 meeting in Rome. “I don’t know what he’s saying to them, but they are staying a long time with him. He knows how to do it.”

An Unlikely Olympian

At first glance, Mr. Doctoroff is an unlikely character to be enthralled by the Olympic movement’s hokey internationalism and idealism. A Detroit native who earned degrees from Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School, Mr. Doctoroff made his money in the no-illusions world of private equity, working as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers before taking a lead role at Oak Hill Capital Partners, the investment vehicle of Texas billionaire Robert Bass.

That experience no doubt left him unsurprised by the greed and ambition that have tarnished the Olympics in recent years. But while his enemies imagine that he has some ulterior motive for pushing the Olympics, the amount of energy Mr. Doctoroff has devoted to the city’s Olympics bid since 1997 belies conspiracy theories, as does the true-believer glint in his eye whenever he speaks of the games.

“New York is a city of dreams, and that’s what the Olympics are really all about,” he told the group of American and European reporters outside City Hall.

New York’s particular Olympic dream has been detailed by NYC2012-Mr. Doctoroff’s nonprofit group, which Mr. Bloomberg joined as a private donor in 2000. The plan envisions venues for 40 sports, with a planned Olympic Village at Queens West on the east bank of the East River. The village would house 16,000 athletes in 4,400 new high-rise apartments, which would then be turned into permanent housing for city residents.

The sweeping Olympic plan mirrors the Bloomberg administration’s development priorities. The city already has begun an environmental review for the West Side stadium proposal, a planned extension of the No. 7 subway line and an expanded midtown that developers hope would sprout around the facility. In Brooklyn, Mayor Bloomberg is fighting for new residential development and parks on the waterfront, and against a new power plant in Greenpoint.

These projects, already moving forward, seem to presuppose New York’s victory. But, Olympic officials say, bidders are basically forced into that position.

“When you’re bidding, you have to be convinced that you will get it,” said Gunilla Lindberg, a Swedish I.O.C. member who worked on unsuccessful bids for Stockholm.

Mr. Bloomberg certainly has been sold on the notion. In his State of the City address on Jan. 8, Mr. Bloomberg said that New York has “a great chance” at winning the games.

If Mr. Doctoroff has the odds figured out and New York takes a surprising victory, questions about the West Side Stadium and other development projects will likely subside amid the glow from the Olympic torch-at least until after the 2005 election. That was certainly the case with the last project of this scope, the 1964 World’s Fair, a popular event despite questions about its finances and about what exactly the city was going to do with a Unisphere after the fairgoers went home.

And even if New York loses, Mr. Doctoroff is prepared to make the case that many of the development projects should go forward.

“The Olympic plan was designed with the city’s economic-development priorities as one of its most important objectives,” he said. “Certainly I hope more than anything that we will win the Olympics, but we are attempting to have the Olympics serve as a catalyst.”

Thrills, Agony As Mike Seeks ’12 Olympics