How did Mitt Romney get the job running the 2002 Winter Olympics?
Mitt Romney cites, quite frequently, his management of the 2002 Olympic Games as one his credentials for deserving the presidency. It is worth examining how he got the job and what he did while he was there. It would be a disservice to the American people for the media to ignore this.
Prior to his appointment as head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee in 1999, Romney had one single disastrous experience in politics: his dramatic double digit loss to Ted Kennedy in 1994. After that, he returned to his work at Bain Capital. Romney's opportunities to make a political comeback were slim. As a Republican, the chances that he would win a Congressional seat in overwhelmingly Democratic Boston were next to zero. After losing to Kennedy, his next opportunity to get to the Senate came via a possible challenge to John Kerry in 1996. Unfortunately for him, the sitting governor at the time was William Weld, a Republican who had endorsed Romney in 1994 and challenged Kerry for the Senate seat himself. In 1997 after Weld lost to Kerry, President Clinton nominated Weld for an ambassadorship and Weld resigned. Republican Lt. Governor Paul Celluci becaome Governor and shortly thereafter announced he would seek election in his own right in 1998, an election Cellucci won. Romney's chances of making a comeback were becoming even more remote. The only big race that was on the horizon was another rematch with Kennedy in 2000, a beating that was next to certain to occur with Kennedy's approval ratings well into the 60's. (Kennedy won in 2000 with 73% of the vote
.) In other words, Mitt Romney's political career was at a dead end in early 1999. Kennedy and Kerry were safe. Cellucci could hold on to the Governor's office for another eight years. Romney wasn't getting any younger at age 51 and had no public office to his credit. A Republican in Massachusetts has very few avenues to a national profile.
Now, lets change the scene from Boston to Salt Lake City in 1999. Salt Lake had successfully won the Winter Olympics Games to take place in 2002. Unfortunately for them, the entire games became mired in an international scandal because numerous accounts reported that the games were brought to Salt Lake via bribery. This created a major embarrassment for the city, but also, notably, for the Church of Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons. One cannot understate how intertwined the LDS Church was with the 2002 Games. This should not be surprising. After all, Utah is an overwhelmingly Mormon state. Almost all the important public officials in the state are Mormons. The Church itself is a very hierarchical institution with clear lines of authority, a chain of command, and discipline systems to enforce doctrine. It owns a great deal of property in Salt Lake and controls a large number of businesses in the state of Utah. So it should come as no surprise that the 2002 Games were frequently derided as "The Mormon Games:"
What transpired in Utah for seventeen days in February 2002 was officially known as the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games. The media, however, popularly referred to the event by numerous informal names including the Bribery Games, the Stolen Games, the Patriot Games, the Star-Spangled Games, the Healing Games, the Security Games, Gods Games, the Holy-Impics as well as the Mormon Games, the Mormon Olympics, and the Mo-lympics. Those labels refer to the four distinguishing features of the Salt Lake Games -- the bribery scandal involving the Salt Lake bid committee and some two-dozen members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC); the unprecedented security measures implemented after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: the Winter Olympics as a national and international unifying event in the aftermath of September 11; and the influence of the Mormon church in staging the Games.
Since the Salt Lake Organizing Committee was mired in scandal, someone had to step in to put things right. It was only fitting that the institution that stepped in was not the United States Olympic Committee, but the most important institution in the host city, The Church of Latter Day Saints. It's vehicle for this was the Church Olympic Coordinating Committee:
Salt Lake’s winning the bid for the 2002 Games on June 16, 1995, increased the Olympic stakes for Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Mormon church. The ski industry,and economic development agencies were the principal promoters of the Olympics, but the church now became the biggest player. While LDS leaders were conspicuously silent when Salt Lake obtained the 2002 bid and in fact made no official statement about the Olympics until 1998, they promptly began to prepare for the Games. The key was the Church Olympic Coordinating Committee established in October 1995, “a kind of clearinghouse for the church’s Olympic efforts.” Co-chaired by Apostles Robert D. Hales and Henry B. Eyring, members of the Quorum of the Twelve, the church’s second-highest leadership group, the committee also included M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Seventy; H. David Burton, the presiding bishop of Salt Lake; and Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of public affairs for the church. The claim that the committee’s sole function was to consider the Salt Lake Organizing Committee’s (SLOC) requests for human and financial assistance, but never to be proactive in solicitations was essentially, albeit not entirely, accurate. The church proved a generous partner, eventually loaning large amounts of real estate and contributing millions of dollars through its corporate subsidiaries for Olympic preparations. Looking back upon Salt Lake’s successful bid attempt, LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Our people [initially] were on both sides of the question,” but “once that decision was made we backed it with contributions of manpower, facilities, space, resources--everything that was requested of us to make of this a tremendous party for the world.”
Nothing wrong with any of that. The LDS church is the most important institution in town, and the town has a big problem. Perfectly fine for it to offer assistance to the SLOC. What happened next gets really interesting:
A small group of Mormon Olympic leaders including Governor Leavitt, Robert Garff, chairman of SLOC’s Executive Committee and Robert Hales, the LDS church’s top Olympic liaison, met at the Governor’s Mansion to chart the future of SLOC. Hales recommended hiring Willard “Mitt” Romney, Brigham Young University graduate who had been a Mormon bishop and stake president in Massachusetts, as the new SLOC President; M. Russell Ballard of the church’s Olympic Coordinating Committee counseled Romney about the position, and Garff and Leavitt aggressively convinced “a white knight that is universally loved” to take the job. Leavitt also led the reorganization of SLOC’s board of trustees.
Romney’s appointment as SLOC’s new CEO on February 11, 1999 was the catalyst that turned attention in Utah from embarrassment over the Olympic bribery scandal to embattlement over the Mormon church’s influence on the 2002 Olympics. Romney’s appointment was widely resented by Mormons and non-Mormons because he was both LDS and an outsider. Some people felt that Mormon leaders conspired to hire a venture capitalist, co-religionist to execute their particular vision for salvaging Salt Lake’s tarnished reputation and staging an Olympics that would reflect well upon the church. Romney’s business partner, Geoff Rehnert, reinforced that belief: “I’m sure he feels he will be helping his church by restoring the credibility of the games.”
Robert Hales is a very high ranking member
of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a major body of the LDS church. But Hales also spent many years in business, notably at Boston based Gillette. He is a Harvard Business School graduate, like Romney. He was a Boston area LDS bishop, also like Romney. It is quite possible, indeed likely, that Mitt Romney knew Mr. Hales well. So far, I have not been able to discover any business connections between the two men. There is certainly nothing wrong with recommending a friend for a job, if they knew each other well.
Jacques Rogge, Mitt Romney, President Bush at opening of 2002 Olympic Games
John Huntsman, Sr., father of the former Utah governor and presidential candidate, LDS member, and a prominent Utah business leader, was of the opinion that the LDS church was playing to great a role in the games. He also felt that Mitt Romney's appointment at the games was "cronyism at its peak" as quoted by the Salt Lake Tribune
We’ve got a chairman [Garff] who is active LDS, now we’ve got a present CEO who is active LDS. They claim they’re going out and really scouring the world to find the best person, so Mitt brings in one of his cronies to be the COO [chief operating officer]. Another broken promise. Because we’ve got three LDS folks who are all cronies. Cronyism at its peak. They told the world and told Salt Lake that we’re going to go out and find the most professional, the best, and to have some diversity- spiritual and ethnic. Diversity in the Olympic Games is what it’s all about. These are not the Mormon Games.
(The "crony" Mr. Huntsman was speaking of was Fraser Bullock, one of Mitt Romney's founding partners at Bain Capital and an LDS member.)
The importance of the Salt Lake Olympics in reviving Mitt Romney's political fortunes cannot be understated. During the Olympics, Romney made sure to plaster his face all over television, his name on all Olympic advertising and stationery, even his likeness on Olympic pins. Romney was the man who received the Olympic torch beginning the games. It is safe to say Romney made himself "the face" of the games. Romney greeted President Bush at attendance to the games and stood next to him at the opening ceremony. He interacted with numerous federal elected officials in Washington to lobby for federal funding at the games, which was opportune because the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. Talk was circulated in Washington of a possible cabinet appointment. Romney used the games to make a great deal of new friends in very high places.
Then Romney caught a bit of extraordinary interesting luck: In 2001, President Bush appointed Governor Cellucci to be Ambassador to Canada. Acting Governor Jane Swift became embroiled in a personal scandal over putting false information on her marriage license. There was another scandal surrounding her use of staff for child care. There was another scandal involving her refusal to commute a prisoner's sentence despite the unanimous vote for clemency by the parole board. By the time the Salt Lake Games ended in 2002, Governor Swift was damaged goods.
On March 19, 2002 Swift announced she would not seek election in her own right in 2002, and a few hours later Mitt Romney announced he would seek the governor's office. He faced no primary opposition. He was heavily supported by the White House and all the new friends he made in Washington as a result of the Olympics. More importantly, Romney frequently touted his work at the Olympics as his key calling card for being Governor. This was important because Romney had already run statewide in Massachusetts on the basis of his business experience and lost by 17 points. Cloaking himself in games that he considered a major success, Romney launched into the 2002 Governor's campaign almost immediately after the games concluded. Almost without fail, Romney touted the Salt Lake Olympics as his key qualification for being Governor and frequently played down his work at Bain Capital. Without the Olympics, and the good fortune of a scandal ridden acting Governor, Romney almost certainly would have had no avenue to public office in Massachusetts. However, there was some talk of him running statewide in Utah, a state where he had never lived. It certainly isn't uncommon for an American Olympic Committee to be run by a local business leader. Examples include Atlanta's Billy Payne or Los Angeles's Peter Ueberroth.
The questions are these: How did Mitt Romney, who had no prior experience running an Olympic Games, no notable interest in sports, was never a part of the Salt Lake bid project, and having never been a business or civic leader in Salt Like City, end up running the Salt Lake City Olympics? Why him of all people? Who else was considered and interviewed for the job? What role did the LDS church play in his appointment? What role did the church play in stewardship and management of the games? Was he appointed because of his religion?
These questions are important because Mitt Romney now seeks the highest office in the land. He frequently touts his stewardship of the Olympics, as well as his management practices at Bain, as key qualifiers for the presidency. If Mitt Romney used his position as CEO of the Olympic Games to benefit the LDS church, or if the LDS church used the Olympics to benefit Romney, that is something the American people need to know. Due to the very nature of the hierarchical and tightly run nature of the LDS, it is worth questioning Romney on what role the LDS will play in a possible Romney Administration.
Considering the rather interesting circumstances that surround his appointment to Olympic games in the first place, more investigation and reporting of this matter needs to be done.
This Part One piece draws heavily on the research of Professor Larry R. Gerlach, of the University of Utah. Professor Gerlach's cv can be found here. He is a professor of sports history, and specifically teaches the history of the Olympics to undergrads. Many other parts draw from reporting from the Salt Lake Tribune, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, and the Boston Globe.