The Olympics: A Man, a Plan, New York

Inside Dan Doctoroff's passionate campaign to land the 2012 Summer Games for a wounded city

Dan Doctoroff seems an unlikely point man for New York City's bid to host the Summer Olympics. You could go out for coffee in the time it would take for this middle-aged ex-investment banker to huff over the low hurdles. He doesn't know squat about putting a shot, and he hardly seems the type whose heart races at the sight of synchronized swimming. New York isn't even Doctoroff's hometown. He's from Michigan.

Doctoroff has been the moving force in getting America's most complex city to pursue the world's most complicated sports spectacle for one simple reason: He doesn't just think big--he thinks enormous. "Dan tends to look for larger-than-life opportunities," says friend and ex-business partner Andy Nathanson. "I'd call him a cogent dreamer."

Dreams don't get much bigger than hosting an Olympics, and Doctoroff is moving closer to realizing his. On Nov. 3, the U.S. Olympic Committee will choose either New York or San Francisco as America's entry in the race to host the 2012 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee will pick a global winner in 2005 (table).

To hear West Coast boosters tell it, victory will go to the City by the Bay. Not only does San Francisco boast better weather, they say, but the IOC under new President Jacques Rogge looks favorably on cities that make maximum use of existing facilities; some 80% of San Francisco's proposed venues are already built, vs. 60% for New York.

Then there is the athlete-friendly aspect to its bid. Besides Southern California, there may be no spot on earth where more Olympic hopefuls live and train than Northern California. And no bid in recent memory has a higher percentage of former Olympians taking an active role. About one in three members of the Bay Area Organizing Committee's board--including gold medalists Peggy Fleming and Kerri Strug--competed in the Olympics. Even Anne Warner Cribbs, the organizing committee's CEO, collected a gold medal in Rome in 1960 as a 15-year-old swimmer.

Still, vibes are strong that New York will prevail. "If I had a lot of money, I'd bet right now on New York. It's almost a foregone conclusion," says Robert K. Barney, co-author of Selling the Five Rings: The International Olympic Committee and the Rise of Olympic Commercialism.

One unstated reason is that post-September 11 New York is the sentimental favorite. The tragedy awakened many to the true character of the city, Doctoroff says. "The rest of the world sees us in a different way than before September 11. They see the true face of New York City--the courage, resiliency, and patriotism." And in what other city, Doctoroff asks, is the Olympic spirit more alive? "More than any city on earth, New York is a city for people with dreams," he says.

Ironically, Dan's Big Dream for New York began eight years ago in New Jersey, when Doctoroff and pal Nathanson were at a World Cup soccer game between Italy and Bulgaria. As Doctoroff watched in wonder at the nationalistic passion, a brainstorm struck.

Now, if New York lands its first-ever Olympics--and even if it doesn't--the impact on Doctoroff, a 44-year-old millionaire, will be profound. Since he began mulling a New York Olympics, Doctoroff has turned his life upside down and stepped squarely into the limelight.

Last December, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tapped him as deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, a job that includes overseeing the sensitive and highly public process of planning a new World Trade Center site. Before starting in the post, Doctoroff cut his ties with Oak Hill Capital Partners Inc., a private equity investment firm formed with Texas investor Robert M. Bass, where he had been managing partner for 14 years. He also stepped down as president of NYC2012, a nonprofit group he set up to plan the New York Games--though he remains chief spokesman.

Doctoroff's job is grueling (13-hour days are common), and the pay couldn't be worse (he takes only a dollar a year). But as one of the mayor's trusted aides, Doctoroff, who met Bloomberg while courting him for the board of NYC2012, has become a player in city politics. That has set some wondering if citizen Doctoroff will someday be candidate Doctoroff. "It wouldn't surprise me even a little," says an associate.

Such talk makes Doctoroff noticeably uneasy. "None," he replies when asked if he has ambitions to run for office. "I'm focused on immediate goals." Clearly, the 2012 Summer Games top that list. Doctoroff's meticulous planning and relentless cheerleading have taken New York far--farther than Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, L.A., Tampa, and Washington, all of which failed to make the USOC's short list.

But even if New York gets the nod, the heaviest lifting may be yet to come. Winning over the fickle IOC means prevailing in a pitched battle with cities such as Paris and Toronto. Both have been passed over recently for the Summer Games, and historically that gives them an edge the next time around.

So far, though, Doctoroff has proved adept at keeping New York in the game. With their eye-popping Olympic proposal, NYC2012 officials started early to head off doubts that a New York Olympics would be a logistical black hole. For instance, Doctoroff shares the credit for a clever transportation plan that would use high-speed ferries criss-crossing New York waterways to zip athletes to and from events. "Dan really captured my attention with that one. He's a master in terms of pulling together these complicated issues," says Seymour Sternberg, CEO of New York Life Insurance Co., which has contributed $250,000 to NYC2012.

Doctoroff also has answers for how to pay for a New York Olympics, which likely would be the costliest ever. NYC2012 officials estimate that the price tag would be some $3.3 billion, which would be covered entirely by TV rights, sponsorships, and ticket sales. Not tallied in that estimate is as much as $5 billion for related redevelopment projects--a bill that would be mostly borne by private investors, says Doctoroff. That includes two of the Games' big-ticket items--a sprawling Olympic Village of 4,400 apartments that would be converted to upscale housing after the three-week Games and a massive facelift of Manhattan's West Side, including an Olympic Stadium.

Redeveloping the West Side figures to be controversial. Under the NYC2012 plan, the 86,000-seat stadium would be an annex to the Javits Convention Center and the home of the New York Jets. The Jets ownership "basically will pay for the cost of the stadium," Doctoroff notes, minus the price of a retractable roof for conventions.

Some West Side residents aren't impressed. They fear a sports stadium will tear the fabric of Clinton--also known as Hell's Kitchen--an area of relatively inexpensive housing, affordable eateries, and small businesses. "Dan's a terrific guy. But if the stadium were taken off the table, things would go much more smoothly," says state Senator Thomas K. Duane, whose district includes Clinton.

Doctoroff says he understands the reservations. But in the next breath, he's stumping for urban renewal. "This is New York. Of course somebody's going to say it's not a good idea," he says. Doctoroff takes solace in advice given to him by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an early and enthusiastic backer of NYC2012. "You haven't been in public life before," Doctoroff says Giuliani told him when they first met to discuss Olympic plans. "You should understand that you'd be criticized if you gave away $100 bills in Times Square."

It was good counsel for someone who had experienced little of the rough and tumble of the public arena. Growing up in Birmingham, Mich., Doctoroff's heroes played for the local sports teams. A devoted baseball fan, he still can tick off the name and position of each player on the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers. "I have a good memory for garbage," he jokes. Until he got married, Doctoroff concedes, attending a World Series game at Tiger Stadium with his late father, Martin, a state Appeals Court judge in Michigan, was "the highlight of my life."

Doctoroff went to public high school, then Harvard and the University of Chicago law school. When his future wife, Alisa, came to New York to accept a job in 1983, Doctoroff joined her grudgingly. "I found New York big, intimidating, [and] to be candid, bewildering," he concedes.

That seems eons ago, however. Now, Doctoroff can't imagine living anywhere else. Or seeing the Olympic flame lit anywhere but the city's gleaming Olympic Stadium in 2012. "Obviously, I'm optimistic," he says. Still, Nov. 3 can't come soon enough.

By Mark Hyman in New York

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