Eight Things We Learned from the Northwind-City Hall Documents
Many people have criticized the fact that the Mayor’s Office and Boston 2024 seem to be interchangeable when it comes to the Olympic bid process. Recent documents gained from a public records request on communication between Northwind Strategies, Boston 2024’s PR firm, and the Mayor’s Office show the truth of such criticism.
(1) The Mayor’s Office ran a statement by Mayor Walsh on the Olympic bid by Northwind for approval before releasing.
On December 1st, Melina Schuler, senior media liaison for Mayor Walsh, ran a draft statement for the mayor to give on Boston 2024 to Channel 5 by Kate Norton, his press secretary, and Dave Wedge, Boston 2024 spokesperson and vice president at Northwind Strategies, a firm being paid $15,000 a month to consult for Boston 2024. Schuler sent a version of the statement to Norton and Wedge and asked, “How does this look, coming from the mayor?” Wedge initially responded, “Hang on guys- we are reviewing this and will get back to you. Thanks.” Two and a half hours later, Wedge responded, “That statement looks good btw. thanks.” Schuler immediately asked Wedge if he was signing off on it as “ok to send as comment on behalf of the mayor.” Norton wrote to Schuler suggesting that they change the tone “to have it come from me or you.” Schuler then sent Norton and Wedge a new statement, which had been revised accordingly. On December 2nd, the statement appeared in Boston Magazine, attributed to “a spokesperson for Mayor Marty Walsh.” (pp. 565-566, 658-665)
(2) City officials deferred to Northwind Strategies on the question of whether the bid was a public document.
On December 22nd, Adam Vaccaro of Boston.com emailed Kate Norton to follow up with a public records request he had submitted via MuckRock the prior week, noting that “[his] understanding is that Mayor Walsh had to ‘sign off’ on something in order for the Olympic bid to go to the USOC” and that he “would think that would make it a public document.” Kate Norton forwarded the inquiry to Dave Wedge, asking, “I don’t think this lives with the City, correct?” Wedge responded by saying he would “run it up the flagpole.” (pp. 85-86)
One week later, Norton sent an email to Wedge to follow up with this question of whether the bid counted as a public record (pp. 88-89). The next day, Wedge responded that he was “waiting on the lawyers.” (p.755)
Two weeks after Norton’s original email to Wedge, Bonnie McGilpin, Mayor Walsh’s new press secretary, followed up with Wedge. Wedge said that Northwind Strategies/Boston 2024 was “of the opinion that the bid is not a public document until the host city agreement is signed by parties (host city and USOC)” and that this “has not happened yet as far as we know.” McGilpin said that this “sounds good” and thanked him. (pp. 90-96)
(3) Boston 2024 and the Mayor’s Office hid the USOC’s visit to Boston in November from the press—albeit not entirely successfully.
On November 18th, the USOC visited Boston in the lead-up to the December conference in San Francisco. According to documents previously obtained from the BRA via a public records request, the sessions of this meeting, held at MIT, included names like “BOSTON IS EXCITING, INTERNATIONAL, YOUTH-ORIENTED, UNIVERSITY-DRIVEN AND FUN!” and “BOSTON IS A GLOBAL CENTER OF INNOVATION, CULTURE, AND YOUTH. AND WE’RE ‘ALL IN’!” Despite claiming that Boston was “all in,” Boston 2024 and the Mayor’s Office didn’t want anyone outside of an inner circle—and certainly not anyone from the press—in the room.
Later that day, Melina Schuler forwarded an MIT story about the USOC’s visit to Dave Wedge and Kate Norton, noting that she had “no idea” that MIT’s communications department had been in the room. Wedge responded, “Ugh…I had no idea either. Not a huge deal but other media will probably pick up on it.” (pp. 634, 995-996)
The secrecy of the event was not lost on the press. Two days later, Garrett Quinn of MassLive emailed Kate Norton to ask why the USOC meeting “was not announced or open to the public,” saying that it “seems like it was conducted in secret.” Norton forwarded the question to Wedge, asking, “You want to take this one?” Wedge then asked whether the city was “getting other calls,” and if their strategy was to give media their official statement when asked similar questions. Norton noted that they had not received other such calls, and that she planned to “use the same statement for everyone.” She then promised to “keep [Wedge] in the loop if we get other inquiries.” Schuler noted that she thought it would be best for Boston 2024, rather than the city, to respond to Quinn’s question. (pp. 638-650, 1000-1006)
(4) Boston 2024 and the City were not happy about a Globe article about the exclusion of New Boston Food Market from the planning around Widett Circle, and John Fish wasn’t clear why it was even a story.
On December 1st, John Fish forwarded an interview request from Callum Borchers of the Boston Globe to Dan Koh, Mayor Walsh’s chief of staff, and Doug Rubin, Founding Partner of Northwind. Borchers was planning to write a story about the New Boston Food Market in Widett Circle, Boston 2024’s plans for Widett Circle, and how NBFM vendors were feeling left out of the process. (The story was published the following day.) Fish commented, “I am a little uncomfortable reaching out to her and I am a little lost about why she is writing a story.” Doug Rubin assigned Kyle Sulivan, Senior VP for Public Relations at Northwind, to reach out to Borchers. Koh thanked them and asked to be kept in the loop. (pp.159-168)
That same day, Kate Norton forwarded the request she received on this story to David Wedge, to which he replied, “We should talk about this ASAP. This is not great. Haha. Run it up the flagpole there and see how you guys think we should respond.” (p. 655-657)
(5) Marty Walsh’s press secretary forwarded press requests for the Mayor’s Office to Northwind Strategies.
On November 12th, Kate Norton forwarded a request for a statement from Mayor Walsh on the Olympic bid to Dave Wedge. The request was from Scotty Schenk of the Huntington News, the student-run newspaper at Northeastern University. “This young man is demanding comment from the mayor’s office,” Norton said. “I’m on it. Thanks,” Wedge replied. Wedge then asked Norton for her personal email address, which she provided. (pp. 627-633)
(6) Northwind Strategies handled Mayor Walsh’s press availability when the mayor presented the Boston 2024 bid to the USOC in San Francisco.
On December 16th, Kate Norton forwarded media requests about Mayor Walsh’s press availability after the USOC meeting to Northwind Strategies Founding Partner and Boston 2024 Communications Advisor Doug Rubin. He responded by saying that he would “follow [Kate’s] lead on making [Walsh] available.” Norton then forwarded more requests for Walsh’s media availability to Rubin. (pp. 686-693)
(7) A Northwind VP asked city officials if they would use the mayor’s Twitter account to promote his book.
On December 15th, Dave Wedge asked Melina Schuler and Kate Norton if they would use Mayor Walsh’s Twitter account to “tweet out the news” about a foreword Walsh had written for Wedge’s book about the Marathon bombings. “Maybe you guys could tweet that link and something like: ‘Honored to have met so many survivors and am so proud of their resilience and strength,’” Wedge suggested. He justified this request by saying, “I think it’s pretty important that [the book foreword] is his first published work.” (p. 685)
(8) A Northwind VP thinks that being the mayor’s press secretary “sucks.”
On January 5th, Kate Norton left her job as Mayor Walsh’s press secretary to become vice president of communications at CK Strategies, a firm that is now working for Boston 2024. Sydney Asbury, a vice president at Northwind Strategies, immediately sent Norton an email of congratulations. Norton thanked Asbury, to which Asbury replied, “You’re going to be so happy. Your [sic] going to realize how hard your job was!” Norton responded by noting that she is ready for the “big adjustment.” Asbury replied, “Take it from me, your old job sucked and your new one is going to be awesome!” Asbury was Governor Deval Patrick’s Deputy Chief of Staff from January 2011 until May 2012, as well as his campaign manager during his re-election campaign. (pp. 757-763)