Washington's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics suffered a potentially serious setback yesterday when an ousted organizer accused former mayor Marion Barry, several business leaders and the U.S. Olympic Committee of stealing her right to bid on the international event.
The charges came in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by Elizabeth Ganzi, a promoter who formed the Greater Washington Exploratory Committee almost three years ago in an attempt to land the Summer Games. The group was designated Washington's official bid organization by the U.S. Olympic Committee after it was endorsed by then-Mayor Barry.
But the group was replaced last year by a new committee combining the Washington and Baltimore Olympic bids, a process that left Ganzi without a role. The merger was engineered by a group of business executives who believed a collaborative bid would strengthen the region's chance of landing the potentially lucrative sporting extravaganza.
In the lawsuit, Ganzi claims she shared fund-raising lists, planning studies and marketing strategy on how to bring the games to Washington with those business executives. She suggests she did so based on the understanding that she would lead or be part of any Olympic bid. She declined the role she eventually was offered.
"This has been about greed, deception and many, many false representations," Ganzi said during a morning news conference. "Justice will be served."
As the international Olympic movement struggles to emerge from the shadow of a bribery scandal, any controversy surrounding a city's bid to host the games could threaten the effort. Larry Klayman, founder of the conservative public interest firm Judicial Watch, who is handling Ganzi's complaint, said "the lawsuit is designed to obtain the Olympics for Washington, D.C., by keeping it an honest and open place for competition."
Members of the Washington-Baltimore bid acknowledged the potential damage yesterday and accused Ganzi of filing the suit to strengthen her hand in negotiations with the organization. Several members said they have worked with Ganzi for months to settle the matter but never received her organization's financial statements, needed to settle her debts.
Ganzi is seeking more than $10 million in damages and an order reinstating the Greater Washington Exploratory Committee as the city's official bid group. According to the suit, the committee she founded is more than $390,000 in debt, much of which she personally guaranteed.
"The publicity is not going to help us," said John T. Schwieters, a member of the 2012 coalition board. "It's clear she's out to inflict pain for whatever personal goal. Whether in fact it has any effect on the bid has yet to be seen. I personally feel anybody who understands the facts would side 100 percent for us."
The Washington-Baltimore bid is among eight submitted by American cities for the right to host the two-week-long 2012 Summer Games. The 1996 Games pumped an estimated $4.5 billion into Atlanta's economy.
The U.S. Olympic Committee, named as a defendant in Ganzi's suit, is scheduled to pick the American nominee in 2002. Then the International Olympic Committee will select the host city from a global field in 2005.
Mike Moran, spokesman for the USOC, declined to comment on specific allegations raised in the 37-page lawsuit. But he said the USOC "followed our procedures line by line" in allowing the coalition to replace Ganzi's initial group as the official bid organization.
"We have every confidence in the system we have instituted involving the bid cities that seek the 2012 candidate city designation," Moran said.
Ganzi's lawsuit focuses on the period from fall 1997 to June 1998, when the USOC officially recognized the coalition as Washington's bid organization.
In early 1997, Baltimore and Washington were competing in pursuing the Summer Games. Bid committees from each city had submitted $100,000 deposits to the USOC and received the required support of their respective mayors. Ganzi said she received cash and in-kind donations exceeding $2.5 million, including a $500,000 pledge from Mobil Oil Corp.
In October 1997, Ganzi began meeting with Kenneth R. Sparks, vice president of the Federal City Council, to discuss a possible merger of the Washington and Baltimore bids. The most important session was a December 1997 meeting that included Baltimore and Washington organizers. It was arranged by Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co.'s executive committee, and Mary Junck, then a senior executive with the Baltimore Sun's parent company.
Ganzi says she shared privileged information in those meetings with the understanding that she would be a part of the new organization. She said Sparks betrayed that confidence by contacting her corporate sponsors before the December meeting and telling them to stop contributing until a merger was arranged.
Ganzi also damaged her own cause a few months later by traveling to the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. USOC rules prohibit bid city representatives from lobbying IOC members, and the USOC strongly discouraged Ganzi and others from attending the games.
Ganzi did, however, and later received a request from the USOC for a written explanation. In her suit, Ganzi said USOC officials knew that she was in Nagano to represent two clients and issued the letter questioning her use of USOC credentials to damage her reputation.
During the merger talks, Ganzi said she requested a majority of seats on the new board and a position that would pay her $150,000 to $175,000 a year. She was offered one seat on what is now a 32-member board, the same number offered to the head of the Baltimore bid group.
The suit names as defendants the 2012 coalition, Sparks, the Federal City Council, the USOC and two agency officials, Barry, Junck and Donald E. Graham, publisher of The Washington Post. Graham, who helped organize a meeting between bid organizers, is not a member of the coalition board.
But the merger could not have been consummated without Barry's support. In perhaps the most pointed accusation, Ganzi says Barry switched his allegiance after business leaders agreed to contribute to his retirement.
Rumors circulated at the time that business leaders were trying to keep Barry from running for reelection last year by engineering a lucrative retirement, including perhaps an endowed chair at Howard University.
Coalition board member Schwieters, who met with Barry several times to secure his support, said the topic of his retirement was never mentioned. Another coalition source said the only request Barry made was that his wife, Cora, be considered for a seat on the board. She has not been named.
"We never would do anything like" help pay for Barry's retirement, Schwieters said. "It would kill us. We'd be dead at the gate."