Marty Walsh Signs Olympics muzzle order, says he didn’t mean it

Illustration: Brendan Lynch

For a few weeks in January, it looked like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh had agreed to muzzle any city employee who wanted to criticize the bid to bring the Olympics here in 2024.

The issue turned out to be something of a red herring. Nevertheless, Walsh wins a Muzzle Award — not for actually trying to silence critics of the Olympics but for failing to pay attention to the free-speech rights of his employees at a key moment in the process.

Here’s what happened. First, the Boston Globe reported that Walsh had signed an agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee that banned city employees from speaking out against the controversial venture. “I think on its face it’s unconstitutional,” ACLU of Massachusetts lawyer Sarah Wunsch told the Globe.

Walsh retorted that just because he had agreed to ban criticism of the Olympics didn’t mean he had any intention of, well, uh, banning criticism of the Olympics. Calling it a “boilerplate” agreement that had also been signed by officials in other cities seeking the Olympics, the mayor said, “It was in the agreement, and we had to get the agreement signed.”

The next day, Walsh sent an email to all 18,000 of his employees assuring them that if they wanted to trash the Olympics, they should feel free to do so. “I want you to hear from me directly, I will not — and will never — limit your right to free speech,” Walsh said. A month later, the censorious language was removed from the agreement.

So two cheers for the mayor. Next time, though, he might want to read the fine print.