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"I began," Drapeau recalls, "by telling them that with all due respect to the members present, no city had ever before been asked for a financial guarantee, and the committee had never made a wrong choice of cities. I pointed out that such a guarantee was harmful, that it was not in the spirit of the Baron's Olympicism." And then Drapeau looked them square in the face and declared: "The history of Montreal is our guarantee. It is a history of meeting and beating challenges. That is our guarantee. If there is any doubt you have about Montreal, then...do...not...choose...us." The IOC, spitting $45 million in the eye, broke into spontaneous applause. The Baron bowed his head and wept quietly. The vote that followed was suddenly a formality. Montreal may or may not have won anyway, but when asked today what brought the Games to Montreal, one U.S. IOC member sums it up as "Drapeau's personality—and that speech he made."
Drapeau returned home to hosannas. Whole pages of the daily papers were filled with advertisements saying little more than "You've done it again." The skeptics who remained were out hitching up plows to flies, and there were very few skeptics. When Drapeau had won his last term in 1966, his fourth, he got 94% of the vote. His only competition, such as it was, had come from a chiropractor and a female salesclerk.
Drapeau's hold on the populace is all the more noteworthy because it comes in a period when municipal office is generally a stigma to be avoided. The problems in Montreal are just as serious as those that U.S. communities face. The city is bathed in red ink. There are high unemployment rates. There is not enough low-cost housing. A family of five on welfare must get by on $190 a month. When Drapeau opened a plush restaurant in the Windsor Hotel last autumn with a standard seven-course dinner for two coming to about $40, it was estimated that 25% of the citizens of the area were subsisting just at or below the poverty level. Moreover, migrants from rural Quebec and the Maritime Provinces continue to flood a city that cannot support them.
Montreal is an island surrounded by the polluted St. Lawrence River. Only 3% of Montreal's sewage is processed, and there is even more raw sewage floating down from the rest of La Belle Province. The petroleum refineries in the east end of town assault the city with smells that not even New Jersey would accept. The police went on strike for higher wages one day last fall when Drapeau was in St. Louis, and the whole city was at the mercy of looters for 16 frightening hours.
Beyond all that, the city and province have forever seethed with internal ethnic conflict, French vs. English, the "gorfs" (frogs spelled backwards) against the Maudits Anglais. There is a radical French separatist movement, and no one identified with the Angloists is safe. Drapeau's house was bombed last Sept. 29, mercifully with no loss of life.
Moreover, as is the case everywhere, the suburbs will not throw in their better lot with the core city. Property taxes in Montreal went up 23% in 1968. Yet with this rather impressive, if familiar, litany of urban problems lying at Drapeau's feet, no one seems likely to mount a serious challenge against him when he runs for re-election next month. It is hardly possible even to imagine a serious challenge. And one of the reasons surely is the circuses Drapeau has brought to his city.
Always but a hairbreadth from anonymity, or worse, and beset with myriad worries, it is not surprising that mayors have begun to turn to sports and entertainment to establish at least some association with the more pleasant aspects of metropolitan life. They have had something of a field day ever since major league sports started spotting franchises around like so many A & W Root Beer stands. The first of this breed was Baltimore's Tommy D'Alesandro III, who was vitally instrumental in obtaining the St. Louis Browns for his city in 1954. While many mayors have since emulated D'Alesandro's franchise collecting, none ever approached the status that Drapeau assumed in 1968. That summer the National League virtually awarded a franchise to him, for Montreal. This is, of course, unheard of in sports; franchises are only awarded to men with folding money. But the National League, exercising unusual sagacity, just handed the thing to Drapeau and figured he would come up with something.
Drapeau and Snyder started calling around for 10% owners, which took awhile, and then began searching for a stadium, which took till past the 11th hour. What they came up with at last was Jarry Park, a temporary structure that was built, in the dead of the Canadian winter, for $3 million. What it turned out to be is one of the two or three best places in the major leagues to watch a baseball game, and it makes the city a profit.
Of course, Drapeau can only share credit with the hearty people of Montreal. "It seems," says John McHale, the president of the Expos and a man who has resided in several U.S. cities, "that the people work harder here so that they can enjoy their free time. They have an unusual zest for leisure. The winters are so long that they may feel the need to rush their activities when good weather comes. I can look out my window onto Dominion Square on the days when the buds are first coming out and the temperature is just hitting 40°, and the benches will be filled with people sunning themselves."
In the winter Montrealers never leave a seat empty for Les Canadiens, but they also sell out for Junior A hockey in the same building and at smaller arenas all over the city. The harness horses at Blue Bonnets Raceway get three weeks' rest around Christmas; otherwise the mutuel windows never shut. But summer is the siren song, which is why Expo thrived, and why baseball's Expos do, too. At midday, any day, Montrealers sprawl out on the ground all over the pocket parks of the city, sunning shamelessly. Many of the women, big-eyed and leggy, take lunch hour to hurry home, change into a bathing suit and sun on a rooftop. It is not uncommon for whole families to leave after work Friday and drive 400 miles straight through to the New Jersey beaches for a weekend. There are probably more tanned bodies in Montreal in the summer than in Santa Barbara, Calif.