Statement on the Mayor's Casino Pivot
Dear Holyoke voters and friends,
After having spent the past few days taking in and disseminating information about Mayor Morse sudden change in position on casinos in the city of Holyoke, I believe that it is my responsibility as your representative to now synthesize what we have learned and communicate to you where I stand on this issue.
Like many of you, I was absolutely shocked to hear the news that our Mayor, who we worked so hard to elect last year, was reversing his anti-casino position. I was never consulted regarding this strategy change and would never recommend it- I would anticipate that those who were part of the electoral base would feel alienated, while those among the opposition would say, “too little too late.” Politically, it would be hard to gain from the situation while clearly, there was a lot to lose.
I think that there are many people (including myself) who feel betrayed by this change in strategy and rightly so. For many years the casino issue has been looming, but until the state legislature passed the recent legislation that actually allowed for up to three gaming licenses in Massachusetts, the casino issue was somewhat intractable- no matter how much a community might like to move forward with a proposal it was not possible due to state-level constraints. However, this election year was different; with one gaming license dedicated to Western MA, voters really pressed all the candidates to take a clear position on casinos, so they could act on that information on Election Day.
While I have always been anti-casino from a personal standpoint, I have always recognized that Holyoke is a community that had twice passed a non-binding referendum in support of a local casino project and as such I have tried to remain open to the possibility that a stellar project could come along from which the community could leverage robust benefits. In this past election cycle I tried very hard to retain my neutral/leaning-against a casino position, but the voters would not accept it and I came out definitively “anti-casino.” I now feel that I am bound to that promise and will be voting against any casino proposals that come before the City Council.
That being said, it is common for government to concomitantly pursue multiple and even conflicting policies until the issue is resolved. I intend to file a Resolution with Councilors Alexander and Ferreira to oppose casino development in Holyoke and we have already seen that Council President Jourdain and Councilor Todd McGee have filed an order to ensure that the casino proposal process is transparent, includes the City Council, and requires public hearings. I will also be supporting other measures, like this, that work to guarantee an open and accessible process, so long as this alternate path is on the table.
Unlike the Mayor, I do not believe the “facts” regarding casino development have changed. The research shows that casino economies do not work to sustain the local communities in which they are placed; they siphon money out of the local economy and leave their host communities with increased taxes or fees to compensate for the additional police, fire, and trash services that the industry requires. I have strong doubts that downtown revitalization- an issue that I have spearheaded and campaigned on since my introduction to Holyoke politics in 2005- is compatible with casino development anywhere in the city. However, the casino issue is only one significant issue that I disagree with the Mayor on at this point and I do not anticipate this stance damaging our working relationship. I think that it’s important to recognize that the Mayor can still be a “good” Mayor even if you disagree with him on this issue. In fact, I am startled and concerned by those who shift their positions on the issue simply to align with their friend and charismatic leader, Mayor Alex Morse. Likewise, I am equally as concerned by those who are willing to abandon the achievements of this administration for the Mayor’s shift in position on this one issue.
In closing, I’d like to reiterate a point that I’ve made elsewhere; that the casino issue is viable so long as being “anti-casino” is equated with Ward 7 alone. There are many in the community who feel that the city should not be “held hostage to the whims of Ward 7.” I think that it is incumbent upon those among the anti-casino coalition to highlight the geographic, ethnic, and economic diversity among its members as well as continue its community education and outreach on casinos throughout the city.
I look forward to continuing the debate and working with you all on this and many other issues in the future.
My best regards,
Holyoke City Councilor At-Large