The Big Gamble
Will casino election results shift the odds against gaming development?
With two more communities rejecting casino plans on Election Day, it’s hard not to ask the question: Did Massachusetts lawmakers think to check with their constituents before deciding it was a good idea to allow casinos in the commonwealth?
On the heels of West Springfield’s rejection of Hard Rock’s project in September, voters in Palmer turned down Mohegan Sun’s casino plans on Election Day by a skin-of-their-teeth 51 to 49 percent. (At deadline, the casino developer was planning to ask for a recount.) And in East Boston, voters voiced a more decisive “no” (56 to 44 percent) to a plan to build a casino at Suffolk Downs racetrack.
That plan did pass in neighboring Revere. The project would straddle the two communities, which meant it needed local approval in both places; now, in the wake of the East Boston vote, casino backers are scrambling to see if they can revamp the project so it lies entirely within Revere.
Milford residents vote on a casino proposal for their town next week.
So far, election results leave the pro-casino side with just one unqualified victory: in Springfield, where voters approved MGM’s proposal for the South End by 58 in 42 percent in July. But even that project is feeling a bit wobbly these days; last month, Jimmy Ferrera, the president of the Springfield City Council and chairman of a casino site committee, wrote to the Mass. Gaming Commission to ask what recourse the city would have if MGM fails to pass the commission’s vetting process.
His question came shortly after Suffolk Downs dropped Caesars Entertainment out of its casino plan, over concerns that the company wouldn’t pass the Gaming Commission’s screening. (According to reporting in the Boston Globe, state investigators had “grave concerns” about Caesars’ business relationship with a person with alleged ties to organized crime.)
Ferrera’s letter expressed concerns about how MGM would fare during that approval process, noting, “We all know of MGM’s problems in Macau” —a reference to the company’s partnership there with Pansy Ho, daughter of casino magnate Stanley Ho, whom government officials have connected to organized crime. MGM has defended its relationship with Pansy Ho, who has not faced any charges relating to mob connections and who is not involved in the Springfield project.
The Palmer and East Boston votes have provided a boost to casino opponents, including the campaign to put an anti-casino quesrion on the statewide ballot on 2014. (See “Do You Want Casinos?” Oct. 8, 2013, www.valleyadvocate.com.) The grassroots group Repeal the Casino Deal is now circulating petitions in support of the ballot question and needs to submit 68,911 valid signatures to the Secretary of the Commonwealth by Dec. 4.
Meanwhile, as Massachusetts sorts out its shifting casino landscape, the regional casino market is becoming more crowded: on Election Day, voters in New York passed a ballot question allowing as many as seven “Vegas-style” casinos in the state.•
Incumbents and party favorites bite the dust
So much for the conventional wisdom about how hard it is to oust an incumbent. Just ask West Springfield Mayor Gregory Neffinger, whom voters replaced with former Town Councilor Edward Sullivan, and Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette, who was ousted in favor of former mayor Richard Kos.
In both places, the incumbents’ troubles included controversies in their respective police departments. In West Springfield, a case of an officer whom Neffinger fired after he taped a woman’s mouth shut and left her bound to a restraint chair; in Chicopee, the revelation that some cops had shared with outsiders photos of 2011 murder victim Amanda Plasse, as well as questions about when Bissonnette knew of the situation and how he handled it.
Other incumbents who lost their seats included, in Springfield, city councilors Jimmy Ferrera and John Lysak and School Committee members Antonette Pepe and Norman Roldan, and, in Northampton, City Councilor Gene Tacy.
Don Humason’s victory in the race for the 2nd Hampden-Hampshire state Senate seat wasn’t an upset per se; Humason, a Republican state rep from Westfield and former aide to fellow Republican Michael Knapik, who vacated that Senate seat this summer to take a job at Westfield State University, is a popular politician and a seasoned campaigner.
Still, Humason’s win is a sore spot for the local Democratic establishment, which failed to win back the seat from GOP hands. Humason’s Democratic opponent, Holyoke City Councilor David Bartley, had the backing of some heavy-duty Democrats, including Hampden County sheriff Mike Ashe, Hampshire sheriff Richard Garvey, Gov. Deval Patrick, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Sen. Ed Markey and former U.S. Rep. John Olver—not to mention his father, also named David Bartley, the former Massachusetts House Speaker.
Indeed, the Democrats’ failure to pull out a victory for Bartley has inspired a good deal of intra-party hand-wringing—not to mention an article by Springfield Republican political reporter Robert Rizzuto with the provocative headline: “Was Republican Don Humason’s win in special Senate election result of his campaigning or lazy Democratic politics?”
If Humason was bothered by the suggestion that his victory had more to do with the Democrats’ missteps than his own strengths (the victor posted Rizzuto’s article on his Facebook page, posing the neutral question: “Friends, please read this article and tell me what you think. Did I work hard to win your support or did my challenger and his party leaders not work hard enough?”), well, he, of course, has the last laugh. So does his party, which managed to retain its four dearly held seats in the 40-member state Senate.
Next on the horizon: the race to fill Humason’s now-vacant House seat.•
They Live to Offend Another Day
Tasteless talk didn’t sway voters in Holyoke and Easthampton.
Holyoke city councilors Dan Bresnahan and Todd McGee ticked off a lot of people with their tacky small talk, which (oops) was inadvertently broadcast on public access television before a Council meeting last month.
But that didn’t keep them from being re-elected, with Bresnahan holding on to his at-large seat and McGee holding off a write-in challenge from Jim Chevalier for his Ward 6 seat.
For those who need reminding, the two councilors were recorded chatting prior to the Oct. 1 meeting, with their choice of topics ranging from alternative uses for the Whiting Farms Road land that Walmart had been eyeing earlier this year (Bresnahan’s presumably joking suggestions included a casino and a strip club) to the relative attractiveness of two of their colleagues (Councilors Rebecca Lisi and Brenna McGee, the latter Todd McGee’s wife) during pregnancy, with a few expletive-peppered red-baiting remarks about city resident and activist James Bickford (Bresnahan called him a “fucking communist” for not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance). (See “Boys on Tape,” Oct. 8, 2013, www.valleyadvocate.com.)
Bickford, fittingly enough, broadcast the remarks via social media, igniting a flurry of condemnations, a protest outside City Hall and a call for the two loose-lipped councilors’ resignations. The controversy also apparently inspired the eleventh-hour challenge by Chevalier, who said in his campaign announcement: “My number one priority would be to provide Ward 6 residents with respectful, responsive representation.” But ultimately it didn’t cost either councilor his job. (Lisi and Brenna McGee also had a good Election Day, with the former holding on to her at-large seat and the latter elected Holyoke’s new city clerk.)
Meanwhile, next door in Easthampton, another public official who had made some ill-advised remarks at a meeting did not fare as well. City Councilor Donald Cykowski lost his at-large seat in his first election since he was heard at a meeting making a racial slur. (When a fellow councilor was having trouble getting back into the Council chambers after a door locked behind him, Cykowski had asked: “Where’s a Puerto Rican when we need one?”).
A group of Easthampton residents had organized a recall-petition drive to remove Cykowski from office last year but failed to gather enough signatures.•
How did third-party candidates fare?
The Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts was 0-for-5 in this year’s elections—although, overall, its representatives did pretty well for third-party candidates in a two-party system and an essentially one-party state.
In the Valley, Rick Purcell—the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010—came in 12th place, with 1,717 votes, in his bid for an at-large seat on the Holyoke City Council. Out in Pittsfield, Mark Miller finished sixth in the race for four at-large City Council seats, winning 2,378 votes.
In Cambridge, Green City Council candidate Elie Yarden made it to the seventh round of that city’s instant-runoff system before being eliminated. Francisco White, an at-large candidate for Boston’s City Council, was well out of the running, with 2,745 votes, or 1.1 percent.
And in Fall River, incumbent Mayor Will Flanagan, a Democrat, defeated Green-Rainbow challenger Joseph Carvalho with 68 percent of the vote. Carvalho had made it to Election Day after coming in second in a crowded preliminary field with 14 percent of the vote.•
Budget Battlers Bust
Is Northampton over the override?
Proposition 2 1/2 override questions never go down smoothly, but last summer’s override vote in Northampton—the third in nine years—was especially divisive, with backers saying it was crucial to maintaining basic city services and opponents saying another tax increase would continue to move the city toward a place affordable to only the wealthiest.
While the override passed, it remained an issue in this fall’s election, with several candidates making their opposition a key part of their campaigns. In the end, though, the override issue didn’t appear to sway many voters. Override opponents Anthony Patillo, an at-large City Council candidate, and Yvonne Keefe, who ran for the Ward 6 seat, both lost their races (Keefe to incumbent Marianne LaBarge, who had declined to take a public position on the override issue). And in Ward 7, incumbent Councilor Gene Tacy, another override opponent, also lost, to newcomer Alisa Klein. During his time on the Council, Tacy had served as a voice for the city’s older and more conservative residents and as a fiscal watchdog.•
Holyoke voters accept Alex Morse’s amends.
This time last year, things were not looking very good for Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.
Less than a year into his maiden term in office, Morse had stirred up a hornets’ nest by announcing that he was considering a proposal by Eric Suher to build a casino on Mount Tom—this after running on an anti-casino position, and then, after winning office, promptly turning away developers who wanted to build a casino at the site of the Wyckoff Country Club.
Morse’s backers felt betrayed by the news that he was talking with Suher. His detractors, meanwhile, saw the development as proof of what they’d contended all along: that Morse, who won the office a few months after graduating from college, was too green to hold such an important position. And the mayor was left scrambling to explain his position—he still didn’t support the casino idea, he said; he just felt he needed to listen to the proposal—and then to make amends with his unhappy supporters.
It appears he was successful. Last week, Morse won a second term in office, defeating challenger Jeff Stanek 54 to 46 percent.
Morse’s victory was by no means a cakewalk; as recently as the September preliminary election, Stanek was hot on his heels, trailing the incumbent by just three percentage points. And Morse might have had an even harder time had his critics found a stronger candidate to rally behind—say, City Council president (and frequent Morse critic) Kevin Jourdain, who topped the Council election with 4,983 votes, more than 500 votes more than Stanek won, and just 300 less than Morse’s total.
But Stanek was hampered by several factors, including early-in-the-campaign questions about his residency—while he was born and raised in Holyoke, he’d moved away as an adult and only returned to the city in August of 2012. The city charter says candidates must live in Holyoke for at least two years to run for office; Stanek replied that he’d, in fact, lived there for 22 years before moving away after college.
Stanek, who ran on his business experience, was also criticized for some less-than-stellar moments in his career, such as when a Maine call center company for which he worked as comptroller was sued by several states for allegedly misrepresenting the benefits of some of its health products, then later declared bankruptcy. Morse, meanwhile, was able to solidify his base of supporters, who continued to see him as bringing a new vision and energy to the city at an important moment in its history.
Morse’s re-election wasn’t his only moment of vindication on Election Day. Voters also showed their support for his anti-casino stance, rejecting, by 61 to 39 percent, a non-binding ballot question asking if they’d like to see a “resort-style casino” in the city.
Less auspicious for the mayor were the results of a second ballot question, this one asking if voters supported a needle exchange program in the city. The answer: no, by a tighter 51-to-49 percent split. Morse was criticized when, about six months after he took office, his Board of Health quietly approved an exchange program run by Tapestry Health. A group of city councilors, led by Jourdain, has filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the program. That suit is still pending.•