The function room at the Orient Heights Yacht Club was packed to capacity for an open meeting with the city’s Host Community Advisory Committee which held the meeting to get out into the open the committee’s goals and authorities with regard to a possible casino being located at Suffolk Downs race track.
About 200 people, mostly residents, homeowners and voters from the neighborhood’s Orient Heights district came to listen, and in part, to comment in the public forum.
Throughout the two-hour meeting, there was a constant back and forth between HCAC members and the audience.
Although it is impossible to absolutely know, those who came to listen as well as to be heard constituted many pro-casino voices and anti-casino voices as well.
If there was a hallmark of the evening, it was the oft repeated belief that it is difficult to get behind something when you don’t know what the results will be – and this includes what exactly East Boston will receive from a casino as mitigation, that, and the conflicting beliefs expressed by nearly everyone in attendance that a casino will be a boom or a bust or a great thing or something that shouldn’t be allowed.
Boston City Councillor Sal LaMattina seemed to express clearly a widely shared belief when he said: “I am for a casino at Suffolk Downs. I have been for it right from the start. But I have always said and I repeat it tonight, the people of East Boston should decide whether that casino is built. I’m for it but it has to work for East Boston.”
LaMattina received a wide round of hearty applause, as did Senator Anthony Petruccelli.
“We need to hear from you,” said Petruccelli during brief remarks before the start of the meeting.
Boston City Councillor Sal LaMattina said pretty much the same thing.
“I am for the casino and have been for the casino but this must be made to work for East Boston,” he said. “The people of East Boston must decide whether the casino should be built.”
LaMattina received a round of applause.
LaMattina said he thought it would not be unreasonable to ask for a senior center, beautification and other add-ons beside traffic mitigation to make having the casino worth it.
During the course of the evening, a succession of speakers both for and against the casino who spoke during the general speaking portion of the meeting, indicated they’d like car insurance rates to be looked into, scholarships to be given to local students, rodent problems attacked vigorously, transportation issues to be resolved and for the T to offer off-hours service to and from the casino.
In addition, air quality was an issue some wanted to see tied to the mitigation agreement.
Three speakers complained that the meeting was composed largely of white homeowners who are voters and taxpayers and that somehow, this was not a representative group.
“There are no Spanish here,” said an Anglo white man claiming to be a resident of East Boston.
“You people should be doing outreach to get Spanish speaking residents to meetings like these,” he added.
There were, however, at least two translators from cable television translating English into Spanish and a reporter from El Planeta, the Spanish newspaper as well as several Hispanics who attended the meeting.
There was upbeat discussion about the role of small business vis a vis the casino.
There was a great deal of talk about partnerships and joint ventures and of how small business owners needed to leverage the opportunity of the casino coming in.
East Boston Chamber of Commerce president Diane Modica, a former Boston city councilor, said she is supporting a casino at Suffolk Downs.
“But I have concerns. Mainly, we need to rebrand the East Boston business community,” she said.
This first meeting with the Host Advisory Committee headed by former newsman Brian Leary, who has deep East Boston roots, was an overall success.
Attendance was high. Debate was all over the place. The host committee went through its agenda and everyone who wished to speak got the chance.
It was also a coming out of sorts for East Boston representative on the committee Sarah Barnat.
“I am in the phone book. Any of you with questions, please feel free to call me or to contact me,” she said.