Casino Now in Eastie’s Hand: Councilors Vote to Let Residents Decide Project’s Fate

October 2, 2013
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Despite a last minute amendment by Jamaica Plain City Councilor Matt O’Malley, the Boston City Councilor voted 12-1 last Wednesday to approve a ‘Ward Only’ vote on the Host Community Agreement with Suffolk Downs Racetrack regarding the proposed resort-style casino.

At the hearing O’Malley argued that the $1 billion development is not simply a neighborhood development issue but something that would impact the entire city.

“You can not equate this development with a dormer or a roof deck,” said O’Malley at last week’s hearing. “I recognize this is a difficult vote for some and I have no doubt East Boston would be most directly affected by a casino. We are talking of mitigation program in the tens of million of dollars and that shows that it is a different project. The fact we are asked to vote on a ward only versus a city wide referendum shows this is not a typical neighborhood development issue.”

Like former Mayoral Candidate and District Attorney Dan Conley, O’Malley proposed allowing the entire city to vote but giving Eastie veto power.

“If the city votes yes and East Boston votes no than it is a no,” said “O’Malley.

However, Council President Stephen Murphy argued that the report that came out of the city’s economic development committee clearly stated the council must vote on either a citywide referendum or a ward only referendum.

“Councilor O’Malley’s amendment suggests two steps, allowing a citywide vote but giving East Boston the ability to veto and the state legislation does not allow that. We are talking about a piece of legislation coming down from Beacon Hill to this body and we can’t change the rules or legislation just to make us feel more comfortable about the process.”

A passionate City Councilor Sal LaMattina pleaded with his colleagues to support a ward only vote.

“We all represent our districts and protect out districts,” LaMattina said. “This is a major project in East Boston and a project that is in my back yard. Ward 1 Precinct 14 is where this project is and where I live. When I look out from my backyard I see Suffolk Downs. So what if the whole city votes yes and East Boston votes no? That’s the issue with this amendment.”

LaMattina said he spent a lot of time researching casinos across the U.S. and had visited casinos in Philadelphia and Bensalem Pennsylvania.

“I have colleagues that tell me the casino will impact them because they will get stuck and traffic the one or two times they come to the neighborhood to fly out of Logan,” a stern LaMattina said. “But I would not come to your district if they were going to expand Fenway Park and say East Boston should vote. If the universities and colleges in Alston or Brighton wanted to expand and take more of a tax base away from the city I wouldn’t be calling for East Boston to vote.”

O’Malley later amended his proposal for simply a citywide vote on the referendum. That measure failed 10-3.

The ward only vote then passed 12-1 with O’Malley the only ‘no’ vote.

Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle, who was at the hearing, later said, “We’re happy that the Mayor and the City Council recognized that our neighbors of 78 years should be the ones who decide this question.  We are looking forward to November 5th, having as many people as possible participate in the election, and answering any questions East Boston residents have about jobs, our local hiring programs, local business programs and our commitment to fixing local roads.”

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