City Councilor Sal LaMattiina’s convincing win against two anti-casino candidates during last week’s Primary Election could be a signal that East Boston resident may just support the host community referendum on November 5. LaMattina walked away with 2,943 votes and his two challengers, Brian Gannon and John Ribiero got a combined 1,602 votes. LaMattina’s 64 percent may be a mandate that a majority of East Bostonians are not so anti-casino after all.
Even Bill Walcazk, whose whole mayoral campaign focused on being anti-casino, only received 361 votes in Eastie.
Over the past two years anti-casino groups have fought a hard battle to convince residents here that a casino is bad for property values, will increase crime and cannibalize small business.
They have invoked past neighborhood battles against agencies like Massport as an example of Eastie’s willingness to rise up against a threat and join together as a unified front to stop such things as airport expansion.
However, unlike past battles the battle being waged now seems to be muted. Time and again casino-opponents, and there are a bunch and cannot be discredited, have held demonstrations, meetings and visibilities but the one thing the movement lacks is huge numbers.
Newcomers to Eastie that have joined the anti-casino movement would be shocked at old pictures and newsreels of past opposition movements where thousands upon thousands of residents marched in the streets, blocked tunnels and laid down in front of access point to Logan when they felt their quality of life was being threatened.
The difference then was that the large quasi-governmental agencies of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s viewed residents here as expendable and 2nd class citizens that did not deserve to be heard. When it came to taking Wood Island Park or building a second tunnel in the 1950s or driving an elevated highway through the middle of the neighborhood people reacted but was not treated with much dignity or respect.
All these things were done without mitigation or concern for those impacted.
Eastie residents never had the chance to vote and never got a nickel for their troubles.
Well here we are 45 years after Neptune Road was bulldozed to expand Runway 15-R, 45 years after hundreds of residents rushed down to Wood Island Park to save the trees from being uprooted and 45 years after George DiLorenzo drove his car through a police barricade to protest Massport’s taking of Neptune Street homes.
It’s 45 years later and the difference now is that Eastie residents will have the right to decide. And if the neighborhood as a whole supports the referendum it will benefit financially with numerous legal safeguards in place to force Suffolk Downs, unlike Massport, to do the right thing.
There’s no doubt Eastie knows how to oppose something. We have witnessed this time and time again over the long great history of this neighborhood.
However, one thing is clear and judging from last week’s election, the casino opposition movement is yet to attract scores of people to its cause and opposition cannot be forced. It has to percolate up from the homes and businesses that line the streets here.
If 65 percent of people head to the polls on November 5 and decide the host community agreement is the right fit for the neighborhood so be it.
We will all have to live with the outcome.
But one thing is for certain; the people here and not the government will for the first time in Eastie’s history, decide the outcome.
The days of an agency like Massport sneaking into a park or residential street at 2 a.m. with bulldozers to take out homes and trees are over.
So whether you are for or against a casino, vote on the issue November 5.