Thoughts on Everett Casino: 'Lottery Winner Tragedies' Can Befall Cities, Too

Monday, April 29, 2013

Steve Wynn is apparently the answer to the City of Everett’s prayers.
The casino mogul is dying to hand over tens of millions of dollars to the city, and the city is dying to take it.  There are huge needs in this old, industrial city where 40,000 people, a large segment of them immigrants, live in just a few square miles.
Everybody in Everett should stop and ponder the words of St. Theresa of Avila, the Spanish mystic who said that more troubles have been caused in life by answered prayers than unanswered ones.
There were big doings last week in the case of the casino Wynn Resorts wants to build on the Mystic River-front site of the former Monsanto chemical factory, across from Charlestown and Somerville. 
The mayor of Everett and and Wynn signed a host city agreement.  This is a major step for any casino development in Massachusetts. 

A special election can now be held in Everett, perhaps as soon as June 22, for citizens to vote for or against that agreement. Almost everybody you talk to in Everett expects a decisive vote in favor of it.  The agreement is a slam dunk, many say. 
Wynn Resorts, by the way, will pay all costs associated with the special election.
If voters endorse the casino plan, Wynn will next have to negotiate agreements to reduce the impacts of the casino on neighboring communities.  Chelsea, Revere, Medford, Somerville and Boston will no doubt reach for the stars, cash- and prizes-wise, but hardball tactics will only take them so far.  If any of them is unable to reach a mitigation agreement with Wynn, the matter will be submitted to the state for binding arbitration; a state arbitrator will set the terms and the communities will have to accept.
With the host-city and neighboring-city agreements in hand, Wynn will be ready to approach the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for a state license to operate a casino. 
Much to the chagrin of his competitors at Suffolk Downs, who have been in this hunt much longer, Wynn will almost certainly be the first to seek the single casino license available in Eastern Massachusetts.
Not a year ago, Suffolk Downs was the only eastern contender. 
Here are some of the Everetticing details of the pending host city agreement:
·         After the Gaming Commission awards the license to Wynn and as soon as Wynn begins building it, Wynn will pay Everett $30 million.
·         Every year the casino is operating, Wynn will make a community impact payment and a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the city.
·         The annual community impact payment will be $5 million, increasing at a rate of 2.5% per year.
·         The annual PILOT will be $20 million, also increasing at a rate of 2.5% per year.
·         Wynn will cooperate in any efforts the city makes to impose local-option meals taxes and hotel room taxes, in addition to the state levies already in place on those items.
·         Wynn will pay all reasonable costs incurred by Everett in reviewing and inspecting his applications for permits and licenses, and his construction and utility plans.
·         Through an annual payment of $250,000, Wynn will fund a new Everett Citizens Foundation that will support and promote local groups, associations and programs “with important city initiatives,” whatever those may be.
·         Wynn will purchase and give away at least $50,000 a year in vouchers and gift certificates from Everett businesses beyond the casino site as part of the casino’s “rewards/frequent guest/loyalty or similar programs.”
·         Wynn will give preferential treatment to qualified Everett residents “for contracting, subcontracting and servicing opportunities in the development and construction” of the casino.
·         In hiring people to work in the casino, Wynn will give “reasonable preference to properly qualified residents of the city, to the extent that such a practice and its implementation is consistent with federal, state or municipal law or regulation.”

One day in the not-too-distant future, Everett could be knee-deep in a tide of casino dollars. 

If everybody there isn't careful, everybody, the grand jury might arrive on the next wave. 
I’m happy for the city and its people.  Everett is a great community.  The school system is excellent.  The neighborhoods are family-friendly.  The city possesses rich traditions and genuine character.  And if  none of this were true, I’d still love Everett because it’s where my wife, the former Margaret Curnane, was born and raised.  She still refers to it as “my Everett.” 
God knows Everett can use an infusion of cash, as well as a steady source of new, big-time revenue.  What city in Massachusetts can’t?
But newfound wealth is seldom an unalloyed blessing.  It inevitably produces headaches.  Often it causes heartbreak.
Go on the Internet and type three words into Search: lottery winner tragedies.  You’ll quickly see what I'm talking about.
Is there a good reason to believe that the tragedies that befall individuals who become fabulously wealthy overnight can't or won’t befall an organization, company, or government entity?
Human beings do wild things when they’re intoxicated by money.  Last time I checked, there were no cities populated and run by aliens.   Super-rational, totally unemotional creatures do not live on this planet; they do not run for office in Massachusetts; they do not apply for jobs and contracts at casinos; and they do not get appointed to citizen foundations.

NEXT: Precautions Everett could take to avoid squandering casino wealth.

Lynch Has More to Work With in the Message Department than We've Heard So Far

Monday, April 22, 2013

I’m not one to make this kind of judgment, but I guess it’s true that Ed Markey didn’t have the stuff to be an ironworker. 
Some of the hardhats who support Steve Lynch, Markey’s opponent in the April 30 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, like to point that out all the time.
According to the Boston Globe, one union official actually “guffawed” when asked if ironworker is a job where you’d find Ed Markey.
If Eddie wouldn’t have made it “up on the iron,” so what?
I doubt that any number of superb senators in U.S. history would have.  Can you imagine Lyndon Johnson, Mike Mansfield, Bob Dole or Ted Kennedy bolting beams together up in the sky?

Full disclosure: I don't have the stuff to watch a video shot from the observation deck at the top of the Empire State Building.
If Lynch asked for my advice, which he has no reason to do, I’d tell him to lay off the I’m-special-because-my-collar-was-blue stuff. 
Does he deserve credit and respect for having earned a living for 18 years with his hands in a dangerous trade?  Absolutely.
But does he merit special consideration for senator simply because he emerged from the working class?  Countless Americans, including Ed Markey, have done that.
It seems to me that the Lynch campaign has gone into battle with a message at least several degrees off point.
The congressman from South Boston would be better off talking more about how he went to school at night for eight long years in order to earn a bachelor’s degree at the Wentworth Institute of Technology. That tells you he has extraordinary perseverance when in the pursuit of a worthwhile goal.
He should be talking more about how, once he had an undergraduate degree, he immediately set his sights on something higher and more difficult -- to become a lawyer -- and how he graduated from Boston College Law School, one of the finest law schools in the northeast, in 1991, at the not-so-tender age of 36. That shows you his drive for improvement is relentless.
He should also be talking about how he donated more than half of his liver to his brother-in-law 12 years ago. This is evidence of an uncommon level of selflessness: a willingness to suffer great pain and discomfort for someone he cares about.  (With Lynch, it’s not always about his ego.)  Of course, Lynch himself can’t be talking about his organ donation.  That’s what you have campaign surrogates for.  (Hello, Mr. Brother-in-Law!)
And Lynch should be conveying word pictures of the physical courage required to walk a narrow beam 30 stories above ground.  Few mortals have that kind of guts.  Of course, he himself can’t be talking about his courageousness.  That would be unseemly.  But his pals who walked the iron with him can.  In advertising, they call the folks who tell those stories testifiers.
Rather than belittling Ed Markey, Lynch’s former co-workers should be soberly recounting stories on camera about Lynch’s cool, on-the-job courage, as he exhibited it, day after day, year after year.
Can’t you hear it?
“Every day on the iron, I trusted my life to Steve Lynch.  It was the safest bet I ever made.  That’s the kind of person we need in the United States Senate: Steve Lynch. Pure courage.”

Mr. Markey, Please Heed Mr. Finch, and Get that Surveillance Bill Back on Track

Friday, April 12, 2013

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.                                                       – Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution

“YOU are being watched!”
That’s what Mr. Finch, one of the main characters in the TV program “Person of Interest,” declares in the voiceover at the beginning of each episode.
 “Person of Interest” is fictional. Yet everyday experience seems to confirm those scary words, which may be why this show is so popular.
Go to a pharmacy for a prescription and a surveillance camera creates a little movie of your arrival, while filing your face in the store’s security system.
Make a withdrawal from an ATM and a camera inside the machine snaps your picture.
Drive through the EZ Pass lane and a computer taps your online account for the toll, and, incidentally, adds a piece of data to the permanent record of your travel kept by the state.
Damn right we’re being watched.
Let’s consider the vast amount of personal information contained in our cell phones.  For investigators from any branch of law enforcement, it’s a treasure to be had for the asking.
Last year, cell phone carriers reported to the U.S. Congress that they had responded to 1.3 million demands for subscriber information from law enforcement in 2011.  That’s an average of 3,561 requests a day.  Investigators were checking call records, text messages, cell tower utilization, and caller locations. 
The smart phone not equipped with a GPS chip is rare today.
When ruling that a warrant is required if an investigator wants cell phone location information, a judge once wrote that such data reveals “trips to the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, the synagogue or church, the gay bar, and on and on…”
Law enforcement agencies are now generally required to furnish cell phone carriers with a subpoena, court order or search warrant before obtaining subscriber information.  But if an agency deems a request to be an emergency, the carrier will often turn over the information without such legal formalities.
Concerned that investigators were conducting too many “digital dragnets,” U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Malden, released last summer what’s called a “discussion draft” of a bill to codify new privacy protections for cell phone users, which is to say, virtually every American over the age of 12.
Markey’s Wireless Surveillance Act of 2012 would have mandated:
·         Regular disclosures from law enforcement authorities on the nature and volume of requests they make.
·         Signed, sworn statements from authorities after they had obtained information on an emergency basis, with those statements explaining the need for invoking emergency access.
·         A judge’s approval for the release of geo-tracking information -- and approvals could only be granted when there was probable cause that evidence of crimes would be found.
·         Restrictions on orders for cell tower “dumps,” which furnish information on a large group of mobile phone users at a particular time.
·         A narrower scope on all orders for cell tower dumps.

Unfortunately, the bill never got far during the last session of Congress. I’m hoping Markey will bring it back to life this year or next.  I’m also hoping that Markey, during his current campaign for the U.S. Senate, will start talking about the steady erosion of our privacy rights.
When I was a freshman in college studying the constitution as part of an American Government course, I never would have believed it if someone told me the day would come when men with badges and guns would go through my bags before I could get on the subway to Boston.
Now I meekly hand over my briefcase to an officer whenever a search team materializes at Oak Grove Station for the morning commute.  They are there, I guess, to discourage a terrorist from bringing a bomb onto a train, as has happened in Spain and Great Britain.  That’s a good thing.
But I never feel good about submitting to something we all would have considered an outrageous violation of our rights prior to September 11, 2001.
I’m ashamed that I lack the courage to protest this kind of security theater by walking out of the station and taking a cab to Boston.  The sorry state of the Fourth Amendment means less to me than getting to work on time and at the lowest cost.  

Globe Series on Cab Drivers a Troubling Reminder of How Tough Some People Have It

Friday, April 5, 2013

Back in February, 1999, at the end of what I thought was a long, hard day at work, I walked to the Haymarket Station on the T and got on the one-eleven bus to Woodlawn.
Woodlawn is the stop at the end of the route, a turn-around.  It’s in Everett but is close to where the borders of Everett, Revere and Chelsea converge.
I grew up not far from there, in a small house on a hill in Revere.  Some of the older folks used to call it Hungry Hill.  That’s the kind of name you’ll find in a lot of towns: Hungry Hill.
I was going to my mother’s house to spend the night. 
My mother was 83 years old at the time.  She had lost much of her sight to macular degeneration and was declining physically at an alarming pace, although her mind was nearly as sharp as it ever was, which was very sharp. Someone had to be with her to keep her safe, so my brothers and I took turns spending the night there.
Looking back, I think those nights (and mornings) did more for us than for her.
The Woodlawn bus was over-crowded.  People filled every seat and jammed the aisle, shoulder to shoulder.  Some passengers, me included, were barely able to reach a seatback or an overhead bar to keep from falling as the bus lurched from the station, its engine roaring.
At the first stop, just over the North Washington Street Bridge in Charlestown, several people got off.  We who were standing immediately rearranged ourselves in the altered space of the aisle, as if obeying an instinct.
I wound up next to a seat occupied by a young man who appeared to be in his late-twenties.  He had a stocky, powerful build and a large, round, amiable face.  He was wearing a blue woolen hat with a soiled visor and the clothes of a laborer. 
This gentleman sprang to his feet, smiled and offered me his seat with a snappy hand gesture.  I think he said something in Spanish, but I’m not sure.  I smiled and shook my head. “Please. No,” I said.  “Sit down, please. Please.” 
He just stood there, grinning.  It felt like we were on the verge of a politeness showdown, but at last he resumed his seat.
A man offers a man a seat.  My first thought was, I must look a lot older than I am.  I was 48.  Then I thought his reaction may have had something to do with the social hierarchy of his homeland.  I was dressed up, wearing a starched white shirt and tie, and carrying a leather briefcase.  In the village he came from, maybe you were expected to make way for someone in authority?
Whatever the reason, his gesture caused me to take a good look around at the people I was travelling with.  Was I sticking out, I wondered.
Almost everyone appeared to be a newcomer to our shores and a minimum-wage worker.  From their clothes and the things they carried, I inferred they were custodians, garbage haulers, kitchen helpers, truck loaders, hospital orderlies, busboys, warehouse go-fers, chambermaids, nursing home aides, and the like.  Many were slumped in their seats.  Some were nodding off. They all looked tired and beat. 
As the bus came down off the Mystic River Bridge and started to weave its way through Chelsea, one or two people got off at every stop on Broadway and on Washington Avenue.  I’d keep them in my sights for a few seconds as they headed down the side streets, which were lined with old, multi-family homes.  My father was born in a three-decker on a side street in Chelsea in November of 1911.
I remember thinking: I’m glad I don’t have to do what they have to do every day.
In the inexplicable way that memories and images come to mind involuntarily, I found myself thinking of the Woodlawn bus earlier this week as I read the Boston Globe Spotlight series on the exploitation of cab drivers, “Driven to the Edge.”  You can find it at
Like the desperate cabbies whose stories the Globe recounted, many of the folks who ride that bus -- and others like it throughout metro Boston -- have few choices.  They have to take difficult, undesirable, low-paying and occasionally dangerous jobs.  They’re likely new to this country, have no advanced skills and little command of English.  If they didn’t work those crummy jobs, they wouldn’t survive.
I don’t often take a cab, and when I do, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the person who drives it.  Before “Driven to the Edge,” I didn’t realize the guy taking me to the airport is probably just scraping by, and that he goes without job benefits and workplace protections most of us take for granted.
I guess I really don’t want to know how bad life is for many of the folks I see in Boston every day.  I don’t want to dwell on the class structures erected by the engines of our free economy.
It was a relief, then, to learn that Boston Mayor Tom Menino announced Monday his intention to conduct a “sweeping review” of how cab companies are regulated and disciplined.  “We have real problems (with cab companies), and I’m concerned about it.  We’re not going to tolerate this nonsense,” the Globe quoted Menino as saying.
Few things in life are more heartening than a politician setting off to right an obvious wrong.  I like it when our leaders put some salve on the conscience of the public.