The Art of the Casino Host City Agreement Is Bound to Produce Some Ill Will, Jealousy

Friday, August 30, 2013

If you’re the mayor of any city in Massachusetts, you’re always sweating the budget.

“The hardest part about being mayor?  Easy:  there’s never enough money.  The needs are endless.”

That’s what one gentleman told me after he declined to run for re-election as the mayor of a mid-size city north of Boston.  He retired from politics to resume control of the local businesses he owned, enterprises then on the downswing because he had spent so much time at city hall.

Imagine that you’re now a mayor and you’ve just signed a host city agreement with a casino operator.  This is a deal requiring the operator to put tens of millions of dollars into your treasury every year when and if the operator wins a license from the state to build a casino in your community.

Imagine, for example, that you’re Mayor Tom Menino of Boston, Mayor Carlo DeMaria of Everett, Mayor Dan Rizzo of Revere, Mayor Domenic Sarno of Springfield, or Mayor Greg Neffinger of West Springfield, and that some casino giant has pledged to give your city payments of $32 million, $25 million, $15.2 million, $25 million and $26 million, respectively, every year, for as long as that casino is running.

Do you think you’d be getting a little giddy, dreaming of all the problems those big casino bucks will make go away? 

I know I would.  I’d be as bad as Big Ern, the character played by Bill Murray in the movie “Kingpin.”  After winning a huge purse in a professional bowling tournament, Big Ern shouts: “I’m rich!  Big Ern is above the law!”

Or if you’re Mayor Rizzo right now, maybe you’re getting a little jealous and disgruntled, seeing as how Mayor Menino will do a lot better on the Suffolk Downs/Caesar’s Palace deal than you will? 

Or if you’re Mayor DeMaria, maybe you’re having second thoughts about the pact you made with Steve Wynn now that you see what Mayor Neffinger will get from Hard Rock International: $1 million more a year than you?  A million dollars pays for a lot of teachers' and firefighters' salaries. 

These casino host city arrangements are not exactly a science. But it looks like Wynn would earn considerably more on his casino in Everett because it would be close to the heart of metropolitan Boston, whereas the Hard Rock would likely have a harder time of it out in less populous western Mass.

“Comparisons lead to violence.”

That was a quote I saw in a recent article in the Sunday New York Times magazine, which had nothing at all to do with casinos or gambling. It has stuck in my mind.  I don’t know why. 

And now that I’m thinking about the varying casino bonanzas on the horizon in Boston, Everett, Revere, Springfield and West Springfield, I’m thinking there’s some applicability here.

No, I don’t expect Carlo DeMaria to come to blows with Tom Menino, or Dom Sarno to go after Greg Neffinger with a baseball bat.  These are civilized guys.  I’m talking political warfare. 

Politics is where we have collectively agreed to sublimate our violent impulses into bloodless expressions of fear, anger, contention, dominance and revenge.

As intense as it may have been, the politicking we’ve seen so far around the enactment of the casino legislation and the local referenda on host city agreements will look like a high school class election compared to what’s coming up.

In the next phase, every city with a voter-approved host city agreement and the casino corporations behind each of those agreements will do everything possible to influence the licensing decisions of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in their favor.  The commission has only three license to bestow, one each for western Mass, eastern Mass and the southeast corner of the state. 

(That’s two licenses too many.  After a few years of the three Massachusetts casinos competing against each other, as well as against the new casino likely to arise in southern New Hampshire, I predict we’ll see a casino rescue bill in the Massachusetts legislature.  “You have to cut our host city payments and taxes to save all these jobs in our casinos,” they’ll be telling lawmakers.)

The pressure on the gaming commission members -- Gayle Cameron, Stephen Crosby, James McHugh, Bruce Stebbins and Enrique Zuniga -- will be intense.  Most of it will be applied behind the scenes.  Think of all the construction and service industry union guys, not to mention all the municipal and state office holders, who will be calling people they know who are friends or relatives of the commissioners and urging them to “put a good word in for us.” We’ll probably never know how the commissioners will have handled all that.

Menino's Presence Looms Over Mayoral Race, Sapping the Will of the Sloganeers

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Boston Globe did an article the other day on how weak the slogans are of the candidates in the race to succeed Tom Menino, (“Boston mayor’s race is lacking slogans with snap,” 8/19/13).

“When it comes to slogans in the mayoral campaign, there isn’t one zinger that grabs voters’ attention,” the article said.  It was hard to disagree.

For example, have you heard Rob Consalvo’s slogan, “All In For Boston,” or Charlotte Golar Richie’s, “Uniquely Qualified to Serve,” or Michael Ross’s, “Boston Smarter”?  

What can explain such dullness?

I believe Tom Menino is at least partly to blame.

He’s been the mayor for 20 years and is coming to the end of his record-setting fifth term.  He’s had a lot of bad luck, health-wise, but his standing among the electorate remains amazingly strong.

Under normal circumstances, the people looking to replace him would be positioning themselves with slogans like, “A Time for New Ideas,” “Setting a New Course for Boston,” “A New Time, a New Direction,” etc.

But there’s nothing normal about Menino being as popular at the end of his last term as he was at the end of his first.  He’s clearly set the modern standard for big-city mayoral effectiveness. 

Talking about the need for new directions and new ideas now would only arouse voters’ concerns about the state of city services when Menino’s no longer minding the store.

I guess that’s one reason why so many of the candidates are working overtime to portray themselves as Menino loyalists and emulators.  Recall how most of them didn’t hesitate -- when asked at a forum if they’d reappoint Menino’s police commissioner -- to say of course they’d keep Eddie Davis.

Menino vowed not to endorse any candidate in this election.  But that doesn’t mean he’s a non-factor in the race. 

That huge figure you see in the background, quietly polishing his legacy, is Tom Menino.   

No candidate wants to risk offending him.  They’re afraid he’d put the word out against them.  Menino’s minions are always ready to pass along such info.

I don’t see why the candidates are so coy, though, about claiming the Menino mantle as their own.  Why don’t they go straight for the goal and adopt slogans that make explicit their desire to win as many Menino voters as possible.

Charlotte Golar Richie, for example, could position herself as The Femenino, and Dan Conley could begin every speech by declaring, “Tom Menino loves me the most.  Period.”

Rob Consalvo, he should have his photo taken every Sunday delivering coffee purchased at a different Boston cafe to his Hyde Park neighbors, Tom and Angela.

Marty Walsh might consider a banner that proclaims, I Am Menino -- in a Wild Irish Pose!

John Connolly should hang a lantern on the problem he created by announcing for mayor before Menino announced he was retiring, which ticked off Hizzoner and prompted him to damn Connolly faintly as a “nice boy.” 

Here’s an idea for a good Connolly bumper sticker: Honk If You Like Tom’s Boy.

I don’t know where the rest of the candidates could take this, but Bill Walczak could do worse than to position himself as The Crunchy Menino.  And would it be so bad if Mike Ross tried to pass himself off as “the Menino Magnet” or if Felix Arroyo, whose current slogan is the yawner Forward With Felix, changed that to Tommy With a Latin Beat?

JIMMY KELLY, R.I.P.  There will be a memorial Mass this Saturday, August 24, at 10:00 a.m. for James A. Kelly, Jr., a former longtime member of the Massachusetts legislature from Worcester, at St. Pius X Church in Leicester.  Kelly died August 9 in Pueblo, Colorado, where he had been living in retirement for some years.  He was 87 years old.  A Navy veteran of World War II, a certified public accountant, and the father of eight children, Kelly served as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee for ten years back in the Sixties and Seventies.  His formidable ability to wield power was never more evident than when he played a decisive role in bringing the University of Massachusetts Medical Center to Worcester.  He was absolutely prescient about the Center’s ability to drive the economy of central Massachusetts for years to come.   I wonder if even a small fraction of the people who went on to earn a good living there ever thanked Senator Kelly, or if more than a handful of the people working there today even recognize his name? Such is the outcome of all toil.

Feel Your Privacy Is Threatened Now? Wait Till Drone Industry Really Gets Cranking

Friday, August 16, 2013

If you think like I used to think, you figure that drones are used only to locate and kill terrorists in foreign countries.  How wrong you are.

Drones can serve a variety of constructive purposes, like tracking the spread of wildfires, monitoring the growth of crops over vast swaths of farmland, conducting thermal infrared surveys of power lines, helping to coordinate disaster relief efforts during floods, improving weather forecasting, enhancing border security, and making it easier for the police to locate and catch criminals on the run.

Drones are so effectual and multifarious that they are about to give birth to a new, multi-billion-dollar, worldwide industry.  According to a study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, “the expected explosion” in the U.S. drone market “could create more than 70,000 new jobs with an economic effect of more than $13 billion in the first three years after the integration of UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) into the U.S. national airspace system,” a development expected in 2015.

Yes, the association did use the words “expected explosion” in the press release announcing the drone study, (UAS Association Says Drone Market Will Create 70,000 Jobs in Next 3 Years, 3/15/13). Who says we flaks don’t have a sense of humor?

Of course, there’s a downside to the inevitable proliferation of drones.  There always is with a new technology. (Remember how the Internet was going to bless the human family by enabling the rapid exchange of all knowledge, and how the sale of pornography became the biggest Internet business?)

Well, all those camera-equipped machines swooping through the skies over our great metropolitan areas will have the power to further undermine our constitutional right to be protected from “unreasonable searches,” as established in the Fourth Amendment.  Our fear of terrorism has made us accept a level of government snooping that would have been unthinkable before 9/11/2001.  "Want to search me before I get on the subway?  Why, of course, Officer.  Let me help you with that latch on my briefcase."

A truly wonderful advance in the march of human rights, the Fourth Amendment states, in its entirety:

“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.”

Here’s where one particular Massachusetts legislator, Senator Bob Hedlund, the rock ’n roll loving Republican from Weymouth, deserves our admiration and praise for trying to put some limits on those prying eyes in the sky.

Hedlund has filed Senate Bill 1664, An Act to Regulate the Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which is now before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.  This bill would:

  • Require a department of state, county or municipal government that wanted to purchase a drone to obtain the approval of the state Secretary of Public Safety and Security, or, at the local level, a city council, board of aldermen, or board of selectmen.

  • Require any agency of government that wanted to use a drone in a criminal investigation or police action to obtain a warrant.

  • Limit a drone operator to collecting only the data specifically cited in a warrant; the operator would have to avoid, under penalty of law, collecting information on “individuals, homes and areas” not mentioned in the warrant.

  • Prohibit the collection and storage, via drones, of information about “the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership or other entity unless such information relates directly to an investigation of criminal activity, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is involved in criminal conduct.”

  • Prohibit the use, storage, copying, transmittal or disclosure of drone-collected data on an individual, home or area “other than the target” that justified the use of the drone in the first place, and “except with the written consent of the data subject.”

It will be interesting to see who turns up as witnesses at the State House, and how many witnesses there will be, when Hedlund’s bill gets a hearing.

The folks at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International are well fortified with facts on the tens of thousands of jobs that will be created, post 2015, in the U.S. drone industry.  But nowhere in the materials made available online by the association did I see anything on a business certain to explode in the brave new Drone Era:

Contractors specializing in the construction of drone-thwarting, privacy-protecting camouflage structures for homes, factories, places of entertainment, motels, etc.

Long Ago on This Date, JFK Was Just Another Parent in Grief at a Boston Hospital

Friday, August 9, 2013

The irony was not lost on anyone: the most powerful man in the world was powerless to save his newborn son.

Fifty years ago today, August 9, 1963, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy died of hyaline membrane disease, a lung disorder, at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Doctors and hospitals could do very little in those days for babies with this problem, which is caused by the formation of a glassy membrane on the air sacs of the lungs. Fortunately, highly effective treatments have since been developed.  Few newborns die today of hyaline membrane disease in the developed world. 

In an article published July 30, 2013, Lawrence K. Altman, a medical doctor and correspondent for the New York Times, wrote, “If Patrick were being born in August 2013, his odds of surviving would be better than 95 percent.”  If you’d like to read the Altman piece, click on this link:

Patrick was born on August 7 at the Otis Air Force Base hospital in Bourne, MA.  His mother, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, was vacationing on Cape Cod when she went into labor, five weeks before her due date.  Doctors delivered the baby by Caesarean section.

The funeral Mass for Patrick was held the day after he died in the private chapel of the Commonwealth Avenue home of the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Richard Cushing.  Only a few people were there.  

The late Richard Reeves described what happened at the end of that Mass on page 553 of his superb book, “President Kennedy, Profile of Power,” which came out in 1993:

“…Jacqueline Kennedy was still in the hospital on Cape Cod.  Her husband was on his knees, seemingly unable to let go of the little white coffin in front of him.  ‘Come on, Jack, let’s go,’ Cushing said finally.  ‘God is good.’ ”

A little earlier in “President Kennedy,” on page 539, Reeves recounts a meeting Kennedy held with his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, regarding an upcoming presidential visit to Europe:

“As the European trip was being planned, the President had asked Rusk if he knew of a beautiful and secluded place in Italy for a private matter.  Rusk did.  He had been president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which owned Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como, once the grand vacation home of a Milanese merchant prince.  Kennedy said he wanted the villa on the night of June 30 and he wanted it empty – no servants, no staff, no Secret Service.  Powers and O’Donnell would be there to handle any problems, that was part of their jobs.  But somebody didn’t get the message.  It soon became apparent that the resident director of Rockefeller programs at the villa and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. John Marshall, were intending to stay on the property, moving into guest quarters.

“ ‘Get them out of there,’ ” Kennedy said, and the State Department was on the way.  The Marshalls left and soon afterward a lady of some note in Europe arrived.  Rusk returned in the morning.  ‘How was it?’ asked Rusk, who did not approve of some of Kennedy’s habits.

“ ‘Wonderful,’ Kennedy said. ‘Absolutely wonderful.’ ”

In the 105 days he remained alive after his son’s death, did Kennedy’s conscience ever cause him to conjure a connection between the events of June 30 and August 7 through 9, 1963?

Budget Conferee on Beacon Hill: No Knuckleheads or Pests Need Apply

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Westfield’s Mike Knapik, one of the longest serving members of the Massachusetts Senate, made news earlier this week when he announced he was resigning to take an administrative position at his local university, Westfield State.

The news accounts made much of the fact that Knapik’s resignation is a blow to an already weak Massachusetts Republican Party.  When Knapik leaves the State House on Friday, August 9, his last day on the job, there will be only three Republicans left in the 40-member Senate.

In any deliberative body where you control just 7.5% of the votes, as will be the case for Republicans in the Senate, post-Knapik, you are the opposite of a force to be reckoned with.  The best you can hope is for spoiler or swing-vote status on a closely decided issue.  Unfortunately for the Republicans, closely decided issues come along in the Senate as often as charming TSA agents at the airport.

I was surprised that none of the news stories noted that Knapik has exerted an outsized influence on the annual state budget process for many years now by consistently winning appointment to the House-Senate budget conference committee.

The budget conference committee is formed in June to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the state budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1.  Two seats on the six- member committee are taken by the chairs of the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means. The House Speaker, Senate President, House Minority Leader and Senate Minority Leader each appoint one member. The majority party, which for decades in Massachusetts has been the Democratic, thus controls four seats, the Republican Party two.

On its face, it would seem that Republican conferees are powerless to affect the final shape of the budget because they can always be out-voted by the Dems.  In the snug confines of the budget conference committee, however, personalities and relationships can often trump partisan political tendencies.  This is why minority party leaders always appoint likeable and trustworthy members to the committee: during the many long days the committee is in session, good-guy Republicans will have a better chance of persuading their rivals to keep something in the budget than sticklers and sourpusses would. 

If the people across the table consider you a friend, you can have an impact.  Of course, there are times when friendship has less to do with the outcome than good, old-fashioned horse-trading.

Think about it.  Any subset of conferees may form a mutually beneficial alliance.  Senate Conferee A can make a deal with House Conferee B to vote for A’s most coveted in-district project in return for a commitment to back B’s darling proposal.

At trading time, it doesn’t matter much if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.  If you’re sitting in one of the few seats at the table when an issue is decided, you’ve got leverage.  Period.

Years ago, I was at a state Democratic Party event at the Park Plaza Hotel as the cocktail hour was ending and people were moving to their seats in the second-floor ballroom.  I happened to be in a knot of people that included Tom Finneran, who had recently left the House Speakership to become head of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.

A former Republican senator turned lobbyist came up to shake Finneran’s hand.  This was a man who’d often served on the budget conference committee when Finneran was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

“Mr. Speaker!  Great to see you, as usual!” said the former senator.

The former speaker returned the greeting in kind.

After a few seconds, the former senator turned to leave.  I don’t think he was staying for the dinner, which made sense given the man’s Republican bona fides.

As the former senator walked away, Finneran smiled broadly and shook his head.

“That guy, he was tough,” Finneran said. “He always held out for something.  You knew you were going to have to give him something.”

At first I didn’t know what he was talking about.  Then the light bulb went on: of course, the budget conference committee!   

It was a gesture of respect for the former senator’s political skills.  I could detect no edge of hard feeling between Finneran and him.

Mike Knapik will soon begin work as the new Executive Director of University Advancement at Westfield State.  He will be reporting to the president of the university, Evan Dobelle, who served as mayor of Pittsfield, MA in his younger days and as U.S. Chief of Protocol in the administration of President Jimmy Carter.

“I know of no other public figure in Massachusetts more widely regarded for his bi-partisanship and resolute integrity” than Senator Knapik, Dobelle told the media on Monday. 

“I was not involved in this selection process until the search committee presented him as a finalist,” Dobelle added, “and his interview with them and me was extraordinary.  His passion for Westfield State and his personal reputation and leadership will bring the (Westfield State) Foundation, as we begin our 175th anniversary celebration, to never-before-seen success.”

Senate President Therese Murray, one of the state’s staunchest Democrats, released the following statement:

“Senator Knapik is a proven leader who proactively works across the aisle to bring positive change for the Commonwealth.  He holds an unwavering commitment to fiscal responsibility and the health of our economy, and he has always worked with the best interests of his constituents in mind.  I enjoyed working with him during our time together in the Senate and I wish him the best of luck in his new position at Westfield State.”

Knapik is 50 years old and has been in the legislature since 1991, when he was elected to the House; four years later, he entered the Senate.  No doubt, he’s made the 200-mile round trip from Westfield to Boston thousands of times.  From now on, his car will barely be warm by the time he gets to the office.  He’ll have more of a life for himself at Westfield State…and more of a salary: $110,000 a year in the new job versus $83,000 in the old.

Mike Knapik is the real deal.  He deserves his good luck.

Even as Data Delivers a Crushing Blow, the Idea of Taxachusetts Dies Hard

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, an independent, non-partisan group of experts on state spending, released a report last week showing that the amount of Massachusetts taxes we pay as a share of our total personal incomes is below the national average.  

Based on data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau, the report said, “The amount of state and local taxes paid in Massachusetts as a share of total personal income was 10.37 percent in FY 2011.  By this measure, Massachusetts had lower taxes than 20 other states and was below the national average of 10.56 percent.”

At 20 percent, Alaska is the state with the highest percentage of state and local taxes as a share of total personal income.  South Dakota has the lowest percentage, 7 percent.   

Had Massachusetts taxes been at the national average in FY 2011, state and local governments would have raised an additional $650 million in that fiscal year, according to the report, which may be found at:

In a press release announcing the report, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center said, “Measuring taxes in this way (as a percentage of personal income) provides the most accurate comparisons.”

Listen to most people today on the topic of taxes and you’ll hear that we pay too much and that our government wastes too much money.

There’s no objective definition of too much taxes or too much governmental waste, so it’s hard to refute that view.

You rarely if ever  hear someone say that, considering all the advantages we have as free citizens of Massachusetts and the United States, the price we pay in taxes is a pretty good deal overall.

This Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center report gives a boost to the pretty-good-deal-overall argument.  But don’t expect it to change many minds who are convinced otherwise. 

Feelings aren’t easily changed, especially when they've been held for a very long time.  And no one, least of all me, is ever going to enjoy the experience of paying taxes.