You're Not Mistaken. That Man on the Eastie Barricades Is Mr. Secretary Aloisi

Friday, January 31, 2014

You can be sure the folks who want to put a casino at Suffolk Downs are not happy to see Jim Aloisi in the opposing camp.  He’s what you’d call a worthy adversary.

Only someone who doesn’t know Aloisi, a lifelong resident of East Boston, would take him lightly.  Here are some of the things you’ll find on his curriculum vitae:
  • Former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation

  • Former member, board of directors, Massachusetts Port Authority

  • Former member and chairman, Massachusetts Turnpike Authority

  • Former Massachusetts assistant attorney general

  • Graduate, Boston College and Boston College Law School

  • Holder of graduate degree in history from Harvard University

  • Former chief legal counsel to Massachusetts Department of Revenue

  • Former director, Goulston & Storrs, a Boston law firm

  • Author of three well-received books on Boston history and politics

  • Senior vice president, Kanaan Consulting US (KCUS, Inc.)

This is not on his CV because you don’t talk this way about yourself unless you suffer from terminal egomania, but I can say it about him: Aloisi is a public intellectual of the first rank.

In a recent opinion piece published online by Commonwealth Magazine, Aloisi said his support for those trying to stop the Suffolk Downs casino “has everything to do with my view that the process surrounding gaming on this site has been rigged, that the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box is being ignored or given short shrift, and that the people of East Boston are once again being dealt a bad hand by those who would put profit before people.”

Ouch.  When Aloisi shed a younger man’s clothes, he must have dropped the diction of diplomacy, too.  I have to wonder how many current and former members of the legislature reached for their Valium after reading that.  (“Jimmy, how could you?”)

In Commonwealth Magazine, Aloisi described the progress East Boston has made in recent decades and said that that part of Boston, in many ways, has become “a model of what a multi-ethnic, mixed-income, urban environment ought to be.”  He then lamented:

“This progress is being directly jeopardized by the prospect of a casino at Suffolk Downs.  What’s worse, when East Boston voters resoundingly voted against the casino, the immediate response (of doubtful legality) was to fashion an electoral bait-and-switch by offering a supposedly ‘Revere-only’ casino site.  The Revere-only proposal is an insult to East Boston’s intelligence, not simply because such an outcome is not practically feasible (unless the owners are prepared to accept a perpetual restriction on the use of their East Boston land for non-casino uses), but also because it proposes to relocate horse stables and highways on the East Boston side of their site.  Imagine that you are the mayor of Boston, and you have a 100-acre, largely undeveloped site in your city that is two minutes away from an international airport and adjacent to two MBTA stations and an urban wetland.  And the owner tells you he wants to use the land for horse stables and a roadway system to feed into another city.  You might throw that person out of your office, or at least question his sanity.  But that is exactly what Suffolk Downs is proposing to do on this site.”

If you want to read the entire article by Aloisi, go to:

Woe is the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.  When it grants the single available casino license for Eastern Massachusetts, the commission will have to choose between two cities, Revere and Everett, which badly need the cash and prizes a casino will bring -- two cities enamored of their respective, proposed casino operators, Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts.  This is a fight card with two underdogs on it.

For a long time, Suffolk Downs was the only site in the running for the eastern license.  It looked like a sure thing.  Then Steve Wynn arrived like Patton’s army in Germany.  He grabbed an option on the old Monsanto chemical factory site on the Mystic River in Everett and captured the hearts Everett’s elected officials and citizens in less time than it takes to get married in Vegas.

East Boston surprised most of the pundits, not to mention the legislators who crafted the casino-enabling legislation, when it voted this past November against a casino at Suffolk Downs on the same day that Revere voted for it. 

With its back to the wall, Suffolk Downs quickly redesigned its proposal and put the casino entirely on the Revere side of the property.  Revere embraced the concept because it would mean millions more for it than the original deal, which had the casino straddling the East Boston-Revere site and tilting heavily toward East Boston’s favor, revenue-wise. 

Of course, the new plan enraged East Boston.  The “No Eastie Casino” forces quickly massed again on the battlefield of public opinion, where they remain today, defiant and spoiling for more action.  One sees in them the kind of spirit that only an upset victory over better equipped forces unleashes.  Jim Aloisi embodies that spirit in its most articulate form.  This is like 1941 and he’s their Winston Churchill.

I don’t envy the members of the Gaming Commission: Steve Crosby, Gayle Cameron, Enrique Zuniga, Jim McHugh and Bruce Stebbins.  No matter which way they vote on the eastern license, they’re going to make a lot of people angry.  For a very long time.  Maybe permanently. 

Not that I’m in favor of people ducking their responsibilities, but the commissioners could always decide this thing on two cuts of the deck.  Suffolk gets the first cut because it was the first in the competition; Wynn gets the second; high card wins.  Makes sense for officials in a gambling-friendly jurisdiction, no?

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