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Statement on the Mayor’s Casino Pivot

Dear Holyoke voters and friends,

After having spent the past few days taking in and
disseminating information about Mayor Morse sudden change in position on casinos in the city of Holyoke, I believe that it is my responsibility as your
representative to now synthesize what we have learned and communicate to you
where I stand on this issue.
Like many of you, I was absolutely shocked to hear the news
that our Mayor, who we worked so hard to elect last year, was reversing his
anti-casino position.  I was never
consulted regarding this strategy change and would never recommend it- I would
anticipate that those who were part of the electoral base would feel alienated,
while those among the opposition would say, “too little too late.”  Politically, it would be hard to gain from
the situation while clearly, there was a lot to lose.
I think that there are many people (including myself) who
feel betrayed by this change in strategy and rightly so.  For many years the casino issue has been
looming, but until the state legislature passed the recent legislation that
actually allowed for up to three gaming licenses in Massachusetts, the casino
issue was somewhat intractable- no matter how much a community might like to
move forward with a proposal it was not possible due to state-level
constraints.  However, this election year
was different; with one gaming license dedicated to Western MA, voters really
pressed all the candidates to take a clear position on casinos, so they could
act on that information on Election Day. 
While I have always been anti-casino from a personal
standpoint, I have always recognized that Holyoke is a community that had twice
passed a non-binding referendum in support of a local casino project and as
such I have tried to remain open to the possibility that a stellar project
could come along from which the community could leverage robust benefits.  In this past election cycle I tried very hard
to retain my neutral/leaning-against a casino position, but the voters would
not accept it and I came out definitively “anti-casino.”  I now feel that I am bound to that promise
and will be voting against any casino proposals that come before the City Council.
That being said, it is common for government to concomitantly
pursue multiple and even conflicting policies until the issue is resolved.  I intend to file a Resolution with Councilors
Alexander and Ferreira to oppose casino development in Holyoke and we have
already seen that Council President Jourdain and Councilor Todd McGee have
filed an order to ensure that the casino proposal process is transparent,
includes the City Council, and requires public hearings.  I will also be supporting other measures,
like this, that work to guarantee an open and accessible process, so long as
this alternate path is on the table.
Unlike the Mayor, I do not believe the “facts” regarding
casino development have changed.  The
research shows that casino economies do not work to sustain the local
communities in which they are placed; they siphon money out of the local
economy and leave their host communities with increased taxes or fees to
compensate for the additional police, fire, and trash services that the
industry requires.  I have strong doubts
that downtown revitalization- an issue that I have spearheaded and campaigned
on since my introduction to Holyoke politics in 2005- is compatible with casino
development anywhere in the city.  However,
the casino issue is only one significant issue that I disagree with the Mayor
on at this point and I do not anticipate this stance damaging our working
relationship.  I think that it’s
important to recognize that the Mayor can still be a “good” Mayor even if you
disagree with him on this issue.  In fact,
I am startled and concerned by those who shift their positions on the issue
simply to align with their friend and charismatic leader, Mayor Alex
Morse.  Likewise, I am equally as
concerned by those who are willing to abandon the achievements of this
administration for the Mayor’s shift in position on this one issue.
In closing, I’d like to reiterate a point that I’ve made
elsewhere; that the casino issue is viable so long as being “anti-casino” is
equated with Ward 7 alone.  There are
many in the community who feel that the city should not be “held hostage to the
whims of Ward 7.”  I think that it is
incumbent upon those among the anti-casino coalition to highlight the
geographic, ethnic, and economic diversity among its members as well as
continue its community education and outreach on casinos throughout the city.
I look forward to continuing the debate and working with you
all on this and many other issues in the future.
My best regards,
Rebecca Lisi
Holyoke City Councilor At-Large

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