I’m stunned that the Globe failed to report that Middleborough voters, shortly after approving the agreement with the Wampanoags, turned around and rejected the casino itself. Despite publishing two stories (here and here) featuring four bylines, the paper somehow couldn’t find an inch to include that crucial fact. The Globe managed to do better in its online coverage yesterday. And as I’ve already noted, the Herald gets it right in its own Sunday story.
So, for that matter, does The Standard-Times of New Bedford, whose deep reporting on yesterday’s proceedings shows that this fight is a long way from being over. First, consider this, from Steve Decosta’s story:
After casting their votes on the agreement and before the final tally was announced, the body, on a hand vote, ironically rejected a nonbinding question to approve casino gambling in town. Only about half the voters remained on the high school athletic field for that tally.
“I don’t think that’s a true indication of how people feel, because so many people had left,” said Marsha Brunelle, selectmen chairwoman.
Asked if that outcome tainted the vote on the agreement, Mr. Marshall [Glenn Marshall, the Wampanoag chief] said: “It’s the end of a hot day, people get tired, people leave. The true number is the one that got counted.”
But casino opponents would not minimize their victory.
“That’s the root question,” said Jacqueline Tolosko, president of the anti-casino group Casinofacts. “We’re really encouraged. The town just said it doesn’t want a casino. How can that not have weight?”
Think about the cluelessness of Brunelle’s comments. Only 25 percent of the town’s registered voters took part in approving the agreement with the Wampanoags. As has been meticulously and widely documented, turnout was held down because of the midsummer heat and humidity, which kept elderly residents and people with health problems away. People who had to work or who couldn’t find child care were kept away, too.
As for people leaving, well, town officials all but told people to leave by staging a disgraceful signing ceremony with the Wampanoags as soon as the agreement was approved, but before the casino itself was put to a vote. [Well, no. See correction, below.] That action in itself ought to be the subject of a legal challenge on the grounds that it was a ruse aimed at making people think the meeting was over.
Even so, the vote to reject the casino was a legal (if non-binding) vote on a warrant article properly put before town meeting. Officials have no right to pretend that vote never took place. Again, think about Jacqueline Tolosko’s remarks: “The town just said it doesn’t want a casino. How can that not have weight?”
Another opponent, Richard Young, pointed to Bill Marzelli and his dozens of orange-shirted casino backers and complained that while they were allowed to wear the T-shirts and white hats that read, “Vote YES for Middleborough’s future,” the police confiscated his side’s yellow leaflets, which explained a few opposition talking points. “I’m not allowed to give you anything to read,” he said.
Do I need to point out that the town’s two police unions have endorsed the casino? This strikes me as sufficient in and of itself to throw out the results of yesterday’s vote. No wonder police didn’t want the media watching.
Let me expand on something I wrote earlier. No doubt some people voted “yes” on the agreement because they would genuinely like to see a casino come to Middleborough. But there were others — plenty of others, I suspect — who voted “yes” because they were told, repeatedly, that the casino was coming whether they wanted it or not, and that they might as well negotiate the best terms that they could.
Last week, New England Cable News’ “NewsNight” program devoted a half-hour to the Middleborough debate. In the first segment, Ted Eayrs, a town assessor and former selectman, debated Greg Stevens, a casino opponent. In the second, I debated town planner Ruth Geoffroy, who favors the casino.
If you watch both segments, you will see that Eayrs (an opponent until recently) and Geoffroy each talked repeatedly about the supposed inevitability of the casino as a reason for approving the agreement. Let me share something else with you that you will not see in these segments: As we were leaving NECN, Eayrs told me that though he favored the agreement as the best way of protecting the town’s interests, he hopes the state will step in and stop the casino from ever being built.
Well, gee, that’s exactly how Middleborough residents voted yesterday, isn’t it? “Yes” on the agreement, “no” on the casino itself.
Gov. Deval Patrick will have a major say in what happens next. Without his wholehearted approval, a casino will not be coming to Middleborough. The governor needs to consider the fact that voters yesterday said “no” to the casino. Patrick should say no, too.
Update: This is really incredible. The Globe runs a slideshow of supporters and opponents of the casino — and the first two are of supporters wearing orange shirts! The message is cut off, but the first guy is also wearing a white cap that says “Yes to Middleborough’s Future.” Remember, the opponents’ leaflets were seized by police.
Update II: NECN gets it right. This report is particularly good on how opponents were marginalized and shunted aside. It also mentions the “no” vote on the casino itself.
Correction: According to this story, in the Cape Cod Times, the vote on the casino itself was held while the ballots on the casino agreement were being counted. WBUR Radio reports it the same way. That’s a significant difference, and I regret the error.