Alex Morse’s brazen casino reversal
It makes John Kerry look like a piker. Even the CEO of shameless shape-shifting, Mitt Romney, might have blushed while trying to pull this one off.
Alex Morse, the boy wonder mayor of Holyoke who rode into office a year ago on a platform vowing steadfast opposition to a casino in his city, is now ready to roll the dice. Morse announced this morning that he’s reversing course and is open to a proposal by local developer Eric Suher to site a casino at an outdoor concert site on the side of Mt. Tom.
The stunning reversal landed on the front-page of yesterday’s Boston Globe, and it has landed the 23-year-old Morse in hot water with some of his most ardent supporters, who interrupted his announcement this morning at Holyoke City Hall with anti-casino chants. The Springfield Republican website showed a photograph of someone holding a Morse for Mayor sign with a big black “x” drawn through it.
When he ran for mayor last year against a one-term incumbent, Morse was highly critical of casino plan put forth by developer Hard Rock International for a resort casino on the site of country club on the outskirts of Holyoke. Not only did Morse advance a wide-ranging argument against the economics of casinos, he said the Hard Rock location would drain the life out of downtown Holyoke and hurt efforts to revive the city’s core business district. The site now being proposed by Suher is a stone’s throw from the Hard Rock location.
Morse’s announcement comes on the heels of the release last month of CommonWealth’s fall issue, which includes an Argument & Counterpoint feature in which Morse argues against the idea of bringing a casino to his city, while Mayor Domenic Sarno of neighboring Springfield, argues that a casino would be a great economic shot in the arm to his city. “A casino in Holyoke,” Morse wrote, “would not aid in our economic rebirth, but would ultimately undermine the effort.”
In this CommonWealth profile of Morse following his election one year ago, he painted a prospects of a casino in the harshest of lights, and suggested that that Holyoke faced a stark choice between sustainable economic development and the fools’ gold of casinos, which prey on vulnerable seniors and the poor.
From the CommonWealth story:
[Morse] emphasized the importance of reviving downtown Holyoke, a place where there are fresh stirrings of life with artists and other newcomers moving into the downtown warren of mills. He talked about luring new tech-based businesses by trumpeting the skill pipeline of 100,000 college students in the corridor between neighboring Northampton and Amherst and Hartford, Connecticut. And he talked about a long-term vision for the city that includes dramatic achievement gains in its school system, one of the lowest-performing in the state, so that residents can compete for jobs in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. A casino, he said, is exactly what Holyoke doesn’t need.
“I’ll do whatever I can to keep it out of here,” Morse says of the casino proposal. “I think it’s bad economic policy. I think it’s an act of desperation for the state and for the city of Holyoke. It doesn’t alleviate poverty, it adds to poverty. It’s going to jeopardize any efforts to revitalize and bring people to downtown Holyoke. It earns money on the backs of the poor and the senior citizens. People have less money in their pockets, and they’re spending it at the casinos rather than on businesses in the city.”
“We’re on the verge,” he says. “We can choose to have a casino economy or aim for something better.
Hardly the words of someone ambivalent about the effects of a casino. And they are a view shared by noted urban thinker Richard Florida, who just this morning penned a column for the New York Daily News titled “Gambling away our cities.”
If Holyoke wins the one Western Mass. casino location, which could be a longshot with the groundwork that’s already been laid for a casino in Springfield, Morse will have to make it work for Holyoke residents and the city’s rebirth. If Holyoke loses out, Morse is left with nothing to show for his efforts other than disgruntled casino opponents who were key to his election. If he’s still in office when a decision is made. After all his opposition to casinos, Morse has become the biggest gambler of all.
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