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The Boston Globe

Metro

Adrian Walker

Whose call is city casino?

As all Bostonians know, East Boston is one of the most geographically isolated areas of the city. And when it comes to gambling, it’s apparently not part of the city at all.

That’s the only plausible explanation I can come up with for Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s strange insistence that only East Boston and Revere vote on any proposal to put a casino at the site of Suffolk Downs racetrack, a notion the mayor holds dear.

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Under the casino legislation passed by the Legislature, affected communities must approve casinos. In general, this means that the entire city or town will vote on a referendum, but Boston is one of three municipalities specifically excepted from that provision. That allows the vote of just the “affected area,’’ Eastie and Revere.

“Only East Boston residents would be affected by a casino,’’ Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce told me yesterday. “Their voice would be diluted by allowing the entire city to vote on it.’’

City Hall, of course, routinely makes decisions that primarily affect a single neighborhood. But never in memory has the mayor taken the stance that no one else’s opinion matters, as if the rest of us don’t pay for the police, fire, and other municipal services that the place will certainly require.

The rationale here isn’t hard to piece together. A neighborhood campaign is a lot easier to run and win than a citywide initiative, especially in an area Menino has politically dominated for nearly 20 years. There’s no reason to dilute his authority by allowing the city to vote on the deal; they might, after all, vote against it.

The City Council - as usual, terrified of offending the mayor - has only belatedly sprung into semi-action, appointing a committee to look into the Suffolk Downs issue. I say “semi-action’’ because the committee chairman is Salvatore LaMattina of East Boston, a worthy fellow, but one who made it clear that the council has no desire to give the rest of the city a voice on whether Suffolk Downs gets its casino.

What they are interested in is “mitigation,’’ the price the eventual developers will have to pay to the neighborhood and the city in order to get their deal. The notion that many Bostonians might not want a casino at all doesn’t seem to be on the radar.

“I’m not looking to unduly delay what should be an important decision,’’ said Councilor Michael Ross. “I’m a guy who represents Fenway Park. A lot of things only involve the Fenway.’’

LaMattina said the city would benefit from higher taxes, more conventions, and more jobs. Oddly, none of this potential impact strikes him as a reason for the whole city to be involved in the decision. He argued that a citywide vote could be unfair because a casino referendum could pass, against the wishes of the people of East Boston. That, he said, would be a travesty.

Here’s what’s a travesty: that a development decision that stands to affect the city for years to come is being treated as though it were about as serious as replacing a stop sign with a traffic light. Here’s another: that the developers who stand to benefit will get their way by handing out a few neighborhood perks and, perhaps, offering to pony up some bucks for public safety, while the city’s mayor advocates cutting 90 percent of the city out of the debate.

Incredibly, Joyce told me that the rest of the city had already spoken on Suffolk Downs. When was that? “Their representatives voted at the State House,’’ she said. Foxborough’s didn’t?

Regardless of the outcome, Foxborough is participating in a worthwhile exercise in democracy over its planned casino.

Meanwhile, Boston’s elected leaders see no reason to bother with that.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at Adrian_Walker.
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