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The Boston Globe

Metro

Adrian Walker

Let whole city vote on East Boston casino

No one can accuse Carlo Basile of not putting his cards on the table.

The East Boston state representative and casino enthusiast endorsed John Connolly for mayor of Boston Monday thanks to Connolly’s support for an East Boston-only referendum on a casino at Suffolk Downs.

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Connolly managed to secure this endorsement — which previously had belonged to a rival candidate, Dan Conley — without even coming out in favor of a casino itself. Connolly has resolutely refused to take a position on casinos, claiming he needs, yes, more information. Bold leadership personified.

Like Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Basile seems convinced that an East Boston-only vote virtually guarantees passage.

Basile actually had a number of candidates he could have supported, since many of them have proclaimed their preference for a neighborhood vote. Felix Arroyo, among others, might be wondering what he did wrong, since he has been every bit as willing to pander on this issue as Connolly.

No one disputes that East Boston will be the neighborhood most affected by an East Boston casino. However, a casino would sit on a road we all pay for and will be policed by cops we all pay for. If, heaven forbid, someone falls ill while losing at the blackjack table, he or she will be whisked away in an ambulance we all pay for. So despite what politicians say, it’s not as though East Boston will bear all the impact here.

Besides that, what Basile calls for is the opposite of how government normally works. While neighborhoods have significant say in decisions that affect them, no one can recall the last Dorchester-only referendum or the last Roxbury-only referendum. Boston is governed as a single city, with casino votes being the lone exception. What makes this issue so different from every other issue?

Some believe that the support of Basile, with his loyal corps of campaign workers, could make a difference in a close, multicandidate race. Get ready to hear a lot about endorsements making a difference in a close race, though I’m skeptical about one state representative swinging a mayoral election.

I asked Connolly Tuesday why he supports the neighborhood-only vote. “I live 10 miles and a body of water from East Boston,” said Connolly, who lives in West Roxbury. “I believe they would be disproportionately affected and they should decide.”

But wouldn’t the rest of Boston also stand to be affected by a casino?

“Yes, but this is a pretty unique issue and one in which special legislation was drafted for it, signifying its unique circumstances,” Connolly said. He also noted that his position has been consistent, which is true.

Actually the first debate the city should have had is whether we even want a casino. That was cut off instantly when Menino fell in love with the idea. Now most of our prospective mayors don’t think the rest of us are “affected” enough to even deserve a vote. This is democracy?

Conley deserves credit for saying early on that the neighborhood referendum idea makes no sense. He was assailed for it, not least for having the temerity to disagree with Menino. By doing so, he supposedly threw away his chance to do well in East Boston. But he was right.

Ideally, we would be debating the effects of a casino and how they stack up against the (still unknown) benefits the city stands to receive. But that has been trampled in the quest to carry East Boston. We have gotten all too accustomed to issues like this being decided in City Hall with minimal public input. You’d like to think the candidates to succeed Menino would buck, rather than extend, that trend.

We all understand why Carlo Basile doesn’t want a citywide vote, because the casino could well lose. If it’s such a great idea, he should make his case to the whole city, all of it. Boston’s next leader should insist on no less.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

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