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Casinos

For Boston mayoral candidates, casino issue up front

Attitudes differ, giving voters a policy to contrast

A hotel and casino model  for Suffolk Downs in East Boston.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

A hotel and casino model for Suffolk Downs in East Boston.

Mayoral candidates continued to clash Tuesday over plans to bring a casino to East Boston, with Councilor Mike Ross calling the construction of a casino inevitable, businessman Bill Walczak pressing his adamant opposition to casino gambling in Boston, and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley hitting Councilor at Large John R. Connolly over the wording of a statement.

In a race with a dozen candidates who hold few unique positions, casinos have claimed the spotlight this week on the campaign trail.

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The salvos followed a statement Sunday by Conley in which he called for a citywide vote on the proposed East Boston casino and threatened to sue to stop a casino from opening in Everett.

The declaration prompted responses from a number of candidates, with Connolly and Ross restating their support for a vote limited to East Boston, rather than open to the entire city.

In a statement Tuesday, Ross emphasized that he does not support the spread of casinos to Eastern Massachusetts.

“But we can’t stick our heads in the sand,” Ross said. “State law says casino gambling is coming to Eastern Massachusetts. The entire region is going to suffer negative consequences when a casino opens, so I made the tough decision early in this process that I’d support a casino in East Boston so that the city gets the tax revenue to fund critical priorities like early childhood education, job training, and programs that mitigate the negative effects.”

The debate over whether Boston should welcome casino gambling has ignited perhaps the fiercest disagreement among the 12 candidates so far.

Conley dared any of his opponents to provide a rationale for why an East Boston casino should not be put to a citywide vote, a challenge quickly seized upon by other hopefuls.

“Rob Consalvo supports the casino because it will create jobs, and he supports an Eastie-only vote because those are the folks who will be most affected,” said Kevin Franck, a spokesman for Consalvo’s campaign. “It’s really that simple.”

Ross and Connolly expressed similar sentiments.

In a statement to the Boston Herald, Connolly defended his support for an East Boston-only vote by asking: “If the casino were proposed for Hyde Park, would the people of Hyde Park want East Boston to decide?”

Conley, in turn, issued a new statement Tuesday slamming those remarks.

“We are not a confederacy of neighborhoods; we are one united city,” Conley said. “For his own short-term political gain, [Connolly] is willing to disenfranchise 95 percent of the people of Boston he hopes to represent as mayor.”

Meanwhile, Walczak has maintained the most aggressive opposition to casino gambling near Boston, saying his personal family history and his time running the Codman Square Health Center have exposed him to the negative consequences of gambling.

Walczak has said the city should instead explore the construction of an East Boston Innovation District. He has called a press conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday to display a 3-D rendering of what the district could look like.

Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.
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