Alex B. Morse’s election as mayor of Holyoke last year was bigger than any single issue, but his opposition to a casino in the city was a major factor. An improbable winner at age 22, Morse represented hope for Holyoke; he seemed to embody the new ideas the city would need to transcend its downtrodden past. His opponent, like civic leaders in a number of mill towns around Massachusetts, saw a casino as a source of much-needed economic development. Morse touted a different approach, in which old mills and theaters would be converted to a combination of residences and office space. His opposition to a casino clearly resonated with voters, and his election was a fatal blow to Hard Rock International’s plan for a Holyoke casino.
For all these reasons, Morse’s new position on the issue is more than just a change of heart. His decision to back a gambling resort at Mountain Park — an outdoor concert venue on the site of a defunct amusement park — undercuts the reasons many Holyoke voters elected Morse to begin with. Moreover, Morse’s shift was head-spinningly abrupt. As recently as October, he wrote in a commentary in CommonWealth Magazine that “a casino in Holyoke would not aid in our economic rebirth, but would ultimately undermine the effort.”