Traci Bridge Longa believes she has a unique vantage point on the debate raging in Foxborough on whether to build a casino on 200 acres across from Gillette Stadium. Longa, 43, grew up in Las Vegas, where her single mother supported two daughters on her salary as a blackjack dealer. For the past nine years, Longa has lived in Foxborough, where she is raising her own two children.
The hot topic in town is, of course, the casino, and Longa was upset over what she was hearing: Critics were claiming that there would be a 300 percent increase in crime, that low-paying jobs would attract unskilled workers and put pressure on local infrastructure, that prostitutes would ply the streets.
Eager for information, Longa invited herself to a December meeting with 10 other residents at which Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft talked about a $1 billion hotel resort on land owned by Kraft. The next day, she posted details from the meeting on her Facebook page. Longa got so many responses that she formed a Facebook discussion group on the proposed casino. Meanwhile, Foxborough selectmen voted, 3 to 2, against a casino, Wynn and Kraft have vowed not to give up, and the debate rages on.
Longa, who describes herself as a “nonpolitical peacemaker,’’ acknowledges that she is an unlikely moderator on an issue that has roiled the town, sometimes pitting neighbor against neighbor. With emotions running high, all sides are using social media to share information, as well as to hurl barbs. Similar debates are flaring in towns and cities throughout the state, as developers target potential casino sites.
From the start, Longa says she has tried to set some ground rules.
“We realize this is a very emotional issue so we ask you to be respectful to each other and realize everyone has a right to their opinion,’’ she wrote. The online olive branch has done little to tamp down antagonism.
In Foxborough, the casino issue has split the community into two factions: a vocal, well-organized anti-casino group and a quieter pro-casino group. Longa maintains that her site, Foxboro Casino Discussion, is the only one that is neither “for’’ nor “against.’’ She describes it as “pro-information’’ and open to all polite posters.
This, she says, sets her apart from anti-casino site No Fox-Vegas for those who “are decidedly against any form of casino gambling in Foxborough,’’ according to Collin Earnst, who founded the site with his wife, Erin, on Dec. 2, the day Wynn and Kraft announced their plan.
It is a David-and-Goliath task for Longa. No Fox-Vegas has 853 Facebook friends, while Foxboro Casino Discussion - her site - has just 129.
It didn’t take long for the boxing gloves to come out, with some anti-casino folks complaining about their yard signs being stolen, and some pro-casino constituents railing about the other side’s tactics.
So where does Longa stand amid the morass? “Honestly, I don’t know yet,’’ she says. “I’m definitely open to it [a casino]. I’m not afraid of it. I feel very strongly we should see the proposal, that it would be a mistake for the community not to.’’
But Collin Earnst says that despite Longa’s assertion that it is open to all views, her site does not explore both sides of the issue. “Those that are in favor of a casino coming to town seem to have found their voice on the Casino Discussion Group,’’ he says.
Recently, Earnst posted on Longa’s site: “Can you suggest a few examples of towns similar to Foxborough that have built a casino and seen significant, measurable benefits as a direct result?’’ The question prompted four quick replies.
Anti-casino advocates posted a petition on Facebook asking Kraft to withdraw his proposal and got 1,700 signatures. Recently, Longa posted a petition to Kraft, which she says has garnered just 90 signers, asking him to provide them with the project details, “so that we can make an informed decision.’’ It concludes: “If we don’t like it, we will vote it down, but the proposal should be heard and so should our voices.’’
Immediately, she was criticized on No Fox-Vegas for her “pro-casino’’ petition, with commenters urging people to drop off her site and join theirs. One woman accused Longa of using the site for “her own personal blog.’’
Between uncivil posts and misinformation, Longa says she sometimes feels like walking away from the discussion. “But then I get a message from a friend or someone I don’t even know saying, ‘Thank you for what you are doing. I have learned so much.’ ’’
Longa came to Massachusetts after college, to visit a classmate who grew up in Lexington. She stayed and got a job at Bose in Framingham, where she met and married a Foxborough boy.
Raising a daughter, 13, and a son, 11, Longa, who is divorced, had just started her own real estate investment business when the chips hit the fan in Foxborough. She has already postponed one business trip and estimates that she’s spending two hours a day on her site, researching and posting.
Accused by some on the “anti’’ side of working for Kraft and Wynn, Longa just laughs. “I’m not working for anyone,’’ she says. “I’m a research-aholic. I just have a strong need for things to make sense, and when they don’t, I will research things like crazy until they do.’’
Longa says many of those who have signed her petition are leaning against the casino but want more facts before they decide. And she still feels there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Most of all, it is the no-good-jobs argument that disturbs her. She says she personally knows dozens of townspeople who could fill jobs ranging from waitresses and hairdressers to accountants and lawyers.
In 2003, her mother, Anne Bridge, moved to Foxborough to be closer to Longa and her grandchildren. Bridge, 67, an artist, says she is surprised by her daughter’s activism. “It’s not like her,’’ says Bridge. “She’s usually pretty shy and not political at all. It takes a lot of courage to throw yourself into the middle of a debate that is so controversial.’’
On Saturday, Longa awoke to a startling sight: another Facebook group named for hers. Foxboro Casino Discussion II was formed by the administrators of No Fox-Vegas. Collin Earnst says he had requests to start something new because “the original site had become too one-sided, and more importantly, too abusive towards anti-casino members.’’ As of yesterday, it had 50 members.
Longa says she was shocked to see a new group with the same name as hers and “can’t see any positive intention’’ in it. But on her own site, she urged followers to join. “Copying is the best form of flattery and this shows that we’ve been doing something right.’’
Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.