It would have been easier for state Representative Dan Ryan, who lives a mile from Steve Wynn’s planned $1.7 billion casino, to join Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s war against the Las Vegas mogul.
But that’s not the kind of guy Ryan is. That’s not why the people of Charlestown — where the Democrat was born and raised — elected him. It’s about making tough decisions, which is why this townie is taking what is considered an unpopular position in his hometown and is supporting Wynn’s casino in Everett.
In a blunt, six-page letter sent to state officials last week, Ryan presents his case that the casino is Charlestown’s best shot at fixing the traffic problems that have dogged Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue, or what he describes as a “concrete quagmire” and a “transportation no man’s land.”
“Let’s just be honest,” Ryan writes. “If there was a willingness by state and municipal government as well as their various planning agencies to address this area of the world in the last forty years it would have happened. It has not.”
The rookie legislator sent the letter — which reads more like a manifesto — to Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton as part of a public comment period. Beaton is expected to decide on Friday whether to issue a crucial environmental permit that would allow Wynn to break ground.
Ryan doesn’t think Wynn’s proposal to fix Charlestown roads is perfect — more works needs to be done. But he goes on to say that all of the handwringing over the casino — namely concerns about the congestion the project might create — is misguided.
“In some cases, I believe Wynn Resorts is being asked to address and mitigate many traffic and environmental concerns that are not of their doing and are not casino related,” Ryan writes.
That line could have been written for Attorney General Maura Healey, another Charlestown resident who made public her own 15-page letter asking the state to deny Wynn a permit until he comes up with a long-term solution to the traffic problems.
Ryan’s position puts him at odds with Walsh, who has filed a lawsuit to stop Wynn’s casino, alleging that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission rigged the process in Wynn’s favor. The mayor seemingly has gone out of his way to pick a fight with the billionaire — not only refusing the first $1 million check Wynn is obligated to pay as part of his mitigation package, but also fueling a public “he said, he said” spat.
So how is the state rep’s relationship with the mayor these days?
In an interview Tuesday, Ryan told me he voted for the mayor and his opinion of him has not changed. The legislator gets why Walsh is playing hardball — he wants to make sure that Charlestown has a voice on the sprawling gambling palace going up in Everett.
“If I was to get into a street fight, he’s the guy I want in my corner,” Ryan said. “The next question is: When does the fight end and what’s the end game?”
Time is running out for Walsh. The state could issue an environmental permit as soon as Friday. Traffic has been one of the major hurdles, but Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack recently deemed that her agency could work with Wynn’s traffic plan.
Ryan hesitates to give the mayor advice on what to do now. But he does know this about street fights: “At what point do you look at the odds and say time to jump in a cab and get out of here?”
While the 47-year-old Ryan is a newly elected official, he is no stranger to politics. He spent 14 years working for US Representative Mike Capuano before running for office last year. During the campaign, Ryan backed legalized gaming but did not come out in support of either the Wynn project or the Mohegan Sun casino at Suffolk Downs, which at the time were vying for the gaming license earmarked for Greater Boston.
“Now that there is [a casino] one mile from my house, I am not going to turn around and say, ‘No, we don’t want it anymore,’ ” said Ryan. “I’d rather be wrong than be a hypocrite.”
Mayor Walsh should take notes. Better yet, he should do what Ryan is doing. Accept that he can’t stop the casino next door, but he can do a whole lot to have Wynn make Charlestown a better place to live — and navigate.
Ryan’s response is exactly what the residents of Charlestown need, and what they should have gotten from the mayor of Boston.