Suffolk County district attorney and Boston mayoral candidate Daniel F. Conley on Saturday doubled-down on his calls for a citywide vote on a proposed casino in East Boston and sharply criticized the city councilors running against him for not holding community hearings on the issue.
But despite his repeated calls for a citywide vote, council members continued to stand by their decision to allow East Boston residents exclusively to decide if their community becomes home to casino gambling.
“The Boston City Council continues to play a game of avoidance when it comes to the question of whether the vote on the proposed casino should be limited to East Boston or take place citywide,” Conley said in a statement. “Not only is the council unwilling to vote on the matter but has refused to hold even one hearing.”
According to state law, the casino vote will be restricted to East Boston residents unless the council and Mayor Thomas M. Menino take action to change that.
“The council’s strategy is clear — hide behind a cleverly crafted state law,” Conley said. “This is shameful for the members of the council and especially those who aspire to be called citywide leaders.”
The bulk of the council’s 13 members have argued that the casino issue is one of district zoning and that only residents of East Boston should cast ballots. All five of the mayoral candidates who are current council members favor an East Boston-only vote.
“I don’t believe that my vote should be as weighted as the people who are living a block away from where the casino would be,” said council president Stephen Murphy, a Hyde Park resident who is not running for mayor.
He characterized the push by some mayoral candidates for a citywide vote as a political stunt. “I’m sorry that this political silly season is upon us,” he said.
The five city councilors who are running for mayor each told the Globe on Saturday that they stand by their positions that East Boston residents — not the city as a whole — should have final say in whether the community will get a casino.
Most of the candidates chose to not engage Conley when contacted by the Globe on Saturday,with Felix Arroyo, John R. Connolly, Rob Consalvo, and Charles Yancey declining to issue statements or give comments in response to his latest statement.
Councilor Mike Ross reiterated his opposition to casino gambling and his stand that East Boston residents should be the ones who decide.
“State law says casino gambling is coming to Eastern Massachusetts,” Ross said. “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 and mitigation revenue to fund critical priorities like early childhood education, job training, and programs that offset the negative effects.”
Meanwhile, state Senator Anthony Petruccelli, a supporter of Consalvo’s mayoral campaign and one of the authors of the state law in question, said Conley’s calls for a citywide vote are “political pandering.”
“I know, I like, and respect the district attorney, but if he was so passionate about this issue why was he silent when me and my colleagues debated the language of the referendum in the Legislature,” Petruccelli said. “Now that he’s a candidate for mayor, he seems like he’s just trying to score political points.”
Saturday’s statement was not the first time Conley has called for both council hearings and a citywide vote. He and Codman Square Health Center founder Bill Walczak are the two candidates most vocally opposed to casino gambling of the dozen running for mayor.
In May, Conley wrote a letter to the City Council calling on the council to hold hearings on the proposed casino and whether or not residents believed the vote should be expanded citywide.
At the time, Murphy said the calls for a citywide vote were thinly veiled efforts to try and stop the construction of a casino in Boston.
“The East Boston community is geographically separate from the rest of the city by tunnel or bridge,” Murphy wrote to Conley in May. “To suggest that I and my Hyde Park neighbors or you and your West Roxbury neighbors would be impacted by the development that is 12 miles from your house and 15 miles from mine is ludicrous.”