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Yvonne Abraham

Charlestown calling on Lady Luck

With Charlestown across the Mystic River, the impact of Everett’s casino is bound to bleed into Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Poor Charlestown.

A whopping 70 percent of the neighborhood’s voters cast ballots to repeal the casino law on Tuesday, so bitterly opposed are residents to the palace of chance planned for Everett, right on their doorstep.

Snake eyes, folks! You’re getting that casino anyway.

Every other place that rose up against casinos in their midsts got what they wanted: Residents of Foxborough and West Springfield, among others, all succeeded in chasing them off. East Boston, where voters were also vehemently opposed to a casino but ignored, lucked out when the state gambling commission chose Steve Wynn over Suffolk Downs.

Only Charlestown is having a casino forced upon them. Sure, the glitzy project is technically in Everett. But it’s awfully close to the city line, close enough that many of the attendant headaches, and particularly the traffic, will bleed into this part of Boston.


The thing that hurts most? Some of the very towns that said fie upon casinos in their own communities voted overwhelmingly to inflict one upon others.

Where is your empathy, Milford? Ivey St John would like to know.

“I was prepared for a loss,” said the activist who has been trying to hold back the traffic woes the casino will bring to Charlestown. But “we felt betrayed by those people,” she said sadly.

Well, she and her compatriots are stuck with Wynn now. And so is Sullivan Square, the treacherous circus of dysfunction that will in a couple of years be handling thousands of the cars headed for the gambling giant off Route 99. The intersection has long been a nightmare, almost impossible for motorists to negotiate safely or sanely, a life-or-death proposition for walkers and cyclists.

For at least 15 years, locals have been working on a plan to make it over. A proposal had finally taken shape that would turn the traffic circle of hell into a neat grid, freeing up land for development and green space.


But that plan does not take account of the thousands of extra casino-related cars that will be using the roads during peak times.

So now what?

The clock is ticking. The Wynn casino is slated to open in late 2017, so everybody with the power to help that part of Charlestown has to find the urgency they haven’t mustered before.

The city must mend its relationship with Wynn. The late mayor Tom Menino put all of his eggs in Suffolk Downs’ basket and did not pay the Everett project much mind. His successor Marty Walsh has hardly done better, having been locked in a series of disputes with the gambling commission since he took office.

“Unfortunately, I came into this game at the end of the third quarter,” said the mayor. “A lot of these negotiations probably should have happened before January 6.”

Instead, it was the commission that extracted a benefits package from the Everett casino. It includes $1.6 million in annual payments to Boston, $6 million for short-term fixes for Sullivan Square, $25 million toward the $100 million-plus cost of transforming it permanently, and fines if their traffic exceeds targets.

Walsh wants more and told Wynn so when they met at the Parkman House recently. “He knows I’m going to be tough,” Walsh said. “I told him I’m not going to lie down for them.” The mayor has some leverage. Wynn needs permits from the city to move forward. And approvals from the state. What happens at Sullivan Square will be a test for the new mayor, not to mention the new governor.


“Perhaps the casino is the event that gets people really focused,” says former state transportation secretary Rich Davey.

Perhaps. But what should really be focusing people is the fact that a neighborhood that overwhelmingly rejected a casino is getting stuck with one anyway.

Charlestown is long overdue for a win.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com