Metro

Steve Wynn must deal with Boston, Mayor Walsh says

Mayor strikes back at casino owner

Steve Wynn spoke to the state gambling commission at the Boston Convention Center on Jan. 22, 2014.
Globe file
Steve Wynn spoke to the state gambling commission at the Boston Convention Center on Jan. 22, 2014.

In an escalating war of words, Mayor Martin J. Walsh shot back Tuesday at gambling mogul Steve Wynn, saying that if Wynn had a problem with Walsh, then he had a problem “with the people of Boston.”

At the same time, Walsh acknowledged the possibility — although he called it unlikely — that he misunderstood when he thought Wynn had offered the city a “nine-figure” sum to resolve their dispute over a planned $1.7 billion casino in Everett.

The public squabble between the two men escalated almost two weeks ago, after Walsh told WGBH radio that he had spoken to Wynn and that the Las Vegas billionaire had offered “hundreds of millions’’ of dollars to drop the city’s legal battle over the planned casino.

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Wynn responded later that same day, telling the mayor he had made no such offer, adding to an already acrimonious relationship marked by mistrust.

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On Tuesday, Walsh sought to clarify his statements when questioned by reporters. He said that during his first conversation with Wynn, he “thought” the casino businessman had offered to make a large investment in Sullivan Square and that Wynn had “put a figure out there.”

But Wynn denied that account, and Walsh said Tuesday he might be mistaken.

“Maybe I misheard him,’’ Walsh said. “I don’t think I’d mishear something like that. But if I did, I said to Mr. Wynn on the phone, ‘If I misunderstood I apologize for that.’ ”

The mayor and Wynn have been tangled in a series of legal challenges over what Boston will get from the planned casino.

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Walsh has led an aggressive legal effort to block the Wynn project, contending the casino license was awarded by the state gambling commission as a result of a “corrupt process” and that the proposal would unduly burden residents in nearby Charlestown. The mayor has argued that Boston should be granted host community status — giving it greater authority — contending the city provides the sole access to the casino site. He said increased traffic from the casino would put Charlestown’s health and safety at risk.

Wynn, meanwhile, has threatened to sue Walsh for defamation, unless the mayor apologizes for “false statements and untrue innuendo” contained in subpoenas and other documents the city recently filed as part of its case against the gambling commission.

In a phone call with investors, Wynn expressed frustration about doing business in Massachusetts, saying, “The welcome mat seemed to be out. We just haven’t found the welcome mat yet.”

Tensions between Walsh and Wynn appeared to be easing when Wynn called the mayor during the last week of July, and they agreed to talk in person in Boston after Labor Day.

But then on July 31, Walsh told radio hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan that Wynn “threw a figure at me.” Walsh went on to describe it as a “nine-figure” sum.

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An angry Wynn denied he had ever made such an offer. But the mayor’s office was adamant then that Walsh “stands by his comments.”

On Tuesday the rhetoric grew more heated as Wynn unleashed his frustrations to Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, telling her: “I’ve had enough of Mayor Walsh.”

“I can’t negotiate with him. The man is obviously irresponsible,” Wynn said. “The mayor has to get off his butt.”

Wynn told the columnist that his brief phone conversation with Walsh did not end well and said he flatly rejected Walsh’s push for a Charlestown vote.

He said he told Walsh: “I’m told you want the citizens of Charlestown to vote. . . . That will happen over my dead body.”

The mayor then hung up, Wynn said.

Asked to respond Tuesday, Walsh said he did not want to enter into a war of words with Wynn, but he had his own biting assessment of Wynn.

“I don’t know what he means by he’s had enough of me,’’ Walsh told reporters. “But I interpret that as he’s had enough of the people of Boston, because I represent the people of Boston. And if he has a problem with the people of Boston, he better rethink as far as how he negotiates.”

Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver said Wynn’s comments were directed at the mayor and not at the citizens of Boston.

“Mr. Wynn’s entire family has roots in Revere, and he has the utmost respect and warmth for the people of Boston and Revere,’’ Weaver said in an e-mailed statement.

Walsh also denied hanging up on Wynn.

“It wasn’t a hang-up,’’ Walsh said. “It was more . . . the phone call was over at that point.”

The mayor said the intense rhetoric has done little to help the city’s main objectives.

“It’s unfortunate when you have somebody who appears to get his way a lot not getting his way and [this is] the way he responds,’’ Walsh said of Wynn.

The mayor added that he remains hopeful the discussions will continue.

“I think that . . . at some point, maybe, we can have a conversation,’’ Walsh said. “My phone is always on. I have disagreements with family members. You don’t take it personally. You move on.”

But Weaver, the Wynn spokesman, said Boston already has an agreement in place and Wynn intends to fulfill it.

He noted that Wynn is required to pay $35.9 million in Sullivan Square mitigation and improvements; $25 million in other mitigation to Boston; and $20 million in potential penalties.

Weaver stressed that the city of Boston had a chance to participate in surrounding communities’ negotiations in 2014 but refused. “We cannot now negotiate outside of the process,” he said.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.