Steve Crosby must go. Everyone knows it.
Asked whether Crosby should step down as chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission after recusing himself from its most critical pending decisions, Governor Patrick tried to leave it at his favorite answer to questions he wants to duck: “It’s politics.”
But the question is driven by more than “politics,” and Patrick knows that, too.
Pressed to expand on his response, the governor said, “the remaining question is what happens in the event of a tie, and the commission has to give you and me and everybody else a good answer to that.”
Under fire for self-created appearance problems, Crosby recused himself last week from all Greater Boston casino matters. That leaves the panel’s most pressing piece of business — giving the go-ahead to Suffolk Downs in Revere or Steve Wynn in Everett — to four remaining commission members.
A tie vote is a possibility. To avoid it, three commission members might feel pressure to rally behind Everett or Revere, which means someone might not vote their conscience.
Besides, Crosby can still wield influence even if he can’t vote. His role in the decision-making was to rate each proposal on its “wow” factor. Who’s doing that now?
Questions like that chip away at the underlying integrity of the process, which is the last thing Patrick should want.
The commission is slated to discuss the tie-vote dilemma at Thursday’s meeting, according to spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll. In the meantime, Crosby remains in charge of everything else, which isn’t much. There’s only one applicant for a license in western Massachusetts, and the competition for a license in southeastern Massachusetts is just getting underway.
The consensus on Crosby boils down to this: nice guy, tin ear.
He served in top positions for two governors and has 45 years of experience in public policy-making, nonprofit work, and academia. But somehow, despite an impressive resume, warning bells failed to go off, even as he tackled the most politically sensitive job there could be — ushering the casino industry into Massachusetts with as much integrity as possible.
The appearance problems that tripped him up were all avoidable.
All he had to do was promptly disclose his long-ago business ties to one of the owners of the Everett casino site, instead of waiting 10 months; delegate a call to Wynn to urge the casino mogul to stick with the licensing process, intead of calling Wynn himself; and celebrate Kentucky Derby day somewhere other than Suffolk Downs.
Crosby forgot the standard is not how things look in his personal rearview mirror. It’s how they look to the general public: closer and more alarming than he wants to believe.
Sure, that’s politics. But someone in a top political position, like gaming commission chairman, can’t ignore the appearance part of the job. Crosby did, and, in Patrick, he had a soul mate.
Crosby’s appointment in December 2011 was considered one of the most important of Patrick’s second term. Yet, as that second term winds down, Patrick cares less about how things look, even when they look pretty bad.
When it comes to the gaming commission, things look so bad that some gubernatorial candidates, including Democrats Steve Grossman, Martha Coakley, and Juliette Kayyem, Republican Charlie Baker, and independent Evan Falchuk, agree that Crosby should resign so the license awarding can move forward without controversy.
There’s controversy ahead, with or without a diminished Crosby at the helm. Mayor Marty Walsh is still deciding whether to go to court over the gaming commission’s decision to refuse host status to Boston. A big part of Walsh’s complaint is Crosby’s alleged bias. A decision by the Supreme Judicial Court on whether a casino law repeal question makes it to the 2014 ballot also stands to complicate an already complicated process.
The gaming commission needs five fully functioning members, who are free of conflict or the appearance of conflict.