It’s tempting to view the race for city councilor in District 1 solely through the lens of the Suffolk Downs casino proposal in East Boston. Incumbent councilor Salvatore LaMattina favors the project, citing its potential for jobs and community benefits, including new parks. Challenger Brian Gannon, who moved his young family to East Boston three years ago, believes the casino would threaten local businesses and place unhealthy development pressures on local elected officials.
Gannon is an idealist who worries that casinos might “spoil the brand of Boston.’’ And his fresh perspective and exhaustive efforts to reach out to all corners of the community make him an intriguing candidate. Casino opponents and others eager for an outsider on the council can feel good about voting for him. But LaMattina, who was elected to the seat in 2006, has a firmer grasp on other issues, including the long-delayed development of the East Boston waterfront, for which he has been a prime mover.
LaMattina has slowly come around on the need for the council to reject a bloated contract for Boston Police officers. He is more vocal in his concerns about how the city’s unionized construction trades can drive up development costs, especially along the East Boston waterfront. LaMattina is also a strong advocate for district-wide ferry service. And he keeps a close eye on the quality of the public schools in the district, ready to intervene, if necessary.
Gannon, for his part, is an excellent example of the highly educated transplants who embrace civic life and infuse Boston with new ideas and energy. He has traveled widely in Central America — a good fit with many of the new immigrant groups in East Boston. Still, Gannon doesn’t make a compelling enough case for abandoning the more versatile LaMattina.