City and State Talk Resiting

Today, Governor Ed Rendell and Mayor Michael Nutter convened a meeting with local elected representatives and Foxwoods Casino to discuss the possibility of resiting their project. Foxwoods has agreed to look at alternative sites, not on the riverfront, within the City of Philadelphia. It will be all over the news tomorrow: Daily News, Inquirer, planphilly.com. Kudos to our electeds: Mayor Nutter, Senator Vince Fumo, Representatives Mike O’Brien and Bill Keller, and Councilman Frank DiCicco. Thanks to Representative Dwight Evans and Governor Rendell too. Hell, thank you Foxwoods for opening your corporate mind a jot. But most of all, thanks to all those tough Philadelphians out there who have hung in for, literally, years. It’s a surprising turn of events in a timeline full of the constant pronouncement that the whole thing was a ‘done deal’. Of course, the fight’s not over, and SugarHouse has yet to come to any table. “Cautiously optimistic” would sum up the mood of those of us who’ve been pressing for resiting.

I was there before the meeting today. I got the Casino Free Philadelphia (CFP) email announcing another protest today since the one yesterday went so well. I didn’t think I could make it, but at the last minute I had the chance to grab my camera and go. I even parked in the garage across from City Hall; that was the fastest way to get the story and I wanted that story.
When I arrived at Dilworth Plaza I was disappointed. There were a handful of protesters around a big “Don’t Ask, Just Tell” sign. The press consisted of me and Chris Brennan of the Daily News- he made a crack about what ‘consolidation’ has come to. It was funny. Activist Debbie King asked Chris to shoot a picture of them behind the sign; he did. She wanted me to come stand with them, my compatriots in this two year slog. I said, I can’t, I’m writing about it.

As mentioned, it was not one of CFP’s better rallies. There were few protesters there. I didn’t count them. I’m sure Chris counted them. Chris is probably writing the same story today that he wrote on June 1st, 2006, after the first rally held to combat the placement of casinos in our neighborhoods without citizen input. That was the rally where residents demanded that public comment be extended past 30 days, that we be allowed to comment on finished plans, not plans the applicants kept changing, and that we be allowed to comment on ALL the plans- some of the most important aspects of the plans, like how trafffic would be handled, were not available to the public (and still aren’t available; they might not even exist). Chris focused on the small crowd in his brief coverage of that 2006 rally, he threw out a number, I forget what, maybe 80 or thereabouts. I remember him cracking that Thomas Jefferson was quoted so frequently it was like he was there. It was funny.

But I realized today that I had gone there to write the same story also, although a different story from Chris’. My same story. June 2nd 2006 I filed an article with Philadelphia Independent Media Center (www.phillyimc.org) much the same in tone and viewpoint as I’ve been writing ever since: that Philadelphia residents were disenfranchised in this process, that putting hulking slots barns on our waterfront will decimate family-friendly neighborhoods and take away the waterfront from the people who live here, from the city, in fact, and turn it into a machine for the state. A money-sucking machine, transferring our local wealth to the state budget. I’ve been against casinos in neighborhoods and against them on the waterfront since day one. But back on day one, no one was covering the opposition. Well, that’s not true, Chris was.
I caught Senator Fumo on video before he headed into the meeting. The man is poised. I cannot help but admire the way in which he’s legitimately used his power over the years. There was bad news for him and his upcoming trial splashed all over the front page of the Daily News today, but the Senator was cool and collected, focused on the task at hand. Fumo spoke of his determination to help broker the resiting of these two casinos away from neighborhoods and away from our Delaware waterfront. Nutter, O’Brien and Keller are of the same mind. Rendell and the casino operators, on the other hand, do not yet see that resiting is also in their best interest. They spent the last week lowering expectations for today.
I also know the press can count the protesters and use that to prove their position that the opposition is thinning, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that citizens realize that this situation is in the hands now of our elected officials. Back in 2006, not a one of them had any thought to try to intervene in this process. In 2008 the story is quite different. So– you can say, oh, there’re only X number of protesters here today, in the middle of the day in a workweek at the dead end of summer, but that leaves out the volume of protesters over time at other rallies, at endlessly long Council hearings, at weekly meetings, every single week of the year, for years.
When I saw Representative Mike O’Brien walk into the meeting, I was glad. There’s no one who has fought harder in Harrisburg on behalf of his constituents than O’Brien. He brings valuable insight to the table. Keller’s no slouch, mind you, but O’Brien’s my district Representative and I know him better. But seeing him there also made me realize I have no place either at the protest or covering the event as an “impartial” reporter. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with the Representative and other officials on this issue as a citizen advocate for resiting, you could say ‘lobbying’ for it. So, you see, on this issue, I’m not at all impartial.
I’ve spent a whole lot of time studying casinos in general, national trends. I’m familiar with all the arguments the “gaming” industry makes to state legislatures to persuade them to expand gambling; they are ALL the same. Other, border states are doing it so here’s where you can recoup that money that’s flying out. It’ll solve your budget problems. It’s a great form of economic development. It’s about entertainment. It’s about jobs and revenue. In other words, it’s a numbers story.
I’m familiar with the ins and outs of the way Pennsylvania has rolled out casino gambling throughout the state and agree with the words of University of Massachusetts gaming expert Clyde Barrow, “I think it’s an example of how not to do it”. Finally, I spent weeks down in the subways of Philadelphia in Winter ’07, talking to Philadelphians from every neighborhood and gathering signatures to get a referendum on the ballot so citizens could return some democracy to the debate. Those are the numbers the press will never see to count, but I know them and put faces to them. Though it was legally disputed, though our State Supreme Court stripped the referendum from our ballot, I was part of a continuous, monumental effort by more than a hundred volunteers in the dead of winter that proved to me that not only did thousands of Philadelphians want better government, and better decisions, they deserve them.
Today, if Chris’ story is the same as usual in terms of tone, he will talk of the investment of the casino operators, how it’s just hard-headed common and legal sense that they can’t, won’t, and don’t even have to move. My story will be my usual story: we residents of Philadelphia are here, we demand a say in how our city is developed, we don’t want casinos in neighborhoods, for all sorts of really good reasons. Chris’ will be ‘objective journalism’ because he will grab the quotes following the meeting. Mine, I decided on the way home, hadn’t a prayer of being objective.
2008-08-20 17:00:00

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