Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Really Happened to the Foxboro Casino

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on May 11, 2012

In March when discussing the political situation in Foxboro, I wrote the following:

“The basic premise of successful campaigning is: If you can frame the question to be discussed, your side usually wins. Controlling the topic is often more important than winning the actual debate. This clearly applies in Foxboro, where the upcoming local election will be viewed as an early referendum on the volatile casino issue. Candidates for selectmen are going to be identified as anti-casino or pro-casino. And that is exactly how the anti-casino folks want it.”

Steve Wynn and Bob Kraft have a lot of influence, but they failed to use it wisely with regard to the recent Foxboro election. They had said the results would make no difference in their casino plans. But the truth is there will likely never be a casino in Foxboro, largely because the savvy Wynn/Kraft folks got beaten like a drum – politically speaking – by ordinary citizens who knew how to do what they obviously did not: Run an effective local campaign in this area.

Despite claims to the contrary by everyone except the anti-casino groups, this week’s election was all about the casino. With all due respect to the four talented candidates, their qualifications played little to no part in the process. All that mattered was their stance on the casino. Were they in favor of listening, or were they opposed? As the similarity in vote totals for the winning and losing candidates proves, voters cast their ballots for a “team” far more often than they chose an individual.

The Kraft/Wynn people needed to make this election about voters being allowed to choose their own future. They needed to convince Foxboro citizens their right to make a final and informed decision on a casino was being hijacked by their board of selectmen. The focus should have been almost exclusively on the “ability to vote” issue and how citizens were in effect not being trusted, how selectmen seemed afraid Wynn/Kraft would somehow bedazzle them and snooker the poor ordinary masses into making the “wrong” choice.

But they didn’t. Instead they sent out mailings showing what their project would look like. They formed a group called “Jobs for Foxboro”, which simply was the wrong tool at the wrong time. They were busy working on the second part of the project, and neglected the first and most important – getting the board to agree to negotiate.

So while they talked about jobs and economic growth, their opponents were cutting them off at the pass, just like in those old TV westerns. Anti-casino folks didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time disputing the job claims, or the revenue figures, or the traffic projections. Instead they focused like a laser beam on stopping the project before it could even get started. They recognized the tremendous pressure they could bring on local officials. They were playing checkers while the Kraft/Wynn organizations were trying to playing chess.

In essence, Foxboro voters turned out in record numbers to elect people who campaigned on a platform of not letting their fellow citizens vote on arguably the most important issue in the town’s history. Anti-casino folks did a great job of making it seem like preventing the town from even negotiating was protecting it from the dangers of casino gambling and the many evils they associated with it – all while the proponents talked about jobs, revenue, and other things that just weren’t relevant to the “let them vote” issue.

There seemed to be a split between the Kraft organization and the Wynn group towards the end. They did not use their collective abilities together in the most effective manner. While the anti-casino crowd deserves tremendous political credit, the Kraft and Wynn organizations also deserve their fate because they insisted on fighting the wrong battle at the wrong time.

Foxboro residents should be concerned that their government thinks it is so much smarter than they are. Those who rode the anti-casino platform to victory now must prove they didn’t kill the golden goose and must solve Foxboro’s many ongoing problems. And as for the Wynn and Kraft organizations, when the autopsy on this campaign is complete, it will show their side was done in mainly due to self-inflicted wounds.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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