Friday, March 21, 2008

Top Cops and One Armed Bandits...

Well the last 24 hours have been a hell of a time in the Commonwealth and Springfield.

The Springfield Finance Control Board Police Commissioner Search Committee (ah, bureaucracy) has selected a very unlikely, unexpected, and, un-local...William Fitchet. Sorry 'bout the sarcasm.

Yes, the Search Committee recommended Deputy Chief and Acting Comissioner William Fitchet to lead the city's police force following the untimely career move of Springfield's first Police Commissioner, Edward Flynn. The selection was not a surprise. Mayor Domenic Sarno and his predecessor both expressed a preference for Fitchet. Indeed, former Mayor Ryan supported choosing Fitchett immediately following Flynn's departure as he was runner up in the original search.

While this search was shorter and more expedited than the first search, it still yielded the result everybody wanted, but required a 5-6 month period of uncertainty in Police leadership. Luckily, Fitchet was running the show as Acting Commissioner, a job he held during the gap between Former Police Chief Paula Meara and Edward Flynn. Still, one cannot help but think that the entire endeavor was a waste.

When the Control Board voted in late 2007 to start a new search, the support was only among the state appointed members. Both Ryan and then-City Council President Kateri Walsh voted against a new search and in favor of making Fitchet Commissioner. WMassP&I speculated at the time that the state members, Nunes, Morton, and Gabrieli were following orders from Gov. Deval Patrick. A new search, even if it effectively selected the runner-up of the previous search, would make whomever was selected de-Romneyfied. The first search was of course conducted under the aegis of Romeny's appointees to the board.

It is possible that the board members, not Gov. Patrick, were responsible for this just the same. It is not clear how much autonomy they have and they may have felt a new search was necessary.

In any event, despite the gap in time, the search yielded a candidate with an impressive resume and very local ties. It is hard to say at this point given what plans Sarno has both in terms of public safety and economic development. These points will follow how crime thrives in the city. Whatever that outcome, it is clear that Springfield's Finest will be lead by one of their own and a dedicated public servant.

Now onto Beacon Hill where the races were on in full force. Coming round the bend was DiMasi, outflanking Patrick in the final turn. DiMasi's pulling ahead. The gap is widening and across the finish line its...its...DiMasi with room to spare!

Yes, for those living under a rock, Casino Gambling will not come to the Bay State this session. Its death before this Legislature will mar its chances in the future. Be forewarned, however, the gaming industry has incredibly power and might and will stop at nothing to break in.

Although WMassP&I opposes the introduction of casinos, especially near Urban Areas (Chicopee, Suffolk Downs), it does feel that a fair compromise would exist in permitting gambling only on Indian Reservations. Slots may become a reality under a 1980's federal law, which allows slots on Indian-owned land put into trust. Such an arrangement deprives the state of revenue from the slots.

A number of legislators were uneasy about casinos from the beginning. Liberals, a core group of Gov. Patrick's electoral victory, were very disillusioned for two reasons. Most dislike the use of gambling as a revenue source, citing its societal ills. Second, the gaming industry is special interests galore, a thing Patrick had campaigned against. Some wanted provisions that would have limited comping, or offering free food and hotel stays. The gaming industry sees these are sacrosanct, because their money is on the gaming floor. However, comping would yield no tax revenue in lodging or meals taxes and take people away from other off-resort establishments. Hence anti-gambling advocates had an unlikely, yet also power ally on their side, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

Some have speculated that this event, orchestrated largely by Speaker Sal DiMasi, will weaken him. Now he has to offer concessions to Gov. Patrick so as not to appear to be an SOB. However, where some have cited concessions, are in fact areas of agreement. DiMasi remains unmoving on local options taxes and pushed for a quid pro quo on Patrick's business tax tightening.

The same articles said it was important not count Patrick out. This is true. Patrick retains popular support in a lot of areas. However, with budget crunches looming, with or without casino money, he will face tough choices and a rocky few years to come.

*Fitchet photo from Urban Compass

No comments: