Casino opponents gain in Foxborough
FOXBOROUGH — Casino opponents swept the town selectmen’s race on Monday in a stark public rebuke of Wynn Resorts and the casino developer’s plans to build a billion-dollar gambling resort across from Gillette Stadium.
Though the casino proposal from Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn was not on the ballot, the issue dominated the campaign, and the race came to be seen as a referendum on the project. The vote shifts the five-member board further against the project, with four selectmen opposed to the casino and just one willing to entertain more information on it.
Monday’s election was the first time local voters have weighed in on a casino proposal since Massachusetts’ expanded gambling law passed last year. The voting margins seemed to confirm academic studies that suggest casino opponents are highly motivated voters who turn out in great percentages.
Challenger Virginia M. Coppola, a former state representative and a casino opponent, was elected to the board by topping all candidates with 3,608 votes.
Voters also re-elected Selectwoman Lorraine Brue, a casino opponent and consistent critic of the proposal. She totaled 3,500 votes. Two seats were available in the contest.
“This vote was a referendum,” said Brue, after the results were revealed. “And obviously the results of this election show that the residents of Foxborough do not want a casino here.”
The election results are expected to bolster the board’s official position against the casino. Selectmen voted 3-2 in December against negotiating with Wynn over the terms under which Foxborough would agree to host a gambling resort.
The board could reconsider at any time, but that is less likely now with four members on-the-record against the proposal.
Incumbent Larry Harrington, the board’s chairman, finished with 2,610 votes, not enough to keep his seat. Though he never endorsed the casino proposal, Harrington, an executive at Raytheon, had argued that the voters deserved to hear more details from Wynn, and that the matter should eventually be decided by the entire community in a town-wide referendum.
Harrington agreed that the casino issue appeared to be the deciding factor.
“I think the townspeople spoke loudly that they don’t want a casino proposal brought forward,” said Harrington. “We accept the results.”
Longtime School Committee member Martha Slattery also did not win a position, finishing in fourth place with 2,469 votes. Like Harrington, she wanted more details on Wynn’s plans.
Wynn Resorts had insisted before the election that — no matter the result — it would continue its public campaign to try to build support for its proposal. Wynn has proposed to build the resort on land owned by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Casino opponents now plan to appeal to Kraft to consider the vote and pull his support for the project.
“I would think Mr. Kraft and Mr. Wynn would take a look at these results,” said Coppola, who won a seat.
The casino issue drove residents to the polls, in what is typically a sleepy municipal contest. Turnout Monday was 6,196, or 58 percent, of Foxborough’s registered voters. By comparison, just 1,876 participated in the town’s 2011 annual election.
Early in the day, voters such as Mary MacDonald had trouble finding parking as residents deluged the Ahern Middle School on Mechanic Street, the town’s sole polling place. MacDonald said her votes for Brue and Coppola was a direct result of her animosity toward the casino proposal.
“Under no circumstances do I want to see a casino in this town,” MacDonald said. “I have no interest in hearing Wynn’s proposal. I don’t want to be bought.”
Realtor Millie Cetrone, a 34-year resident, held a campaign sign for Harrington and Slattery throughout the day, and then waited as the votes were counted.
Cetrone was crestfallen when the numbers came in.
“I don’t think it would have mattered whose name was on the ballot,” said Cetrone. “It could have been mine. People wanted to know who was for it and who was against. It’s not fair.”
Both sides employed social media to reach people.
Wynn, one of the most prolific developers on the Las Vegas strip, revealed his plans in December to build the gambling resort. Opposition organized almost immediately, and the Board of Selectmen dealt a blow to the project by voting 3-2 in late December not to negotiate with Wynn over the terms under which the town would accept the project.
But Wynn persisted, going around the selectmen with a door-to-door campaign, and with letters and a DVD video mailed directly to some 8,000 Foxborough households. The company has said a resort casino would generate up to $15 million in tax revenue every year for the town.
A Wynn Resorts spokesman, Michael Weaver, had no comment Monday evening on the vote.
Coppola by far out-spent all other candidates, reporting more than $10,000 in campaign expenses by the end of April, a high amount for a Foxborough town election.
Brue reported raising nearly $9,700, against $5,726 in expenses.
Harrington reported spending $4,284, which came from his own pocket. He did not solicit any donations, saying he preferred to pay his own way to maintain his independence.
Slattery reported $2,150 in receipts, including a $2,000 family loan.
Now that the makeup of the new Board of Selectmen has been determined, members will meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall; one of the first orders of business is to reorganize the board.Mark Arsenault can be reached at Marsenault@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @bostonglobemark