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Meetings aside, little support found for plan

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / December 29, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - The “casiNO’’ signs scattered through town are in some places as common as telephone poles. But their procasino counterparts seem to appear only at meetings, planted in few if any yards.

Chris Bartick grabbed one of those “JOBS YES’’ signs when a supporter was handing them out. But when he got home, the bartender and laid-off construction worker merely stashed it on his porch.

“I’m waiting to see if there’s any of my neighbors that want to rally around me before I put it out,’’ said Bartick, 40, a lifelong Foxborough resident, counting himself among those who believe that a casino would bring more good than harm. “They’re out there, but they’re being quiet about it.’’

Away from the emotionally charged meetings that have drawn hundreds to Foxborough High School, residents interviewed yesterday said the debate has been civil, quiet, and, well, not much of a debate. Vocal supporters of the casino proposal are hard to find in this town of nearly 17,000.

Some said they knew no one who supports the casino plan; others knew only one or two. And even then, they said, that support often amounts less to wholehearted endorsement than to a desire to learn more before dismissing a plan that could bring tax relief to the community.

Town selectmen voted 3 to 2 Tuesday in an early blow to the still-emerging casino plan pitched by Las Vegas magnate Steve Wynn for land held by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Selectmen declared themselves unwilling to negotiate the details of a development that would ultimately need the support of a townwide referendum to succeed.

“I don’t know where the people are that want it,’’ said Lori Dunbar, 43, a resident and the owner of the Pawsmopolitan pet boutique, opposite the town common. The nascent casino proposal has been a frequent subject of discussion among her customers, mostly parents with school-age children, but not one has favored it.

Carpenter Mike Lynch said he has encountered just one friend so far who thought the casino was worth exploring. “He thought it would bring a lot of work to the town,’’ Lynch, 62, said as he left Spoodles Soup Factory, a downtown lunch spot. Their debate did not last long.

“Bring work to the town?’’ Lynch said, scoffing in a cheerful Irish brogue. “Yeah, minimum-wage jobs.’’

At nearby Loewen’s Deli, a middle-aged couple waiting for takeout acknowledged their own casino support, something they had not, to that point, shared with anyone other than family, assuming that most were opposed.

“I just like the tax benefits,’’ said Nick DiMartino, who works at a car dealership. “That’s basically it.’’ His wife, Debbie, who works for an internist, agreed, but not before kidding him about outing them as casino supporters.

“Now, we’re in trouble,’’ she laughed, shooting him a look.

Dan Flynn, chairman of the procasino group Jobs for Foxboro, said he has been greeted away from meetings with a mix of support and hostility. After a recent Mass at St. Mary’s Church, Flynn received a few thumbs up when he returned from taking communion but also garnered some dirty looks, he said.

“Then when I was walking out to my car, a group of guys a little younger than me spat on the ground, and I could hear them mumbling,’’ said Flynn, 52, a carpenter and union representative who wants the full proposal to go to a town vote. “The people that are against it - oh, my God, they’re blood-thirsty about it. I’m not going to be blood-thirsty about anything other than my rights.’’

But others said they have seen nothing like that, aside from the few public meetings on the subject, when the rhetoric has been pitched.

Steve and Lynne Powers have split their attendance at those meetings, one staying home with their two young daughters, the other texting updates

“It’s certainly become a very contentious and emotionally charged issue,’’ said Lynne, 45, a Foxborough native who works in marketing. “Everybody is very well intentioned in their positions, but the positions are just so far apart that it’s becoming very divided.’’

Still, the strain seemed to be showing only on the major players in the matter. Selectman Mark Sullivan, seen as the board’s swing vote, said at the meeting that the pressure he felt was so great that it spoiled his Christmas and prompted him to hide his phone to avoid the calls.

Lynne Powers said her friends all oppose the casino, so there has not been much to debate outside of meetings.

And Steve Powers, 55, a self-employed construction worker, said it was not until this week that he discovered he had two relatives who support the casino, an unemployed couple in their 60s, when one stopped by the house.

“She knows it’s not the best thing for the town, but [they] are looking at it like, ‘I need a job,’ ’’ said Steve, taking a break from building the stairwell and deck that would finally allow him and his wife to rent the apartment above their Main Street home. “After she left, I think we had her voting against it.’’

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.

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