Over the past weekend, I went to Open Stage Media’s Video on Demand page to find the video of the June 9th Meeting of the Schenectady City Council. That was, of course, the meeting where over 80 people signed up to use the Privilege of the Floor for a chance to tell the Council (in three minutes or less) what they thought about Item #4 on its Legislative Agenda: the resolution to approve of the application for a casino in Schenectady. I had heard so much about the presentation of Rev. Sara Baron, pastor of The First United Methodist Church Schenectady, that I wanted to see it for myself. [Although present for the Council Meeting, I was out in the hallway getting quite a few anti-casino signatures, as well as some water and fresher air, at the time Rev. Baron was at the podium, so I missed her.]
The new fans Sara Baron made that night were right. Her words — and especially a number of questions that she asked those in attendance — were important and telling. You see, those of us against the casino were unpleasantly surprised to discover that long before the Meeting was to start at 7 P.M., folks with big “Yes!” stickers on their chests and toting coordinated blue signs had filled more than half the seats. Given the brawny size of many of the men squeezed into the pews, it looked like the local construction unions and contractors had gotten out the rank and file. And, the long, parade-like line of fresh young faces that also arrived early seemed to be SCCC and cosmetology students.
Since it is no secret that the men representing the casino applicants were not Schenectadians, we naturally wondered just how many of those in the impressively large “Casino Yes” crowd actually came from Schenectady.
Rev. Baron’s questions helped give us the answer. In the following collage you can see two of her “show of hands” questions and their answers (click on the image for a larger version), as she attempts to find out how many of those for and against the casino live in Schenectady:
– above: within view of the Open State Media, 8 casino opponents indicate they live in Schenectady, but only one casino supporter – Rev. Baron’s 3-minute statement to the Council begins 104 minutes into the June 9, 2014 video –
As you can see from the top left photo of the collage, the Open Stage Media camera was not able to show the entire audience section of the Council Chambers when it focused on the podium. I wish it had, because the video fails to show the sea of construction workers and other casino supporters whose hands stayed down when asked if they lived in Schenectady. Nonetheless, the slice of the audience shown is, I believe, representative of the full assemblage.
- Here’s how Mike Hendricks, Editor-in-chief of Albany Business Review, described Rev. Baron’s presentation, in a Viewpoint column called “Computer chips or poker chips” (June 16, 2014):
“The room was filled mostly with people waving blue “Yes” signs. But when Sara Baron, the pastor of the First Schenectady Methodist Church, had her turn to speak she asked everyone to put their signs down. With her back to the crowd she asked a series of questions of the audience. Were they here to discuss the casino? Did they support the casino? Her last question asked for those opposed to the casino, and who were residents of the city, to raise their hands. For all the people waving “Yes” signs and speaking in favor of the casino, the sentiment in the room among those who actually live in the city was anti-casino.
“The Rev. Baron then asked the council to table the motion to provide more time to get a sense for community sentiment. Then she laughed and said she was too realistic and knew they wouldn’t delay the vote.
“That moment highlighted some of the divisions the Cuomo’s casino issue creates.”
In the column, Hendricks also writes about a tour he had of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Saratoga County, where he was amazed. He then moves into the poker chip portion of the piece, where he notes that “While his father gave northern New York a prison economy, this Cuomo is pushing casinos as job creators upstate.” And, “While the chip plant was a local initiative, the casinos are coming from the top down. Cuomo decided”.
It is perhaps no surprise that a far larger portion of the people against the casino were Schenectady residents than were those supporting the casino. Of course, it’s not inappropriate for those hoping to receive jobs during either the construction stage or the operating stage of the casino, or those hoping to get rich(er) from the casino, to voice their support. But, it is important to keep in mind that the appearance of a significant majority in Schenectady supporting the casino based on the audience at the Council Meeting is as misleading as the appearance of there being a true majority on the Council itself fully supporting the application based on their 5-2 vote that evening. In both cases, individuals took the position their “boss” wanted them to take, or the position that seemed to be dictated by the promised gold to be found in future casino treasure chests.
NIMBY v. PITY. As with many of the biggest and most powerful proponents of casinos in Massachusetts (see the NIMBY page at Repeal the Casino Deal), it is a lot easier to support a Schenectady casino when it is not in your own backyard. With a project as socially toxic as a casino, NIMBYism is both natural and healthy. Unfortunately, the hypocritical version of NIMBYism that I call PITYism — Put It in Their Yard — might be “natural” for those who hope to gain financially from a casino, but it is unhealthy for the community as a whole. I have to wonder how the construction workers and SCCC students would feel about having a casino in Schenectady, if they lived here and did not expect to get a casino-related job.
After watching the portion of the Meeting video just prior to Rev. Baron’s presentation, I’d like to make two further points:
1. One gentleman casino supporter (from Rotterdam) voiced his amazement that the “nay-sayers” could oppose a project that would turn what has been a brownfield eyesore into a beautiful casino facility. That is, of course, a false choice. He could not possibly mean that anything is better than the ALCO brownfield. More to the point, we know that the Galesi Group had planned to go forward with its $150 million Mohawk Harbor Marina project before there was any notion of a casino taking up the rest of the ALCO land. See this Albany Business Review article from Nov. 6, 2013, and “Galesi Group unveils $150M-plus ‘Mohawk Harbor’ in Schenectady” (Albany Business Journal, April 3, 2014). Savvy Mssrs. Galesi and Buicko would not spend $150 million on a hotel, condos, etc., and leave the rest of the ALCO eyesore next door. Removing any old factory remnants and planting a nice lawn would be the least we’d expect for that brownfield.
In addition, the same gentleman had an ironic slip of the tongue. He quoted our currency and Tony Danza for the phrase “e pluribus union.”, saying it meant “we are all one.” Given that crowd on June 9, “we are all union” might not have been far off. (Of course, “e pluribus unum” means “from the many one”, referring to the many states becoming one nation.) He stated the hope that, all being one, even the naysayers will come and gamble at the casino once it is built. How open-minded.
2. A young woman supporting the casino identified herself as an SCCC student, saying having the casino would fulfill her dream of working in the gaming industry without leaving Schenectady. Whatever we might think of that dream, it seems that East Greenbush, or Rensselaer, or even Howe’s Cavern would make a comfortable commute from Schenectady, allowing her to work in her chosen field without bringing the problems of an urban casino to her beloved Schenectady.
She ended her comments to the Council by saying that we should not be concerned about people gambling too much, as every individual must take responsibility for his or her own choices. Yes, we do have to take responsibility for our choices and actions, but we also should be concerned not merely for the effects of gambling addiction and debt on the gambler, but also on his or her children and family. Furthermore, if problem gamblers with easy access to a Schenectady casino multiply in Schenectady or the County, our whole community will voluntarily or not end up being responsible for feeding and sheltering many families, and protecting many victims of domestic violence.