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Mayor’s Corner: Gilbert lashes LePage over casino loss

Gilbert says Governor did an 11th hour about face on Casino Questions

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

It is Sunday afternoon as I sit here writing this column. I know not what the results of Tuesday’s election will have been.

Just a few weeks ago, knowing that I was supporting a Lewiston Casino, I was asked by the local investors in the casino to be the spokesperson for the political action committee called “The People of Lewiston-Auburn Committee.” In full disclosure, I agreed to do so for not a single penny of pay before, during and after the election; or for any promises of any amount if the casino were to become a reality. Nothing was offered for any of these elements I just mentioned.

I don’t do this work for money. Money for me is simply a necessity for living: as long as I am living a comfortable life, as I am currently, I am happy.

The reason I agreed to be the spokesperson for the Yes on Question 3 campaign, is because 66% of Lewiston residents who voted last year wanted to have a casino in Bates Mill No. 5. This was also supported by the Lewiston City Council and the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. It means jobs (both short and long term) and economic development in our downtown.

On last Thursday evening I receive a call at 9:12 p.m. from a Portland Press Herald reporter as I was watching a hockey game on TV. He reported to me that earlier in the day in Waterville, Governor LePage had said that the State of Maine couldn’t sustain five casinos. He wanted to know what I had to say about that, since earlier on the governor had said that he would let the voters decide the fate of the casino initiatives, a reversal of his earlier statements.

Responding for myself, I said I smell a rat. I found it strange that the governor would make such a statement at the eleventh hour of a campaign process that no doubt could affect the outcome of the election.

The reason I smelled a rat was that Severin Beliveau, a lobbyist lawyer and partner of the firm Preti, Flaherty, Pacios and Beliveau, has unfettered access to the governor’s office, and he supported Governor LePage, all the while representing Black Bear Entertainment, which is the Oxford Casino group. Those were the dots in my mind that caused me to say, “I smell a rat here.” I know full well that Severin Beliveau has a close association with the governor.

I also mentioned to the reporter that I thought the governor had put up a sign “Open for Business.” I said these casinos are businesses that bring jobs and economic development to the state. We don’t say how many Home Depot stores we have; consequently, we don’t say we can’t have competing Lowes stores because we have too many Home Depots. These are businesses, and the market determines their success as business ventures. The same applies to casinos. If there should happen to be too many, the market would determine their success.

It has been clearly obvious that the casinos of Oxford and Bangor have been fighting vigorously to keep the other casino questions from passing. It is obvious that they want a monopoly. That certainly is their prerogative.

The governor, rather than responding to reporters directly on my saying “I smell a rat,” chose to speak through his press secretary with the following statement: “I have a degree in finance and economics and I do not see how five casinos in Maine can be sustained. We have a population of 1.3 million and we earn 82% of the national average per capita income. Connecticut has 3.5 million people and they can barely support two casinos. I don’t see how the state can sustain five casinos. Mayor Gilbert’s accusations are a bold face lie. I do not gamble. The only gambling I do is I get up in the morning and go to work and hope I get home safely. That’s my biggest gamble.”

Well, governor, I never accused anyone. I merely pointed to dots and I didn’t connect them. I said I smell a rat, and I still do. So don’t accuse me of being a liar when I am not.

As for having a degree, I too have one, and it is in the Administration of Justice. As for gambling, I do. Here is the extent of it: I spent $15 in the machines during one week in Las Vegas, and I buy one State of Maine Megabucks ticket weekly and a Powerball ticket when I think of it.

Everything I said was true: the governor does have a close relationship with Severin Beliveau, who has also represented the Oxford Casino, as he told me himself when he called me snooping around last year asking how the Lewiston Casino question was going with Lewiston voters. I told him it would win by a 2-1 margin, which it did. He has supported LePage for governor. The governor had said he would let the voters decide the questions on the casinos. Those were the dots, and it was up to the readers if they chose to connect them or not. But they are the dots.

The governor should turn that accusatory finger that he pointed to me and turn it right back at himself, which is where it should be. I don’t take being called a liar lightly by anyone, including the governor!

By the way, using Connecticut as an example in trying to say that this state can hardly support two casinos is truly deceptive as a comparison. One of the two casinos there is Foxwoods, the largest casino in the world. The other one is Mohegan Sun. Fifty Maine casinos wouldn’t even compare to one Foxwoods. Why not use New Mexico as a comparison, where there are over 30 casinos with a population of 2 million. Somehow, they are being sustained. This in and of itself discredits the governor’s statement.

Let me point to a couple more dots that I didn’t point to last Thursday evening. J. Peter Martin, the spokesperson and another lobbyist for the Oxford Casino who worked hard against the Biddeford and Lewiston Casino initiatives at the legislature, is another close associate of the governor. They are friends.

As a matter of fact, according to ballotpedia.org and other news outlets, in late April 2010 the Maine Ethics Commission ruled that an advocate for the Oxford County Casino Initiative violated the state’s lobbying and campaign laws. According to reports, Peter Martin failed to register as a lobbyist and failed to disclose a $50,000 payment from Black Bear Entertainment, a company supporting the casino.

Also, not only J. Peter Martin but also some principals in the Oxford Casino, such as Stephen Barber, Mary Barber, Robert Bahre, Gary Bahre, James Boldebook, Suzanne Grover, Rupert Grover, Jr., Robert W. Lally, Jr. and Tony Palminteri, were not only contributors to the Black Bear Entertainment Political Action Committee, but were also contributors to the governor’s campaign. Simply more dots here!

In doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect them. As an example, here is an email I received from a gentleman I have never met, who lives a good 30 miles from Lewiston. I called him and received his permission this morning to use his e-mail in my column. Here it is:

“Mayor Laurent F. Gilbert, I’m writing to let you know that your feelings have been going through more than just you. I remember the Governor saying he would stand aside and let the people of Maine Vote and respect their decision. Now on the 11th hour he is doing the same as he did to control the House and Senate by saying no matter what they voted he would veto it. Now he’s protecting his [butt] by his speech yesterday (Friday). Control by power. Why is it that there is one guy that’s always at his speeches and had open door access to the office. Good luck and we can all do what we feel is right and fair. Ronald Ponziani. I make my living working with dirt and rocks, and I smell a ‘rat’.”

Reading Mr. Ponziani’s e-mail reminded me that when it was questionable if the legislature would pass the casino initiative, the governor had said that it didn’t matter what they did, he would veto their passage. In the end, they decided to let the questions go to the voters and the governor said he would let the voters decide.

When he was asked the question in Waterville, the governor could have well answered that he is leaving the issue up to the voters. But instead he chose to make the statement that he did, which played right into the hand of his buddies and supporters. That, governor, is fact!

 

See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.

 

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