Democratic Senate candidate Alan Khazei is urging business leaders to drop their support for casino gambling in Massachusetts, saying it will irrevocably change the culture and fabric of the state.
Khazei’s speech, at a candidate forum held by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Monday, came a day before Chamber President Paul Guzzi is expected to voice support for expanded gambling in the state during a legislative hearing about renewed gambling proposals.
The City Year co-founder acknowledged that jobs are scarce and an infusion of new revenue is tempting, but said that casinos aren’t the answer.
“It’s a decision that we can’t take back once we’ve done it,” Khazei said in a closing statement that sent a murmur through the crowd. “I urge all of you to reverse your position on casino gambling.”
Calling Khazei’s criticism premature, Guzzi said the chamber is waiting to see a polished proposal from state lawmakers before formally endorsing or rejecting the idea.
Last year, the chamber commissioned a study outlining the job and economic benefits of so-called destination resort casinos proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick. Nonetheless, it cast itself as a neutral arbiter of information.
Most of the Senate candidates have refrained from taking a position on the issue, although Attorney General Martha Coakley has urged strong law enforcement and financial regulation tools if gambling is expanded.
The forum was the first of two meetings Monday between the four Democratic candidates vying to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in a Jan. 19 special election. Speaking before an audience of Boston business leaders, they took questions on health care, the economy and education.
Venture capitalist and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca said the economy can’t bounce back without stricter financial regulation.
“I believe we need that strong regulation,” Pagliuca said. “We went too far in the other direction — that caused this crisis — so we need to have that kind of regulation, we need to put it now. I don’t know why it hasn’t been done already.”
Citing his years in Washington, Congressman Michael Capuano said he is the most qualified to fill Kennedy’s seat. “I don’t think it’s time, after 47 years of the greatest senator in the history of this country, to send somebody to Washington who has to learn the job from scratch,” Capuano said.
Capuano has played up his experience as a challenge to Martha Coakley, the current leader in the polls.
Coakley instead focused on business leaders in the audience. “I think that we need to be smart about how we do regulation,” Coakley said. “Particularly, certainly, Wall Street needs some regulation and we need to do it smartly.”
Khazei put growing green jobs at the center of his economic plan.
“The focus has to be jobs, jobs, jobs,” Khazei said. “And it just can’t be the government. We have to stimulate the private sector through these ideas so that people get out there and start hiring again.”