FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Voters in Foxborough are casting ballots Monday in an election that has turned into a referendum of sorts on a proposed casino. Two selectmen who are split on whether to even consider a casino plan are running for re-election, and their two challengers also have opposing views.
“I understand this town. I love this town. I can’t believe what’s happened and the way people are behaving,” said Martha Slattery.
Slattery said she’s seen that behavior firsthand. The 14-year veteran Foxborough School Committee member is running for selectman and wants to allow residents to at least hear and vote on the casino proposal — though she said she doesn’t know if she’d support it in the end. She’s spent many a recent day on the town common, holding her political signs.
“And I see young parents come around the corner, and they give us the middle finger salute with their kids in the car and make faces at us, or give us thumbs down,” Slattery said. “What kind of example are they setting for their children? I’m just, I’m shocked. Absolutely shocked.”
But others don’t blame Foxborough residents for any tension in town. They blame Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas developer who has proposed building a casino resort across from Gillette Stadium.
Former state Rep. Virginia Coppola entered the selectmen’s race specifically to fight against a casino.
“Harassing mailings and phone calls and polls and everything, that’s really upset people because it’s outside influence coming in here trying to change this town,” Coppola said. “I mean let’s face it, a casino up on Route 1 would change this town. Not only the town of Foxborough, but all the towns in this area.”
Larry Harrington, the chairman of the Foxborough Board of Selectmen, is running for re-election, and said everybody has a right to their own opinion. But he wonders aloud why people have “become so mean-spirited.”
Like challenger Slattery, Harrington wants to at least negotiate with Wynn. Then, if selectmen end up supporting the plan, residents would vote on it, as state law requires.
“We should allow all 11,000 people to have a voice,” Harrington said, adding that the issue has become so polarizing, some residents are afraid to speak up.
“I’ve talked to seniors who tell me that they’ve got a sign in their yard that was put there by neighbors, and they’re afraid to say that they don’t support it, etc.,” Harrington said. “Earlier on, we heard people say that they have neighbors that don’t even talk to them anymore because of their view and the stance. It’s an important issue, no doubt about it, but there’s no way that you should lose friends.”
Slattery said she’s also had to negotiate yard sign politics.
“I’ve had people that I probably could have put signs on their yards, but they have young kids in the school system,” she said. “I wouldn’t put them in that position because I don’t want them to be alienated from their friends. So I’m trying to keep people out of compromising situations, because when this is all over, we still have to live here.”
Selectman Lorraine Brue, who is up for re-election, said she hopes when the election is over everybody will “be able to get focused back on the business of the town.” But, she said, she believes that business should not include a casino.
Brue introduced a motion in December to reject the idea of Foxborough hosting a casino. Selectmen passed that motion 3-2.
Brue dismissed the argument that the whole town of Foxborough deserves the chance to weigh in on a casino proposal. She said by voting for selectmen Monday, residents are expressing their opinion.
“Because this is a representative form of government in our town, and according to the way the legislation was written, the selectmen are the board that decides whether or not we will enter into a host community agreement,” Brue said. “My hope is that the board will be comprised of selectmen who continue to be opposed.”
Whichever two selectmen get elected, the candidates say they hope enough ballots are cast to truly gauge where the town stands on whether to explore what a casino might bring.