Reminder managing editor Mike Dobbs gives a tepid review to Stephanie Barry’s article last Sunday in the Republican on Mayor Domenic Sarno’s relationship with the controversial political consultant Charlie Kingston, writing that, some interesting revelations notwithstanding, the piece failed to offer a “smoking gun” showing any wrongdoing.
Dobbs also notes that he wrote about Kingston’s rumored involvement in the casino-selection process way back in September. At the time, the two developers competing to build a casino in the city both denied working with Kingston, and Sarno’s office gave a rely that Dobbs characterizes as “snippy” and vague.
Especially interesting to Dobbs is the timing of the Republican’s article. Penn National’s casino proposal for the North End calls for the company to buy the Republican’s building at 1860 Main St.—a fact that creates an untenable conflict of interest for the city’s sole daily newspaper as it covers the contentious casino issue. It’s hard, then, to avoid scrutinizing the Republican’s casino coverage—indeed, it’s imperative—for possible signs of bias toward Penn National’s plan or against MGM’s competing proposal in the South End. For instance, when I was recently reporting an article about the lawsuit filed against Peter Picknelly, a partner in the Penn National plan, by Northeast Gaming, which is pushing a casino plan in Palmer, I was struck by the fact that, as far as I could see, the Republican’s coverage of the lawsuit left out a rather explosive charge made in the suit against Picknelly: that he’d offered Leon Dragone, president of Northeast Gaming, a secret, and illegal, piece of the Penn National deal, if Dragone would let Picknelly walk away from his earlier agreement with Northeast. (Picknelly emphatically denies that accusation.)
Dobbs certainly takes a skeptical view of the Republican’s casino coverage, suggesting the timing and content of Barry’s article, coupled with Picknelly’s recent announcement that he won’t move his Peter Pan Bus Lines operations to Union Station unless Penn National secures a casino license, amount to a one-two punch of attempted intimidation.
“The Picknelly announcement and the Kingston story are merely public ways to put pressure on Sarno about which casino to put on the ballot,” Dobbs wrote. “Since the notion that only one developer's plan be put before the voters has already been floated by two members of the Sarno Administration, one can see how both the daily newspaper—with a history of acting as king makers—and the city's most prominent corporate citizen simply wanted to send a simple message to the mayor: Do the right thing and pick us.”
Optimist that I am, I’m waiting for a follow-up from Barry looking more closely at whether Kingston has any ties to the casino issue. Of course, if he does, the big question would be: which side is he aligned with?
As Springfield’s casino battle nears its conclusion, things will become only more complex and heated. Residents who care about the issue would do well to at least supplement the casino coverage in the city’s daily paper with Dobbs’ tenacious reporting.