Roaring like a grappler who has one last fight in him, Bridgeport’s just-turned 82-year-old political and labor warrior State Senator Ed Gomes stepped on the podium of an East End events hall, not far from the Steelpointe Harbor redevelopment area where MGM Resorts proposes a $675 million waterfront casino destination projected to create 7,000 jobs. Addressing the crowd Gomes declared “Bridgeport has been on hard times and people take cracks at us … Do we needs jobs? Hell, yeah!” Gomes set the tone of a Tuesday night rally filled by roughly 200 affiliated members of the Fairfield County Building Trades–carpenters, electricians, operating engineers and others–urging state legislators to support a bill calling for an open, competitive process to select a casino operator in the state’s largest city.
“We need transparency,” added Gomes, a reference to the state’s gaming monopoly that allows 25 percent of the slot take in exchange for granting exclusivity to the state’s two tribal nations operating Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. “I want those jobs to remain up there, but I want jobs for Bridgeport. We have the best opportunity here. We got the land. And we’re the biggest city in the state.” Gomes, who is retiring from public service at the end of this term, is backing his former aide Aaron Turner to replace him. Turner, who attended the rally, supports the MGM plan for Bridgeport.
One of the Bridgeport legislators leading the charge, State Rep. Chris Rosario whipped up the crowd.
“Do carpenters ever back down from a fight?”
“Do electricians ever back down from a fight?”
“Does Bridgeport back down from a fight?”
“This is a grassroots fight for jobs.”
Peter Carroll, president of the Fairfield County Building Trades, kicked off the rally addressing his diverse membership. “We want our jobs, in our city now!”
“I am Bridgeport,” shouted Aidee Nieves, president of the City Council. “I want MGM here for Bridgeport. Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
“This has implications for the entire state,” added Mayor Joe Ganim. “We are on the right side of this. This project will impact many families … Support these legislators … leading the fight in Hartford.”
No one from MGM Resorts addressed the crowd, but MGM chief legal counsel Uri Clinton took in the rally, working the room of labor rank and file, as well as state and city officials. Clinton says Bridgeport is the finest location for a casino in Connecticut, given its proximity to Fairfield County and New York markets.
Supporters of the MGM proposal say it will infuse the city with thousands of jobs and millions in needed tax revenue. The company seeks no public subsidy.
Meanwhile, the battle wages on in Hartford where representatives of the tribal nations try to kill a bill that calls for an open, competitive process. Last year, lawmakers approved a third casino in East Windsor on non-tribal land to counter the $1 billion MGM Resorts casino under construction in Springfield, Massachusetts. The East Windsor location, however, is many years from happening given the legal ramifications of the state awarding the tribes a site on non-tribal land. In addition, the federal Department of the Interior has not approved the East Windsor location.
About 25 years ago the state approved a gaming compact that provides the tribes exclusive rights. Opponents of the gaming compact assert monopolies are not in the best interests of taxpayers. They argue an open, competitive process will maximize the most money and economic impact for the state. Open the process and see what comes back from all applicants.
On March 8 supporters plan to make their case to the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee that is scheduled to host a public hearing on the gaming bill.