By G. Michael Dobbs
Did you read that story about political consultant Charlie Kingston that was in the Sunday Republican? Local political junkies know that Kingston has been a behind-the-scenes guy for many Springfield mayors – excluding Charles Ryan – as well as contributing to the success of Congressman Richard Neal's campaigns.
When I heard about eight weeks ago The Republican was submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to get information from City Hall, I wondered if they would find some sort of smoking gun that would link Kingston to Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and whether or not Kingston has been involved in the casino selection process.
I was the first reporter to bring up the subject and did so in a story that was published Sept. 4, 2012.
In part, I wrote then: "Questions have also been raised about any role that Charles Kingston might be playing in the selection of a casino developer and the writing of a host agreement.
"Kingston is a political ally and friend of Sarno's, who was present at his re-election kickoff. He is a former city tax collector turned lobbyist who was convicted of tax evasion.
"Unsubstantiated reports have indicated Kingston has played some sort of role in the on-going process.
"When asked about Kingston, Bill Hornbuckle, president of MGM Springfield, said, 'I can confirm with certainty that we have not sought Mr. Kingston's services.'
"Eric Shippers, senior vice president, of Penn National Gaming, also said Kingston is not a consultant for that company.
"Shippers theorized the rumors might be 'propaganda driven by our competitors.'
"Asking Sarno to describe what is Kingston's place in the casino issue, if any, the mayor's spokesman Thomas Walsh, said, 'You have to discuss Mr. Kingston's business with Mr. Kingston.'"
Sarno could have easily said that Kingston wasn't part of the process, but instead gave me this snippy reply that really didn't say anything.
I wondered what The Republican would find and the answer is a lot and nothing. Yes, the story reported evidence that Kingston remains a major influence in this city – an official that none of us has elected. But he is apparently unpaid and, despite the interesting emails, there wasn't any evidence of wrongdoing in the story.
And the story concluded with a few paragraphs about the casino, implying that Kingston appears to have little to offer the mayor on that issue.
Really? The guy who, according to the published emails, has involved himself with the details of city government but doesn't have an opinion about the largest economic development project – with the exception of Westover Air Reserve Base and the University of Massachusetts – that has come to the region?
Pull my other leg.
The fact this story appeared a week after Peter Picknelly said he would not move his bus operations into Union Station unless he and Penn National Gaming get the casino license is interesting timing. I believe in boxing it's called a "combination."
Since The Republican has a huge stake in Penn be awarded the license, this story struck me as a form of intimidation. The issue isn't what they published, but what they could publish. What aren't they reporting at this time?
The Picknelly announcement and the Kingston story are merely public ways to put pressure on Sarno about which casino to put on the ballot. 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.
If Penn is the only name on the ballot you will know the mayor heard that message. The right thing for most everyone is to put both developers on the ballot.
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.