Saturday, August 06, 2005

39: “Rich Man, Poor Man”

The great Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century essayist, poet, and philosopher once wrote, "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

The poor little rich man isn’t getting his way, so he calls on the big guns from his old stomping grounds to do a “puff piece” in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and thus to Knight-Ridder Newspaper Syndication where it will go out to some 27 newspapers and about 125 Newspaper/Web editions. John Sullivan of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote the “puff piece” that almost had this blogger weeping in sympathy for poor, misunderstood David LeVan:

David LeVan, the former chairman of Conrail Inc. who is pushing a bid to build a slots parlor near here, was raised at the base of Culp's Hill, a scraggly knob where outnumbered Union soldiers fought off an all-night attack by Confederates during the Civil War.

Now LeVan feels a certain kinship with the besieged.

A wide range of opponents - from U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., to the National Trust for Historic Preservation - have decried the proposed Gettysburg Gaming Resort & Spa, which is one of a handful around the state vying for the final two locations for slots parlors that have yet to be selected.
Oh the drama. The suspense! It gets worse:

LeVan is a former Fortune 500 executive who made millions as the chairman of the Philadelphia-based railroad, but customers at his Harley-Davidson dealership outside Gettysburg might have a hard time picking him out from the mechanics.

He has a long history of donating to preservationist causes, using his $1 million-plus trust to help partially fund a local historic-preservation organization and successfully fighting to save the train station where Lincoln arrived when he came to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

Yet he wants to make money by bringing gambling within two miles of part of Gettysburg National Military Park.

LeVan has declined to talk at length on the proposal to bring a 200-room hotel, spa and slots parlor, hoping the national attention the plan has attracted would die quietly.
But as his opponents increase their efforts, he is starting to take a more public position in an effort to refute what he sees as an assault on him and on what he calls a poorly reasoned argument against the project.

"It's the personal attacks on my ethics and integrity that bother me," said LeVan, referring to allegations that he plans to rely on his close relationship with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell to win a gambling license and that he wants to exploit, rather than preserve, the historic value of Gettysburg.

"The fact is," he said, "they are trying to use this historical argument to reopen the debate on gambling."
Wrong. The debate never closed. The fact is, LeVan chose to jump on board a project authorized by some very unethical legislation. In the first place, it was unethical and irresponsbile for the legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to enact a bill authorizing the control of an industry that enables and attracts addiction. Second, the industry standard is to use free, or low cost alcohol to encourage and enhance a person's gambling!

This enables one addiction to enable another!

How does this legislation protect the general welfare of the people of the Commonwealth?

It doesn't, in any way shape or form. It is not the money. It is the fact that the investors will make millions of dollars annually from taking advantage of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and any other visitors that may set foot in a casino.

No amount of money can justify doing this to the citizenry!

Opponents of the plan say the casino site should be preserved because a wide area around Gettysburg was involved in the epic Civil War battle in 1863 - not just the part encompassed by the national park. Moreover, some say, Confederate soldiers gathered before battle on the very ground LeVan wants to develop. They say gambling is an affront to the memory of the thousands who died here.
Reaching desperately for the moral high ground, LeVan throws out some smoke. There is no historical significance to the site where the proposed casino is to be constructed beyond the use of the name Gettysburg. But indeed, gambling is an affront to the memory of those who fought here. It goes on:

But LeVan knows this land as well as most of his opponents. His family arrived in Gettysburg at the start of the 20th century and has operated a heating and cooling business here ever since. His current home, which he is restoring, shares a fence with Culp's Hill.

He went to Gettysburg College before heading off to Philadelphia in 1968 and eventually upward through the ranks at Conrail. He earned $22 million from stock when the company was sold and broken up in 1997. He also served on the Philadelphia school board in the 1990s and on then-Gov.-elect Rendell's transition team.

Growing up so close to history, LeVan said, taught him to respect the past while looking to the future.

"I have fought to preserve the past, but this town also needs jobs and development."
LeVan knows better than to try this. See GettysBLOG # 37: Statistics for full details of Adams County's unemployment figure...they are among the lowest in the nation.

Last year, 10 Harrisburg investors approached LeVan to be the front man for their group to build the $200 million casino project. LeVan owns an option on the site but will not purchase it unless he wins a gambling license.

One wonders why these "rich kids" chose not to build a casino in their own community, but would rather force it on the Gettysburg area.

The project would contain low-slung and tasteful buildings hidden from the street and respectful of the community, LeVan said, smoothing his hand over drawings that might be mistaken as those for an upscale shopping mall. "Not tall, not neon," he said.
Four or five stories is not tall? Not neon? And where is the water coming from that appears to be lapping at the shore of a casino-front lake?

LeVan argues that his opponents are marrying historic preservation with morality, neither of which applies.

"The Legislature has already approved gambling, so that argument is over," he said. "This land will be developed for some reason, so why make a distinction between one business or another?"
Why he thinks the gambling argument is over is beyond this blogger. Indeed, it is not over. Mr. LeVan and his co-investors are calling it the Gettysburg Spa and Casino. The area is not known for the town, it is known for the Battle. Their venture is playing on that association and using it, shamelessly.

Directly across from his site, cranes loom over a $250 million entertainment and hotel development under construction.

To him, the cries of historic preservation are more pretext than substance - an assertion the opponents don't exactly deny.
Says who? This is just lousy reporting, even for a puff-piece! Mr. Sullivan certainly did not ask anyone other than Reverend Tom Gray about this, and Reverend Gray heads a national coalition that fights all gambling everywhere. Mr. Sullivan does not have the courage to list the many noted and famed historians who have lined up against the Gettysburg casino -- it would ruin his pity-party for LeVan. The history and significance of the Battle of Gettysburg does not end at the Battlefield Park boundary. For one thing, it extends to the name of the town, now, a name that LeVan and his co-conspirators willingly are exploiting. For someone who claims, "I have fought to preserve the past...", he has certainly not learned anything from it. In this instance he is fighting for nothing more than his pocket, and what will fill it.

The Rev. Tom Grey, a national anti-gambling leader who heads the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, based in Washington, said he doesn't care what stops LeVan's project as long as it's stopped.

"This is our Pickett's charge," said Grey, who hopes to use any momentum won here to win more victories in Pennsylvania.

Opponents have begun meeting with politicians and appearing at Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board meetings.

At a recent session, four members of No Casino Gettysburg squeezed together into the front row.

"We're going to be at every meeting from here on out," said Paddock, the group's leader.
LeVan says he understands that he has a fight on his hands.

"And to think: I could have retired and just ridden off into the sunset."
If you only knew how many wish you had, Mr. LeVan. We would all be far better off. So would you.

Mr. LeVan is blinded by the light of glinting gold. He cannot see he is dead wrong in this whole venture, that he is misleading himself if he believes what he is saying, and is misleading the public as well. He has seriously damaged his reputation in the area, and made more than a few enemies. Now he is caught in a quagmire of a PR debacle from which there is only one exit. And he stubbornly, and stupidly refuses to take that exit. It may soon be too late.

John Sullivan failed to respond to emails offering 18,000 people to interview to get a “second opinion”. Mr. Sullivan wrote another "puff-piece" that appeared in the Philadelpia papers this past June, this one for the "Don of the Legislature", Vincent Fumo.


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