Friday, April 07, 2006

124: “David LeVan Gives Lesson in Realpolitik”


Ever since the Gettysburg Borough Council sold itself and the souls of every inhabitant and business person in the Borough to David LeVan, Council President Ted Streeter has been on the defensive. Even in his testimony given on Tuesday in front of the Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board, Streeter was unapologetic, but defensive, “Since Monday (when the decision was announced), I’ve been called a traitor and told that I’ve turned my back on history. I am firmly convinced council has done the right thing for our taxpayers.”

Gettysburg Mayor…ummm, who is Gettysburg’s mayor? Does Gettysburg have a mayor? Apparently not. So we’re stuck with Streeter for now, as the complicit conspirator to a hijacking of the democratic process. Without so much as a fare-thee-well, Streeter rushed through a vote in Borough Council Monday night in order to provide testimony in front of the Gambling Control Board that would favor a casino in nearby Straban Township. But this was not a considered vote, indeed, most of council, and practically no one in the Borough had seen the proposed deal between LeVan and Streeter, not even the Borough Solicitor. Yet the Council blithely went along with Streeter in a 6-3 vote. That’s not even close. What’s in it for Gettysburg? Well, supposedly, and as they claim to trust David LeVan (!!!!), a cool $1 million out of the profits from his proposed casino.

But wait, there’s more. It seems Streeter and Borough Council failed to even consider one other possibility, that of a financial shortfall of the casino if it is allowed to open here. Not a failure, but a shortfall. You see, the profits of the casino have already been allocated out so many times that there will be nothing left to give to Gettysburg Borough.

In fact, after admitting his offer was a pure bribe, LeVan hedged his bet by making a further promise, that he would use his political clout in Harrisburg to get $2 million allocated out of the state’s cut of the profits shifted directly and exclusively to Gettysburg Borough, and then not have to pay anything out of his profits.

Which shell is that pea under now, Mr. Streeter?

But all of this is merely an object lesson in realpolitik by an angry David LeVan, who now, in one move, has shown what money can buy. At least this one was in the open. The others, to non-profit organizations, a preservation group in particular, are not. The rambling and ranting testimony of Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association president Kathi Schue was so full of distortions about the history of the Gettysburg area as to defy her any connection to preservation in the area. GBPA owns the Daniel Lady Farm, and has done a marvelous job of restoring it at quite an expense. LeVan helped somewhat by providing fundraiser biker rides. They rode from Harrisburg to LeVan’s Harley store on Cavalry Field Road. You know the one, it’s called Battlefield Harley Davidson? No trading on the history of the area there, is there? The point is, at the end of the rides LeVan’s staff would have a hot dog barbecue set up to feed everyone. And he would have hundreds of bikers wandering in and out of his store. Good for the GBPA, and even better for Battlefield Harley Davidson.

[For the record, the proposed casino is only a quarter mile from the location of Camp Letterman Army Hospital, built there on the ground in front of the current Giant shopping center and its eastern neighbor, the Peebles/Staples shopping center. Camp Letterman was an enormous tent hospital set up to tend to the thousands of wounded from the Battle of Gettysburg. Across York Street was a railroad line, and when able to travel, the wounded would go by train, either to another more permanent hospital, or home to recuperate, or back to their units. Those who died of their wounds, or of infection and/or illness while recuperating, were shipped by the same railway, back to their home towns across the Union states. It was still here in November, 1863 when Lincoln came to dedicate the National Cemetery. At present, there is about an acre of ground free of development along York Street that contains the historical marker for Camp Letterman. It also contains several commercial real estate signs. That last parcel, with the marker on it – that’s a hard sell. And no, the National Park Service cannot buy it because it is outside the current ‘boundaries” of the Battlefield as defined by Congress.

The land of Camp Letterman was offered for sale to one of the preservation societies back in the late 1990s. Owner Roy Thomas made the offer, after previously voting in his capacity as a member of the Board of Supervisors in Straban Township to zone the land commercial, thereby driving the price sky high. Sky high. Far out of range of a poor non-profit preservation group – and he knew that. But hey! What a guy! At least he made the offer!]

People in the area call LeVan a philanthropist. Other’s call him something else. Let’s see what Wikipedia says about philanthropists:

philanthropist
A philanthropist is someone who devotes his time, money, or effort towards helping others. The label is most often applied to someone who gives large amounts to charity. See also philanthropy.

A philanthropist may not always find universal approval for his deeds. Common accusations include supporting an iniquitous cause (such as funding art instead of fighting world hunger) or having selfish motivation at heart (such as avoiding taxes with personal fame as side product).

See the Wikipedia article on philanthropist.

Very seldom does one hear about Bill Gates’ philanthropy. Usually it is reported by someone who watches rich people, and they make a list of the richest and what they do with their money (Parade Magazine, perhaps?).

But not our David LeVan. Just ask him, and he’ll tell you all the great charities he’s donated to, or, as he puts it, "supported" in the Gettysburg area. And you know about it because he wants you to like him, he wants you to respect him, he wants you to look upon him kindly, and remember it all when he comes seeking your support, because that’s the way it works, right?

In other words, he is a philanthropist of the second stripe based on the definition above.

So, why would a philanthropist so openly bribe an entire Borough Council? Because he can, and because he waved enough money in their faces, it worked. He got what he wanted, whether he gets his casino or not. He exposed the weakness of our civic leaders, they can be bought. If this one was so public, and so easy, how many others do you think are going on around you with you none the wiser? None? Just a few? Oh, don’t you bet on it! It happens all the time. Its called “grease” among other things, as it smoothes the way for projects to move forward.

Many months back the “word” went around town, “It’s a done deal.” Well, perhaps it was a done deal then. Perhaps it is a done deal now. But nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes. With the political climate in Pennsylvania in an uproar because of the rampant graft and corruption of our elected state and local officials, LeVan has no guarantee what’s going to happen in the fall, based on what happens between now and November in the elections.

If enough incumbents get turned out of office in the May primary elections and the November general election, there won’t be enough members of the General Assembly on the take from the gambling industry to block a repeal law from going through, and with enough votes to override any gubernatorial veto, which both Swann and Rendell would apply.

If you want a measure of the man, look to his relationship with his own hometown, and the college where he was educated. He just bought the good will of his home town for $1 million. His college, on the board of which he serves (!), has turned against him over the casino issue. The faculty and the students of the college testified against him on Tuesday. The Board has taken a stand that the casino is not a good idea for Gettysburg. It doesn’t matter.

He has engendered the enmity of thousands of residents of Adams County, and indeed, has received negative press from around the world. It doesn’t matter.

Senators Santorum and Specter, and even Governor Rendell have gone on record as saying it’s a stupid idea to put the casino near Gettysburg. It doesn’t matter.

It isn’t even about the money. Only success matters. He has spent all his personal capital here, and indeed is overdrawn on it. By that I mean he has no more good will left. This is about David LeVan getting what he wants. No one can deny him what he wants. No one can dissuade him. No one can convince him he is wrong, because he cannot be wrong. Only winning matters. And that decision was made with the first utterances of No Casino Gettysburg. No little pipsqueak bunch of tree-huggers were going to tell David LeVan he is stupid and get away with it. Not on your life would he allow that to happen!

He has changed the name of his project removing ‘Gettysburg” from it. Once the license is issued, watch how fast the name “Gettysburg” goes back into the name of the casino.

That's realpolitik, David Levan style.

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