Candidate For Mashpee Tribal Council Chairman Looking Beyond Taunton
By: Geoff Spillane
If Richard A. Oakley succeeds in his bid to unseat Cedric Cromwell as chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, there could be a seismic shift in the tribe’s casino plans for southeastern Massachusetts.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr. Oakley, 60, a retired 35-year employee of the Mashpee Department of Public Works and former tribal council member, discussed his campaign platform—and the tribe’s casino plans were mentioned often.
“I don’t like the Taunton area. I would look into going back to Middleborough, because is a better area and a better deal. I could never figure out why they moved the location of the casino,” Mr. Oakley said.
He also suggested, should a renegotiated tribal-state compact and the tribe’s federal land-into-trust application process for properties in Mashpee and Taunton linger on indefinitely, that he would potentially consider partnering with a commercial casino operator for the one gaming license being made available in the southeastern Massachusetts region.
Social Programs Important
Mr. Oakley stressed the importance of the tribe continuing to pursue a destination resort casino complex as an economic development catalyst, but not at the expense of providing much-needed social services to tribal members. “Social programs for the tribal community are not important to this administration,” he said.
According to Mr. Oakley, too many tribal members have been adversely affected by the economic downturn and have been denied access to important human service programs, such as a food pantry and housing assistance. He cited the loss of the food pantry, which has been closed during the construction of the new tribal government center on Great Neck Road South, as being particularly hard on the tribal elders, who used to gather there to socialize.
In addition, Mr. Oakley said that he is not completely in agreement with the concept of a tribal “government center,” preferring the new building be recast as a “community center.” A member of the group that initially proposed construction of the building, he said that it was intended to be more of a place for the community to gather, as opposed to conduct day-to-day government business.
I don’t like the Taunton area. I would look into going back to Middleborough, because is a better area and a better deal. I could never figure out why they moved the location of the casino.
He also expressed concern with the status of the proposed tribal affordable housing development on Meetinghouse Road, saying that he does not understand why construction has come to a halt when there are so many tribal members, elders and young alike, who are in need of housing.
“The current administration ran on the platform that we were going to have an open government, but they never fulfilled that promise. There is too much emphasis on the future and the casino, but we have a lot of other problems that tribe members are dealing with today,” he said, adding that if elected he would involve all tribe members and elders when important decisions are being made, and would be open to listen to all suggestions from his constituency.
When asked about his relationship with Mr. Cromwell, Mr. Oakley said, “Oh yeah, I get along with Cedric personally, even though our politics are different, same with David Pocknett. They have not said anything negative about me, and I have not said anything negative about them.”
Mr. Pocknett is also running for tribal chairman and will be on the ballot come election day, Sunday, February 10. Mr. Oakley also said that he expects some of the other current tribal leaders serving in the vice chairman, treasurer, and secretary positions will be reelected and that he would welcome the chance to work with them if elected.
Economic Development Options
Mr. Oakley is pro-casino, even though he favors a different location, but he is a realist when it comes to the possibility that it may take years before the project comes to fruition, if it does at all.
“We are no closer to a casino today than we were four years ago with the former administration,” he said, adding that the tribe has had “bad timing” for a long time.
If elected, Mr. Oakley said he would ask tribal leaders to “take a deep breath and take a look at where we are at,” and think about what happens if we do not get a casino.
Among the alternative economic development projects mentioned by Mr. Oakley include consideration of an expanded aquaculture enterprise, leveraging the tribe’s Cape Cod base for some type of tourism venture, or possibly embarking upon some type of light industry operation.
“Whatever we would consider, it would also have to benefit the Town of Mashpee. I do not want to be a bad neighbor,” he added.
Born and raised in Mashpee, Mr. Oakley currently resides in Wareham with his wife, Elizabeth Luisa, a former Mashpee Police Department dispatcher. His mother, Hazel Oakley, was a longtime genealogist for the tribe during its federal recognition process.
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