CUDAHY — The square, cinder-block building surrounded by grassy fields and factories on this city's southern edge looks innocuous enough.
But inside, gathered around four felt-topped tables, are gamblers supporting an operation that has sparked intense controversy in this mile-square city.
Not surprisingly, the Silver Saddle Casino has become the hottest topic of debate in the race for three City Council seats up for grabs in the April 8 election.
On one side are Mayor Faye Dunlap and Councilman Lynwood Evans, longtime supporters of the casino who say the gambling operation will ultimately flood the city with cash that is sorely needed to help bankroll Cudahy's future.
Former Casino Partner
Challenging them is a slate made up of Councilman Joseph Graffio and two newcomers, schoolteacher Tom Thurman and Bill Colon, a former Silver Saddle partner who says that he is now opposed to gambling in Cudahy.
They say that backers of the casino have failed to deliver on promises of a 100-table poker palace and maintain that the citizenry of Cudahy no longer wants gambling in their city.
Rounding out the field is Valerie Hansen, chairwoman of the city Planning Commission. A one-time supporter of the casino, Hansen says she is now neutral, declaring that the matter should be decided when an anti-gambling initiative goes before the voters in a May 13 special election.
With the council election a month away, few of the candidates for the $4,300-a-year council posts have started campaigning extensively. Each side, however, says that it expects opponents to begin firing political and personal broadsides as the election draws closer.
Despite the expected political fireworks, the candidates say they will run low-budget campaigns.
Disclosure forms show that Dunlap, a homemaker, has raised almost $1,600. She said she plans to spend about $2,000 to seek her third term in office. Evans, a first-term councilman and publisher of the Cudahy Review newspaper, has raised no money yet but said he will probably spend about $1,500.
Political Action Committee
Graffio, who is seeking a second term, has joined with Colon and Thurman to raise campaign money. The slate's political action committee, Citizens For Progress, has raised about $1,350. Graffio, 73, said the group would spend up to $5,000 if necessary.
Hansen, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 1984, said she would finance her own campaign, spending less than $500.
For the past two years, Evans and Dunlap have banded with Councilman Gabe Zippi to form a majority on most issues. Now the pair say they want to be reelected so they can carry on with the civic programs they have pushed through.
Among other successes, Evans and Dunlap point to a planned 50-unit Senior Citizens Center, the renewed migration of new businesses to Cudahy, an upsurge in redevelopment activity and efforts to expand and improve the city's parks.
Nonetheless, the issue that has dominated the civic agenda in recent years has been gambling. And through thick and thin, Dunlap and Evans, both 58, have stood solidly behind Charles King, promoter of the newly opened Silver Saddle Casino.
"Chuck King is a man with a dream and I like to help a man with a dream if I can," Evans said, adding that his opponents are "trying to create an issue" with the casino and have lost sight of "the greater good of the community."
Dunlap said that she supports the club because of its potential economic benefits to Cudahy and because city residents voted by a 2 to 1 margin to approve gambling during a December, 1982, election on the issue.
"If the club survives, I think the city will definitely benefit from the revenue," Dunlap said. "I still feel it can grow and become a good revenue producer if they'd just leave (King) alone."
Graffio, Colon and Thurman counter that King has failed to live up to promises he made before the December, 1982, gambling election, when the promoter pledged to build a club that would pump $1.9 million a year into city coffers and create 350 new job.
"If the guy would have delivered, there would not be a problem in the city about it," said Thurman, 31. "He promised 100 tables. We've been led down the primrose path on that. Four years later, the guy has an operation with four tables that will always have a cloud hanging over it."
Moreover, the slate is opposed to gambling and supports the May 13 anti-gambling ballot measure. If elected, the trio say they would push for an extensive review of King's business license with the city, noting that any violations could ultimately lead to revocation of the operating permit.
Despite such talk, the slate's efforts against the card club have been clouded by the past--Colon once held a one-third interest in the business.
Colon, who describes himself as a political consultant, insists his erstwhile relationship with King can be easily explained.