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GALVESTON’S SECOND STORM On a cruelly beautiful Thursday afternoon in November, dozens of the suddenly unemployed trickle out of John Sealy Hospital. It’s the fourth day of a five-day mass layoff at UTMB, Galveston’s largest employer and a 116-yearold medical center that, among other functions, serves uninsured and indigent patients from across Texas with 9where else to go. By Monday, 3,000 people will have lost jobs. As the former employees head for their cars, they form a art of triage. Some linger, clutching boxes of stuff cleared om their desks, hugging each other and saying goodbye. e middle-aged woman scurries by, tears curdling her Amp. “I’m in too nitich pain to talk!’ she says. Two nurses, both graduates of UTMB who have worked in the cancer department for 10 and 12 years respectively, are intercepted on their way to post-firing cocktails. “I’m in shock, really!’ says Malaine Moore. She isn’t worried about finding another nursing job. But she fears for Galveston’s devastatin ‘whats happened on considerin she says. “Right now everyone’s 111 going to restaurants!’ Medina soon it’s going to be deserted. I’ve en it like this!’ an with a monumental recovery effort, are reeling from the all-Republican UT Board of Regents’ decision–at a closed-door session in El Paso on Nov. 12to authorize the elimination of 3,800 positions. The regents contend that the estimated 5710 million in expenses that 1JTMB sustained in the September storm necessitated painful cost-cutting measureCritics argue that the regents simply seized on a natural to justify a major downsizing they had long conteinPlati ‘Ike to them was a gift from heaven!’ says Tom Johnson, the executive director of the Texas Faculty Association. The effect on healthcare on the island–and in the . region—-will be seismic. The number of beds at Sealy hos al has been slashed from 550 to 200. The psychiatric ward . may be closed forever. The Level One Trauma Center–one of only three in southeast Texas, an already inadequate numb er–remains closed. .. 4″Ike was one thing!’ Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said during a subsequent city council meeting. “We had finances and we had plans in place to recover from a cat er strophic hurricane. We did not have and do not have yet what we need to have in place to bring UTMB back. “It’s heartbreaking not only for the people who now d not have a job, but also for those of us who have needed medical care, who have received excellent medical care since 1891, and most especially the poor and underserve who have nowhere to go, nowhere!” margins of the North Side. The boom thrilled the Chamber of Commerce, but it also drove blue-collar familiesblack, white and Hispanicoff the island. “Galveston was always kind of a working-class town, and that’s just evaporating year by year now,” says Paul Furrh, the CEO of Lone Star Legal Aid. “These hurricanes have certainly added to it.” Too much investment is the least of Galveston’s worries at the moment. But North Side residents are keenly aware of the potentially valuable real estate they occupy. To the east lies the Strand, Galveston’s meticulously restored historic district and a major tourist draw. To the north are the Galveston wharves, home to 850 acres of shipping facilities, warehouses and two cruise lines. North Side neighborhoods could be gobbled up by commercial interests eager to capitalize on the aftermath of a disaster. “Investors are coming in the ruin,” says Robley Cahee. Glancing around at the for-sale signs, he wonders: “What do they need this land for? Is it for gambling?” Could be. Between the world wars, Galveston roared with mob-controlled gambling dens. The most famous spot, the Balinese Room, was built on a pier that extended 600 feet into the Gulf. Frank Sinatra and the Marx Brothers entertained during the club’s heyday. In 1957, the Texas Rangers raided the Balinese Room and effectively ended big-time gambling on the island. But casino interests and some Galveston leaders have been trying to legalize gambling since at least the 1980s, and Hurricane Ike may have been the perfect storm for betting boosters. With the twin pillars of the local economytourism and UTMBin trouble, gambling interests smell desperation. The Strand Merchants Association, among others, is pushing the city to consider legalization. “Casino gambling would provide jobs, middle-income housing needs, increased tax base and a plan for beach restoration funding,” businessman Allen Flores wrote city officials in October. Similar arguments were made in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Casinos had been legal there since the 1990s, but only on floating barges. After the storm casino owners and local politicians convinced the state legislature to allow gambling palaces on shore. To clear the way for a new Vegas-style economy, government officials authorized the leveling of lowincome neighborhoods on suddenly valuable waterfront real estate. Homes were demolished. Property values skyrocketed. It was gentrification in overdrive. Galveston is only now beginning to shift from the short-term business of hauling away debris, filing insurance claims and assessing damage to the thornier problem of figuring out a future. How the island will be rebuilt depends, in large part, on who will call the shots. City council member Elizabeth Beeton, one of three reformminded upstarts who defeated development-friendly incumbents in May elections, has loudly accused Mayor Thomasa member of the Kempner clan, one of the island’s three most powerful white familiesof abusing her emergency powers and skewing the recovery toward her friends and allies. The DECEMBER 12, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13