By Priyanka Dayak
MARLBORO – There were lots of handshakes and hugs for Gov. Deval L. Patrick at yesterday’s Senior Conference, but also some tough questions and pert opinions.
“Casinos,” said Diane J. Rutana of Marlboro, “we need them in Massachusetts.”
Her husband, Donald L. Rutana, tried to persuade the governor that slot machines at existing racetracks would be good for the state.
“I’m not persuaded we’d get the jobs, but I promised the speaker (of the House) I’d keep an open mind,” Mr. Patrick responded.
The governor stopped to talk to the Rutanas and many others in the crowded cafeteria at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School, where 1,300 seniors gathered for the 30th annual conference. The event is sponsored by state Sen. James B. Eldridge, D-Acton, and funded by donations.
Mrs. Rutana said she runs monthly buses to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, but she’d rather take her busloads of seniors to yet-to-be-built casinos in Massachusetts. “It’s good, it’s getting them out of their homes,” she said.
“Casinos are good for many reasons,” her husband added. After the governor moved on to another table, Mr. Rutana said the governor seemed surprised the couple talked so adamantly about the issue.
Many seniors raised another issue with the governor – transportation. Doris A. Marcotte of Marlboro wants the state to offer more transportation for the elderly, especially for the blind and legally blind. She drives a car now, “but I’m getting older, too,” she said.
Some seniors said they would vote for Mr. Patrick’s re-election this fall, while others said they are undecided.
When it comes to addressing issues that matter to seniors, “I don’t know if anybody’s done a good job,” said Lee Thomson of Marlboro. He is most concerned about taxes and the cost of government.
“How (are) we going to pay for this?” he said. “If you have limited resources, it gets hard.”
The governor told the crowd that he and his wife grew up in multigenerational households. “We are very aware in our own lives of our role in caring for our elders,” he said.
“Each of us in our time is supposed to do all we can to make it better for those who come behind,” he added, stealing a phrase from his grandparents.
The governor later told reporters that if he wins a second term, he wants to continue working on his Community First strategy, which gives seniors the option of aging in their own homes rather than nursing homes.
“It was slowed by the economic downturn,” he said of the costly program.
Ann L. Hartstein, secretary of Elder Affairs, also spoke to seniors, saying she has been traveling across the state to find out what issues are most important to the elder population.
She asked the seniors to pretend exercise is a pill, and encouraged them all to swallow it.
Seniors from the region began the conference in the morning with several workshops, which included information about property tax relief, heart and brain health, identity theft, assisted living and wills and estates.
There was also the ever-popular belly dancing class.
“It’s good exercise,” said Joanne Cutler of Sudbury, who tried belly dancing for the first time yesterday.
Having a variety of exercises and activities is important for seniors, she said. “This is very fun and very feminine. You can go home and show it to your husband,” she added, laughing.
Belly dancing instructor Gypsy Phillips is in the same age group as the seniors she was instructing. “For seniors, I think it’s excellent, instead of sitting down and playing Parcheesi,” she said. “You’re moving every single part of your body.”