Teacher, teacher

They say if you stand in one place long enough, the entire world will pass you by.

That’s how if feels at the Fryeburg Fair, where every single night I run into someone I know or someone I used to know.

Such was the case last night when I almost literally bumped into Peter Scontras and his wife at the fair.

Mr. Scontras was my eighth-grade English teacher at Saco Middle School, and despite my often asinine behavior in his class, he had a profound effect on my life that lingers to this very day.

Whatever failing can be found in my written words, it is certainly not the fault of Mr. Scontras. It’s more than likely that I was not paying close enough attention when he was talking about gerunds, split infinities and serial commas.

Today, Mr. Scontras is happily retired, and he owns and operates one of the most interesting businesses in this area: The Way Way Store on Rte. 112 in Saco. If you have not been to the Way-Way store, you are missing out on adventure, a magical journey back in time.

I was surprised that Mr. Scontras would remember me.  I was even more surprised when he told me that he was a regular reader of this blog.

“You have a gift,” he said.

Words simply cannot describe how it felt to hear those words. (Example of a split infinitive).

A couple of nights ago, I posted on Facebook that I may have missed my calling. I speculated that I would enjoy teaching because I love interacting with kids at the fair.

Mr. Scontras replied to that post, reminding me that we are all teachers, and we all have lessons to share.

I come from a long line of teachers, and their students often tell me warm and fuzzy stories about the people I know as family.

My father was a teacher. He taught severely disabled students at the Cerebral Palsy Center. My grandfather was a teacher, teaching English and history at Biddeford High School. My grandmother was an elementary school teacher in Saco. Her former students invariably talk about Charlotte’s Web and E.B. White.

Today, my sister is a teacher, and she is married to a teacher. Thus, I am the proverbial black sheep in my family. I am not a teacher. But Mr. Scontras would argue that point. (Starting a sentence with a conjunction is a no-no, but is becoming common practice.)

Just the other day, one of my favorite teachers — Mrs. Loughlin (third-grade) — wrote on my Facebook page, telling me she was proud of me and my previous blog post. Her late husband, Tim Loughlin, was one of only two math teachers that I enjoyed. He had a special knack in connecting with students. Math was always tough for me, and his patience was limitless.

My late uncle, Leonard, was the director of student teaching at the University of Maine in Farmington.

He always told his students that you only need to two things to be a great teacher: 10 percent common sense, and 90 percent love of kids.

My uncle taught me more in one day than I learned during an entire year of high school. He did not teach me geometry, chemistry or how to memorize Whitman.

He taught me about hard work, honesty, compassion and generosity. Life lessons.

Sometimes I fail at those lessons, but the trick is to remain open to the learning process.

If you bump into a teacher, please do me a favor: say thank you.

My apologies in advance to Mr. Scontras for butchering the English language on a regular basis.

Every breath you take

coupleWhen my boys were younger, I drilled into their heads one constant message: Everything is a choice, and every choice comes with either consequences or rewards.

Some people will argue that not every thing is a choice: a flat tire, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. While those things may be beyond your control, you do have a choice about how you respond to any of those situations; to any situation that arises in your life.

As poet William Earnest Henley wrote more than 100 years ago: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Regular readers of this blog know that some very negative energy has tried to consume and overpower my family over the last six months.

My first and gut reaction is to fight this negativity; to engage in a war of words; to take this fight to the streets and to conquer it publicly.

Too often, I am a foot soldier, not a strategist. I run directly into battle with little thought of the consequences. Most people understand this instinct. In fact, many of my friends cheer me on as I wage each successive battle with this negativity, and I feel self-righteous — on the side of the angels.

The reputations of my wife and my children have been smeared in the public arena. Many friends have asked why my reaction has not been stronger.

A few days ago, this negative energy was revived after a three-week hiatus. Again, my family and I have become the focal point of contempt, rage and obsession. So yesterday, I began stockpiling my ammunition. I geared myself to once again respond to the negativity with brute force.

But last night I had an epiphany of sorts. I thought back to the lessons I taught my boys: I have a choice.

I can perpetuate this negative energy. I can feed this beast of darkness; or I can take pity on it. I can walk away. I can be better than the negativity. I can starve the negativity.

Sure, there is nobility in being a foot soldier, especially when defending your family. But shouldn’t I be putting more energy into supporting my family, to raising them up, rather than going to war?

War always comes with the consequence of casualties. Negativity begets negativity. Darkness begets darkness. There is absolutely no need for that in my life.

For whatever reason, my family and I have become the focal point of one man’s rage and obsession. So how am I going to respond?

I am going to pray for this man; I am going to beseech the God I believe in to help heal this man and his wounds. I am going to walk away and focus all my energy on my family, my job and my friends.

I cannot imagine the pain that this man must be feeling. I wonder if he is simply envious that I have so many people in my life who love and support me. I will pray that he can experience more of what I experience on a daily basis. I am going to forgive him.

I have a beautiful and loving wife. I have two amazing sons. I have many friends, a good job and a warm bed to sleep in tonight. I am more blessed than I should be.

For the better part of the last 20 years, I have been a semi-public figure in my community. There have always been people who have been somewhat offended by both my opinions and my actions. But never before have I experienced such visceral rage.

So while my response of prayer may seem counter-intuitive,  it is the best way I know to move forward. It is the best way to put my focus back where it belongs.

You and I are going to die. It is not a matter of if, it is only a matter of when. What will be your legacy?

With every breath you take, you have a choice. No matter how far down the scale you may have fallen, you still have a choice. If today is the day that I draw my last breath, then I want to leave this world thankful for my blessings, not bitter about a man who must be lonely, frightened and confused.

Today is a good day. It is a day I will focus on the things that really matter.

Pretty Persuasion

boehner-resignDo you argue about politics on social media? Do you find yourself getting angry and often one step away from “unfriending” someone or blocking them?

And what happens when you argue about politics with someone right in front of you? Are you able to keep calm or do you feel your blood begin to boil?

I have an interesting mix of Facebook “friends,” and follow an eclectic mix of folks on Twitter.

Most of these people are relatively outspoken about their political views, and many of them are political junkies just like me. Hence, we are connected via social media.  My social media contacts are pretty much equally divided between the two dominant political parties, but most of them could be described as political moderates.

Lately, however, I am seeing an increasing number of my friends becoming more extremist, whether they sit on the left or right side of the political aisle. I’m not a big fan of the word “extremist,” I prefer to describe these particular friends as passionate.

Passion, however, does not equal reason or even common sense. You can be passionate about something, but if you’re leading with your heart or your gut instead of your brain, you are bound to cross paths with someone who has a polar opposite point of view.

Witnessing those interactions is like watching a train wreck. Nothing good comes from it.

Passionate folks often decry the role of moderates. They say we lack convictions, courage and principles. I would counter that passionate people rarely pause to use their brains when trying to make a political point.

So there, I just lost the art of political persuasion.

Define winning

We live in a culture of winners and losers. We love to root for our teams, and politics has always been a blood-sport.

We have cliches such as “elections have consequences,” a modern adaptation of “to the victor go the spoils.”

But what is the point of winning a political argument? If you win, does it really help your candidate or cause?

What is more important: your PRIDE or your GREED?

Pride is defined as your way of doing things, your personal view of yourself and tactics. Greed is defined as your goals, the object of your desire.

So, first ask yourself: am I arguing to beat someone or am I arguing to help them better see my point?

Instead of bashing a candidate or cause, why not vest your energy into making a more compelling argument for your candidate or cause?

Why are you arguing? To thump your chest, to make a point or maybe to win someone over?

Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner abruptly announced he would be leaving his post at the end of October. That announcement drew cheers from many of my friends on both sides of the aisle.

I don’t think Republicans understand fully how much Boehner helped his party. He was a fundraising machine and held together one of the most challenging caucuses in recent memory.

I also don’t think many of my friends on the left appreciate Boehner’s dedication to his country, his willingness to compromise and the leadership he offered in the House.

If it is to be all out war between the two political parties, then the casualties will be counted in losses for our nation.

So let’s all take a stab at better approach to arguing. Let’s persuade instead of attack.

Persuasion is much more difficult, but it is far more rewarding.

And it will likely help keep your blood pressure in check.

For a complete style guide about how to really win a political argument, check this link from New York Magazine.

No Good Deed

CourierThey say that no good deed goes unpunished, and if you don’t believe that just ask Biddeford City Councilor Robert “Bobby” Quattrone.

A couple of weeks ago, Quattrone and other members of the city council received an e-mail from Vicky Edgerly, the city’s welfare director.

In her e-mail, Edgerly asked if any of the councilors knew someone who would be willing to donate a walker for an indigent client.

Quattrone immediately stepped up to the task. “It really hit home with me,” he said. “My grandmother had MS (multiple sclerosis), and I know how hard it can be when you can’t move around on your own.”

Quattrone, who is also a member of the city’s Social Services Committee, took to social media in his quest to find a walker. He posted several updates on his Facebook page, relentlessly prodding his friends if they or someone they knew might be able to donate a walker.

The good news? According to Quattrone, Pris Paul of Biddeford donated a walker.

But the story does not end there. Quattrone said he did not know the woman who donated the walker. He did not have her telephone number or an e-mail address.

So, Quattrone decided to thank the donor publicly via a letter to the editor in the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier.

So far, so good. Right? Wrong.

Because it’s election season and because Quattrone is running for re-election, the weekly newspaper’s editor, Molly Lovell-Keely, rejected Quattrone’s letter.

“She (Lovell-Keely) told me it would not be fair to print my letter because it could be construed as political,” Quattrone said. “I accepted that explanation until I saw the next edition of the Courier.”

In the Sept. 24 issue of the Courier is a letter to the editor by Terry Belanger. Not coincidentally, Mr. Belanger is running against Quattrone for the Ward Four city council seat.

“I was sort of taken aback, especially after I read Mr. Belanger’s letter,” Quattrone said.

The letter carried the following headline: ‘Candidate says city mayor is shortsighted’

Belanger’s letter harshly criticizes Mayor Alan Casavant and members of the city council. Belanger’s tirade closes with the following: “I want to be part of that change and be able to stand up for you. That’s why I’m running for Ward 4.”

Maybe it’s just me, but a letter like that sounds a tad political, eh?

Quattrone said he called Lovell-Keely to complain.

“She said she was sorry,” he said. “She said it was an oversight.”

Pretty big oversight in my book, but what do I know?

During my tenure as the Courier’s editor (1999-2006) we always accepted one letter from each candidate and we accepted multiple letters from regular people supporting various candidates up until two weeks before the election.

Lovell-Keely has plainly demonstrated on several occasions that she is biased against Mayor Alan Casavant. Her husband, Brian Keely, an amateur blogger, foams at the mouth at every given opportunity to bash Casavant and his supporters.

I’ll bet dollars to donuts that a letter critical of Casavant’s opponent in the upcoming election would never see the light of day.

The good news is that a needy person got a much-needed walker. More good news: a city councilor helped facilitate the donation. The better news is that someone was generous enough to donate a walker for a good cause.

The bad news? I’ll leave that for the Courier to cover. Unless, of course, the editor has another oversight.


Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

Matt Lauzon's comment on my wife's campaign Facebook page

If you work on enough political campaigns, you invariably witness all sorts of dirty campaign tricks and negative mudslinging.

Unfortunately, that kind of tom-foolery has become the norm in national politics, but it is rare to find such tactics deployed at the local level.

As most readers of this blog know, my wife is running for a seat on the Biddeford City Council, and I would like to share with you what has happened to our family over the past 48 hours.

Actually, this sort of stuff has been going on much longer, but let’s keep our focus on recent history.

Matt Lauzon, a former Biddeford resident and a Boston “businessman,” has made it his life’s mission to ruin anyone who has the temerity to question his tactics or techniques in seeking justice for crimes that happened 20 years ago, but were only reported this year.

Lauzon has two objectives: filing a civil lawsuit against the city of Biddeford and disrupting the city’s political landscape. He is heavily vested in both outcomes.

Lauzon is also fixated on me and my wife. I thought we had reached a truce several weeks ago, when he agreed to leave me and my family alone.

You can read his letter to me and my response by clicking on this link: Biddeford Deserves Better.

Unfortunately, Mr. Lauzon has reverted back to his pattern of abusing people and then excusing his actions by hiding behind a veil of being a victim.

Last night, Mr. Lauzon began publicly suggesting that our son is a drug dealer. This is just his latest tirade against me and Laura.

Make no mistake, neither of my kids, my wife or I are perfect people. But if you want to accuse a member of my family with a serious crime, you best have some solid evidence to back it up.

For anyone who does have evidence of any crime being committed, I strongly suggest you call the Biddeford Police Department at (207) 282-5127.

Matt Lauzon is relentless. He generally posts his tirades late at night. When the sun rises, and he sobers up, he quickly deletes his posts, trying to clean his tracks.

As I mentioned before, Matt Lauzon has an agenda. He wants to be a disruptor, and he has zero regard for anyone who gets in his way. He has suggested that Mayor Alan Casavant has sex with his students while teaching at Biddeford High School. He has suggested that the mayor and Police Chief Roger Beaupre had a homosexual relationship. He has also suggested that Casavant had a sexual relationship with Maine District Court Judge Michael Cantara.

Matt 3Matt is a miserable man who plays the role of victim well, all the while spewing vitriol.

I have been covering Biddeford politics for the better part of 20 years. I have seen my fair share of crazy campaigns, but nothing on this level. Candidates’ families and children have never been used as political weapons. As rough as it sometimes gets in Biddeford politics, family and children have always been off limits.

Not anymore, I guess.

Nothing is off limits

As you can see from these attached screenshots, Matt is very, very angry boy.

Matt 1He mocks my mental illness, a subject that I have been very open about. The result? Further stigma that makes others with a mental illness hesitant to speak out.

Lauzon has a mantra of “being positive,” but what has he done to make Biddeford a better community?

As you can see here, he also attacks Vassie Fowler, one of the most generous women you could ever hope to meet. Matt Lauzon can’t hold a candle to Vassie’s ligthouse of making Biddeford a better place. Vassie has been a tireless volunteer and advocate for the city. Her generosity knows no bounds. For years, she has organized and coordinated Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for hundreds of people, including wounded veterans.

For her efforts, Vassie Fowler was given a key to the city.

Matt 4And Matt Lauzon? Well, he goes to city council meetings and screams. He tears down other people. He is full of hate and self-loathing.

Matt Lauzon is a self-absorbed, pathetic human being. He is full of hate.

Mr. Lauzon, a regular visitor to Fantasy Island, claims he has an “iron-clad” case for a civil lawsuit against me and Laura.

My response? Stop yapping your gums, Matt and bring on the lawsuit. You have already failed in getting my wife fired, so your track record is 0-1. Bring on Nightline, NBC’s Dateline, the FBI, Congress, the Governor, the Legislature or Santa Claus. None of your predictions ever come true.

He has about 20 or 30 followers who cheer him on. One of those Lauzon disciples recently described my wife as a C**T on Facebook.  Nice, huh?

As I wrote several weeks ago, Biddeford deserves better.

Someone should deliver that message to Matt and his small band of followers.

It’s been a slow turning

Laura Seaver

Laura Seaver

I have come full circle.

When I first met Laura, she was running for one of two seats on the Old Orchard Beach School Board. I was the editor of a local newspaper, and generally wrote endorsements for various candidates in five different communities.

In that particular race, I endorsed the incumbent, mistakenly thinking there was only one seat up for grabs.

I got an e-mail from Laura Kidman the next day. Part of what she wrote: “If I were a newspaper editor, I would get my facts straight. There are two open seats and three candidates.”


I was feeling defensive and returned her e-mail with a curt response, a half-hearted apology and also told her: “If I were going to write to the editor of a newspaper, I would be sure to spell the name of the newspaper correctly.”

This is how our relationship began.

Later in the day, I was complaining about the e-mail exchange to a reporter from another newspaper. That reporter empathized and added that Laura was really cute . . . and single. She offered to show me a campaign photo.

I was smitten, and I immediately returned to my office to write another e-mail to Laura. A response came into my inbox only moments later.

And that’s how it went for the next several days: a series of e-mails that became increasingly flirtatious, leading up to Election Day.

During our e-mail exchange, I made Laura an offer: If she won the election, I would actually bother to cover a meeting of the Old Orchard Beach School Board.  But if she lost the election, I would buy her a cup of coffee.

We had still not met in person.

On Election Day, my gut felt as if it were filled with shards of broken glass. I could not concentrate. I was planning to go to Old Orchard Beach and check the polls, knowing that Laura would likely be there, greeting voters as they entered the high school.

I saw her standing against a wall with other candidates, and my heart sunk. I knew instantly that she was way out of my league.

I shook her hand briefly, and then moved along quickly, trying to look important . . . as if I cared about the other races in Old Orchard Beach, and then left quickly without saying goodbye.

I drove away from the high school that night, cursing myself for believing that I might actually have a chance with this woman.

Long story short: Laura lost that election, and e-mailed me the next day to remind me that I owed her a cup of coffee. She provided me three different phone numbers to contact her.

There were more e-mails, and then a first date, a second date and so on . . .

Bottom line, it’s very unlikely that we would be married today if Laura had won that election.

Sometimes a loss is a big win.

What goes around comes around

After being married only a few years, Laura won other elections; serving two terms on the Biddeford School Committee. And today, she is a candidate for the Biddeford City Council.

This is where it gets tricky. I often get paid to work on political campaigns, but what do I do when my wife is a candidate?

I struggle with wanting to run her campaign, and she pushes back, saying she is going to do things her own way.

Make no mistake, she appreciates my support and advice, but at the end of the day this particular campaign is hers, not mine.

I am personally vested in seeing her win, but I am also reminded that even a loss could be a good thing.

Laura really cares about the city of Biddeford. She has a lot of good ideas about how our city can move forward.

My job is to sit back, and let her do her job; to help her when she asks, but otherwise keep my opinions to myself. And if you know me, you know that is a tall order.

Laura’s campaign won’t really start until Tuesday, and there are seven weeks to go before Election Day.

It just strikes me that if I didn’t make that mistake during my newspaper days, my life would be completely different today.

So, there are two lessons here:

Mistakes can turn out really well, and losses can be very big wins.

Meet your candidates

Mayor Alan Casavant (Sun Chronicle photo)

Mayor Alan Casavant
(Sun Chronicle photo)

Hear ye, hear ye . . .

I have just returned from Biddeford City Hall with the official list of mayoral and city council candidates.

The deadline for filing nomination papers has come and gone; and these are the names you will find on your November 3 ballot.

Let’s start at the top . . .

The Mayor’s Race:

Mayor Alan Casavant is being challenged for a third-term bid by Daniel Parenteau.

Parenteau ran two years ago as one of six candidates for the two at-large council seats. He finished in last place with a little more than 600 votes. He’s gonna need to step up his game if he wants to win this time.

City Council, At-Large:

Laura Seaver

Laura Seaver

There are five candidates running for the two at-large seats on the city council. This could be an epic battle. Finally: Seaver vs. Twomey!

Sorry for the distraction, here are the candidates: Councilor Marc Lessard is hoping to keep his seat. Councilor Clement Fleurent has decided to retire and will not be seeking re-election. The other four candidates (in alphabetical order) are:

Melissa “the Wolverine” Bednarowski. She served one term on the council (2011-2013) and is an outspoken critic of almost everything, but especially hates Alan Casavant.

Doris McCauliffe: if you don’t recognize the name, just think of the lady who screams when addressing the council at public meetings.

Laura Seaver: She’s smart, she’s sexy, she’s funny and super motivated. Did I mention she is a super hottie? (My personal favorite)

And, Joanne Twomey. Yes, Joanne Twomey will be battling a Seaver for a council seat. Epic! Twomey has lost her last three bids for public office, including twice being beaten by Casavant for mayor and losing the Democratic nomination for the District 135 Legislative seat in 2012.

Ward One:

Councilor Michael Swanton is being challenged by political newcomer Kathy Russell.

Ward Two:

John McCurry

John McCurry

Councilor John McCurry is the only candidate running unopposed.

Ward Three:

Councilor Stephen St. Cyr is being challenged by Richard Rhames. St. Cyr was appointed to the council earlier this year, and now wants to earn the seat. Rhames has a strong following in that ward (actually in all wards) and will be a strong contender.

Ward Four:

Councilor Robert “Bobby” Quattrone is hoping for a second term but he is being challenged by political newcomer Terry Belanger.

Ward Five:

Hang on to your seats, boys and girls. There are six candidates vying for the Ward Five seat. That’s right, I said SIX candidates.

Councilor Bobby Mills really wants to hold onto his seat for a fourth term, but is being challenged by (let me catch my breath) : Nathan Bean, Perry Aberle, Milton Truman, Carol Boisjoly and Karl Reed, Jr. (who runs a web site named best in your girl)

Ward Six:

Councilor Roger Hurtubise is retiring from political life. His seat is being sought by former city councilor Rick Laverriere and political newcomer Debbie Croteau Lauzon, the mother of Matt Lauzon. Matt Lauzon has played a critical role in shaping this year’s political landscape by keeping the heat on city officials regarding alleged sexual abuse by two former police officers.

Ward Seven:

Councilor Michael Ready is being challenged by former Charter Commission member Ben Neveaux.

And there you have it! Your slate of candidates for the city council.

I’ll post the school committee candidates later, but right now I have a birthday party to attend.

Good luck to all the candidates. On behalf of all Biddeford residents, thank you for stepping forward to serve your community.