Who do you love?

cover-classic1.jpgI was saddened this morning to read that the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram will end their longstanding tradition of offering endorsements of political candidates and races.

Although this decision will likely be a popular one among the newspaper’s readers, I think it is a terrible mistake.

In today’s media world, newspapers are struggling to keep up with increasing competition (broadcast journalism, blogs and social media). Newsrooms across the country are also facing other challenges: budgetary constraints that are decimating newsrooms and declining advertising revenues.

For those reasons, and some others, newspapers are losing their gravitas and their once dominant position as the chief source of news and information.

In today’s editorial, the newspaper makes its case for discontinuing endorsements.

“Editorial endorsements are a tradition from the 19th century, when American newspapers were affiliated with political parties. Those newspapers existed to affect the outcome of elections, not just to report on them. The news business changed, but although most newspapers have hung on to the tradition, we could not convince ourselves that hanging on made sense for us.”

The editorial goes to great lengths to disclose its ownership interest by S. Donald Sussman, a frequent contributor to Democratic candidates and the husband of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree as a another reason why it should refrain from making endorsements.

That is, perhaps, the newspaper’s best argument, but the rest of their argument is weak, and not what one would expect from the state’s largest daily newspaper.

“Some people say that a news organization, because of its access to candidates, is in a better position than the average voter to make a choice, but no voter has a shortage of information these days.”

Based on my own experience working for both newspapers and candidates, this argument is tepid, at best.

For the better part of two decades, I worked as both a reporter and an editor at much smaller, community-based newspapers.

During my days as editor of the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Courier (1999-2006), I ran endorsements of local candidates. Today, as it was then, fewer than 2 of 10 people could tell you who was the councilor from Ward 4 in Biddeford or which city council candidates voted against the proposed school budget.

Today, I no longer cover local politics. I work on public policy issues across the state of Maine and beyond.

I spend very little time in my hometown. It’s now basically where I eat and sleep. If I want to know what’s going on, I read my local newspapers. I view the newspapers as more credible and more informed than a local blogger or what Susie Q. Public posts on her Facebook page.

It’s the same for most people I know. We lead busy lives: our kids need back-to-school clothes, there are bills to pay, lawns to mow, laundry to fold, not to mention the demands of our careers.  I no longer have the luxury of hanging out at City Hall as a paid witness.

But when I was an editor, I could speak with authority about local issues and the players driving them. I had a unique perspective. It was my profession.

Shortly, after I left the newspaper business, that publication also stopped offering endorsements of local candidates. I heard from a lot of people who bemoaned the lack of those endorsements and a vibrant editorial page. The purpose of the editorial page is to be subjective (a departure from the rest of the paper that should be objective and neutral) It’s the whole point of an editorial page: for the newspaper to take an informed position on important issues affecting its readers.

How an endorsement changed my life

Finally, the best reason for making endorsements:

It was almost 13 years ago today that I sat down to write a set of endorsements. There were three candidates seeking two seats on the Old Orchard Beach School Board. This was a minor race that the Press Herald would not weigh in upon. Of those three candidates, one was a respected incumbent and two were political newcomers.

But I made a mistake, I thought there was only one seat available. So, I endorsed the incumbent.

The next day, I got a rather nasty e-mail from one of the candidates who told me I should do a better job with my research.

We traded barbs for several days, an e-mail exchange that eventually turned friendly. I met her on election night, but did not dare speak to her.

There were some more e-mails and then a first date.

And then a second and third date.

We have been happily married now for the better part of 12 years.

If I didn’t make any endorsements, I would have never met the love of my life.

And if that isn’t a good reason for making endorsements, then what is?

If I could go back and do it all over again, I would not change a thing.

 

The clock tower is saved!

IMG_1884-1We just received word that the former Lincoln Mill Clock Tower will finally be moved from the near grave it has been resting upon for several years.

A recent fundraising campaign, a long with the generosity of some local real estate developers, has paved the way for the tower to be moved on Thursday, Aug. 28, to a location where it will be restored for future use.

Over the last few years, the remaining portion of the tower has become a public eyesore.  It was removed from its perch in 2007 by the building’s former owners. A previous fundraising campaign fell far short of its goal to keep the tower on the city’s skyline.

The city council fielded numerous complaints about the rotting structure that was sitting idly on the ground, near the center of downtown. They ordered the tower removed or destroyed, despite its historic significance.

But earlier this year a group of Biddeford High School students stepped up, and now there is momentum once again to save an iconic piece of the city’s past.

According to those involved with the move. A crane and equipment will arrive around 6 p.m., and the goal is to have the tower relocated by 2 a.m. 

Lincoln Street may have  to be shut down for several hours (approx 40 yards south of Mulligans to the corner of Lincoln and Main Street).

The boys of summer

canvassI remember it well.  It was the summer of 1985.

I was 21 years old and working for the Maine Peoples Alliance, a progressive, citizens action organization that was then working to raise public awareness about a proposed Community Right-To-Know law that would require small and large companies to publicly disclose to their neighbors what types of hazardous chemicals they were using.

That didn’t matter much to me. What mattered was that I needed a job, and the gig paid $240 per week.

I was hired as a field canvasser. Basically, my job was to go door-to-door in targeted communities and try to raise at least $90/night (quota)  in order to support the financing of our good deeds.

Each day, around 2:30 in the afternoon, me and roughly nine other young and eager do-gooders convened at the MPA’s Portland office to go over our assignments for the evening. Then, we all piled into a Chevy Suburban and were driven to a selected community, where we would receive our individual “turf” assignments.

It was not a bad job for college kids in the summer. The weather was generally cooperative, and the communities were generally the more affluent type.

Before hitting the bricks, we generally were dropped at a local “house of pizza” to gain some nourishment and play epic games of hacky-sack while the canvass director scouted turfs.

Armed with only clipboards, our award-winning smiles and enthusiasm,  we were each set loose in our respective turf to begin hitting every house on the block for signatures on our petition and a pitch to donate.

Sure, I had a lot of doors slammed in my face, but  I could also tell you more funny stories about canvassing than what you would want to hear.

Know this, however: I hit or exceeded my $90 quota every night.

I also fell madly in love with a co-worker. It was an awesome summer, but she broke my heart on the same weekend that Hurricane Gloria hit Maine. I remember it well.

Hurricane Gloria’s damage could not compare to the damage done to my then bleeding, anti-corporate, progressive heart.

Go ahead, blame her for making me a Republican. She was an art student.

Go figure.

And these children that you spit on . . .

Flash forward almost 30 years to Monday night.

Laura and I just returned home after walking the dogs, and we spotted a canvasser at our neighbor’s house.

Laura ducked in the house quickly. She avoids confrontation.

The canvasser spotted me and sized me up as he began walking toward our driveway.

“Can I help you,” I asked, deadly curious about who he was and who he was working for.

I thought about that art student from three decades before. I thought about all the doors slammed in my face. I thought about all the funny stories I accumulated that long ago summer.

This kid . . . this snot-nosed punk . . .  had no idea what was in store for him.

“I’m looking for Laura or Timothy.” he said, glancing at his smartphone.

We never had smartphones.

“Laura is my wife and Tim is my son,” I told him. “Can I help you with something,” I repeated, wondering why he didn’t want to speak with me.

Maybe it was because we were his last house for the evening, or maybe he was just being polite. “Sure, I can talk to you,” he replied, glancing again at his smartphone and instantly pulling up my real first name. (Hint: It’s not Randy, Randall or Randolph)

He asked who I was planning to vote for in Maine’s upcoming gubernatorial election. I gave my answer, and his response was flat. This kid must be a good poker player.

By now, Laura has emerged from the house, and I told the canvasser to ask her the same question. Unlike me, there was no hesitation in Laura’s voice. Her answer was clear and purposeful: Republican Paul LePage had earned her vote, she said.

Trying to mess with his head, I muttered something about Eliot Cutler.

That remark got Laura fired up. “Are you kidding me?” she asked incredulously. The canvasser seemed to be enjoying himself.

So, the three of us spent the next 15 minutes or so talking politics, including Laura setting him straight on the issue of fraud investigators, right there on my front lawn.

This kid was working for the Maine Democratic Party, but he seemed more interested in genuinely hearing our concerns and frustrations than he did about trying to sway our opinions.

He came across as smart, polite and respectful. He held his ground perfectly. He was a good ambassador for his party.

Eventually, his ride arrived and we bid adieu to our new friend.

As I closed the front door, I began to wonder why we usually can’t debate politics with such civility on social media outlets.

The worlds of communication and political strategy are rapidly changing, but Monday’s experience reminded me that there is still tremendous value in knocking on doors and having face-to-face conversations.

 

 

Talking in your sleep

Angry-Computer-GuyOftentimes, it’s not so much what you say but rather how you say it.

It’s an important lesson for all of us, but especially important for those who aspire to be our leaders. Think: “Social Security is Welfare

Earlier today, I was interviewed for a locally produced talk show in my community. I was pitched for this idea several weeks ago, and my first instinct was to decline the invitation. But the host was persistent, and he wanted to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: strategic communication.

As I prepared for the 25-minute taping, I paused to think about some words that I routinely take for granted.  After all, I am a strategic communications consultant; my job makes sense to me but I wondered if it made sense to anyone else.

stra-te-gic \strƏ-tē-jik\ adj 1. of, relating to, or marked by strategy. 2. necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct or completion of a strategic plan.

com-mu-ni-ca-tions\ kә-myὕ-nә-kā-shәns\ n. 1. an act or instance of transmitting; 2. process by which information is exchanged between individuals.

con-sul-tant \kәn-sәlt-nt\ n. 1. one who gives professional advice or services: expert

Thinking more deeply about those words led me to a basic conclusion: Despite the rapid and sometimes overwhelming advance of technology, the basic fundamentals of good communication skills haven’t changed much.

In fact, I quickly recalled a lesson that my late uncle drilled into my head during my teenage years: God gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.

Human beings have always had the need and desire to communicate. Our ancestors used hieroglyphics (an earlier version of SnapChat) before sharing stories around campfires and passing those tales and lessons from one generation to the next. From there, we moved on to the invention of the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, television  – – all the way into our brave new world of Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

But as the speed of our communication increases exponentially, it becomes increasingly important to remember my uncle’s Golden Rule of Communication: take the time to listen and think before you speak, post or tweet.

If you want to learn a little bit more about my professional life (how I feed my family): check out this relatively short video clip.

In the meantime, remember that social media tools are power tools and require caution and a firm understanding of the consequences of making one wrong move that can happen in an instant without warning.

As always, I encourage your feedback. You can contact me by clicking this link.

 

 

 

 

Back to the future

image022There is no denying  a new energy in the city of Biddeford.

This looming sense of optimism and a sense of renewed vibrancy in the city’s downtown core is visible to visitors and residents alike.

Sadly, however, despite the abundance of new energy pouring into the city,  an iconic fixture of Biddeford’s past glory sits on the ground, rotting into oblivion.

It is a timepiece that no longer keeps time. Instead, what remains of the Lincoln Mill Clock Tower is running out of time.

How the clock tower ended up on the ground is a complicated story that I detailed previously.

But the good news?

Thanks to a dedicated group of Biddeford High School students, there is a renewed interest in preserving and restoring this iconic piece of Biddeford’s history.

Check out their video:

To make this happen it will only cost $5.

That’s right: just five bucks, so long as every resident of the city would kick in $5 (the cost of an extra-large coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts)

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Just imagine; for only $5 you can play a role in history. If you choose to ignore this opportunity, just remember that once it is gone, it is gone forever.

Dou you throw away or discard old family photos? Of course not, because we save what we value.

If this latest fundraising effort falls short, what remains of the clock tower will be demolished.

Imagine burning a family scrapbook.

We save what we value.  Play a part in history. Show the world what Biddeford Pride means.

Please visit this link to make your $5 donation (or more) today. Because time is running out.

Side note:

For decades, Paul MacDonald of Saco made a weekly climb every Sunday into the belfry of the Lincoln Mill Clock Tower to set and maintain its clock work gears.

Paul’s son, Fred, recently shared some photos of the now missing clock works with me, and I’m sharing those photos with you here.

 

Cutler: On the defense, or on the move?

camplogo3With less than six months to go before the November election, all three of Maine’s gubernatorial candidates seem to be picking up the pace of their campaigns.

In traditional Maine politics, this sort of ramping up usually comes toward the end of summer, just ahead of a Labor Day surge that leads to an October sprint for the finish.

The early nature of this ramp up is likely tied to the results generated by two recent statewide polls, both of which show Democrat Mike Michaud and Republican Paul LePage in a statistical dead heat. Both polls also show Independent candidate Eliot Cutler in a distant third place.

The numbers from polling conducted by Rasmussen and Pan Atlantic SMS Group had to be disappointing news for Cutler and his team.

Video killed the radio star

Apparently, despite the dismal poll numbers, there is still some concern that Cutler could repeat the 2010 election results, by once again drawing from Democratic voters and giving LePage a second term with a plurality victory.

Cutler, with nothing much to lose, recently unleashed a campaign video to explain why he is NOT splitting the vote.

The video was captured during one of his campaign events in response to a question from a very young voter.

Releasing the video was a very smart move,  and it was a very dumb move.

It’s a smart move because Cutler uses video to portray confidence, leadership.

It’s a dumb move because it makes his campaign appear on the defensive some six months before the election.

 

Regardless of how you feel about Cutler, his campaign or the video, one thing is clear: video is an effective communication tool, especially when it comes to social media. Blogs are read, but videos go viral.

A study conducted in the United Kingdom last year showed what most of us know intuitively, yet what so many of us fail to recognize: A picture is worth a thousand words, but a short video is worth a thousand pictures.

The study showed that consumers are 27.4 times more likely to click-through online video ads than standard banners and almost 12 times more than rich media ads.

But here in Maine politics, the gubernatorial campaigns have yet to do very much in the way of integrating videos in their social media efforts.

As of this writing, the above video from Cutler (posted two days ago) has received 115 views. That does not sound good, right? Well, wait til you hear from the competition.

Mike Michaud’s campaign last released a video four weeks ago and it has received 63 views.

Paul LePage’s campaign released its last video roughly six months ago, but it generated 300 views.

Apparently, all three campaigns could use some work on producing pithy, yet compelling videos.

Another look at the numbers

On a final note, all three campaigns experienced a rather shallow 2 percent increase on their respective Facebook pages, but Michaud’s team scored an 11 percent increase in Twitter followers( 1,7111) during the past month, compared to 3 percent for LePage (1,754) and four percent for Cutler (1.377).

A little help from my friends

And just for the fun of it, I decided to see where my Facebook friends land when it comes to liking the campaigns.

I have 801 Facebook friends (though several do not live in Maine). Of those, 93 of my friends “like” Mike Michaud; 97 “like” Paul LePage; and 154 “like” Eliot Cutler.

 

Primary Colors

empty-pollsAllow me to make a bold prediction.

Voter turnout for Maine’s 2014 Primary Elections on June 10 will be absolutely dismal.

Taxpayers across Maine will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for an absolute non-event; an utter waste of time and resources, all in the name of a Democratic process that doesn’t work without a contest.

In fact, we will be lucky to see voter participation that exceeds the June 1996 state primary, when only 12 percent of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.

Think of it this way, it will be like buying a ticket to watch the Boston Red Sox play the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The winners have already been determined.

Unlike the June 2010 Primary four years ago, the gubernatorial candidates for each political party have already been chosen. If only one Democrat goes to the polls somewhere in Maine, Mike Michaud will clinch his party’s nomination in a landslide.

But in 2010, voters of both parties had lots of choices. There were four candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination, and no fewer than seven candidates seeking the Republican Party’s nomination.

More recently, in 2012, six Republicans and four Democrats fought in the primaries for a chance to fill the shoes of U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe.

This year, Republican Susan Collins has already won her party’s nomination and Shenna Bellows is assured of being the Democratic Party’s sacrificial cow.

But what about the Maine Legislature and the crop of fresh faces ready to head off to Augusta?

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

In fact, you may want to cry because you and all of your neighbors will be funding an entire day of using municipal clerks and voting officials to collect ballots that hardly matter.

Of Maine’s 35 state senate seats, only four will face a primary challenge (three Democratic primaries and one Republican primary)

It’s not much different for the process to fill the 151 chairs in the Maine House of Representatives, where only 19 of the 151 races will see a Primary challenge (8 Democratic primaries and 11 Republican primaries)

In 132 of 151 House Districts in Maine, it doesn’t matter a bit  if you go to the polls on June 10. The races for the Blaine House, the U.S. Senate and the Legislature have been pre-determined.

Please do not disturb the slumber of your municipal clerks or voting officials.