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.

 

Your Prediction?

Ryan Fecteau

Ryan Fecteau

Which candidate do you think will win the Democratic Party’s nomination for Biddeford’s Dist. 11 Maine House seat?

David Flood

David Flood

Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong (Redux)

Joanne Twomey

Joanne Twomey

This is a story about a bitter, cake-baked politician, a police chief and a little, pink bicycle.

During the most recent Biddeford City Council meeting, former Mayor Joanne Twomey, was once again full of rage and fury.

As she does during most public meetings, she nearly tripped over herself as she stormed toward the podium to rant and pontificate before the council for the televised portion of the meeting.

Twomey uses rage and victimization like most people use deodorant. It is predictable, boorish and sometimes entertaining.

But her tirades of rage and indignation are rarely, if ever, based on logic or fact.

This week, Twomey’s tirade was about “a little pink bicycle” that she says was recklessly tossed into the metal recycling bin at the city’s public works facility by callous members of the Biddeford Police Department.

Twomey, who has lost her last three bids for public office, told the council (and those watching the meeting on television) that she had gone to public works to dispose of some grass clippings, when she witnessed the horror of a massive bicycle dumping in the metal recycling bin.

“They dumped 25 to 30 bicycles in there,” Twomey breathlessly proclaimed. “Bicycles!”

By her own admission, Twomey told the council that “I screamed and caused a scene.” (It’s what she does best)

Twomey said she asked the police officers why they didn’t give the bicycles to “the bicycle guy,” referring to Andy Grief, executive director of the non-profit Community Bicycle Center

“Is this a sense of community?” Twomey bellowed, ready to burst with indignation.

Twomey said she tried to alert the Community Bike Center about the atrocity, but staff was out for lunch. So, what did she do?

Make an inquiry at the police department? Nah.

Instead, she went home to fetch her Canon digital camera “because you have to document everything in this city.”

“I took pictures, and I put in on my Facebook,” Twomey told the council. (Editor’s note, we were unable to find photos of discarded bicycles on Twomey’s Facebook page)

Nonetheless, Twomey says reaction to the photos was overwhelming. “Where is our sense of community?” she asked again. “There was a little pink bike that could be used by some little girl.”

In summary, Twomey said the callous officers who dumped the bikes should be fired.

The rest of the story

Chief Roger Beaupre: Journal Tribune photo

Chief Roger Beaupre: Journal Tribune photo

Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre was watching the May 20 city council meeting from the comfort of his home. After hearing Twomey’s comments, Beuapre decided the council should hear — as Paul Harvey would say — the rest of the story.

Beaupre’s e-mail to the city council appears below, and it offers some revealing insight about both the incident and Twomey’s tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

We routinely and regularly pick up and store bicycles that are left abandoned on the street. In some instances, these bicycles are turned in by people who have discovered bicycles that have been abandoned on their property. The department’s Evidence Technician/Property Manager, then places a property tag on each of these bicycles, logging and recording the description and serial numbers into our records management system.

They are then taken to DPW and stored in one of our property containers. All bikes are hung from the ceiling in a neat and orderly manner. We are required by state law to keep these bikes for not less than 5 months, and if after that amount of time the bikes are unclaimed, we can dispose of them.

Prior to 2003, state law required that we auction these unclaimed bikes and return the proceeds of the sale to the Treasurer of State, less our cost of storage and auction. In 2003, the State Legislature changed the law to read: “…a local legislative body in a municipality may dispose of unclaimed bicycles in a manner decided by that body…” (25 M.R.S.A. 3503-B).

Now then, here is what we do AFTER six months of retaining the bikes. In our “Sense of Community” we have partnered with Andy Grief from the Community Bike Center, and all of our serviceable bikes are given to that center. Process is that at the end of six months, either Andy Grief himself, or one of his staff, accompanies the BPD Property Manager to the storage trailer at DPW. The Community Bike Center representative then inspects each and every bike that is eligible to be released.

With a magic maker he places a large “R” on those bikes he deems unserviceable and does not see as safe to place on the street. Cracked frame is usually the typical problem, or any other problem that they deem not worth repairing. After the representative claims the bikes he does want, our Property Manager selects a convenient time to collect the bikes that are destined for recycling and disposes of them in the metal bin at DPW.

On the day that Mrs. Twomey happened to bring her brush to DPW, a Public Works employee was helping our Evidence Technician unload the bikes from our Crime Van and place them into the recycling bin. I stress Public Works employee, because I want to make sure it is clear that there were NOT two police officers at the Recycling Center.

I don’t believe that I have to tell you of the city’s liability if someone gets hurt using a bicycle that the Community Bike Center has deemed unfit.

That pink bicycle that Mrs. Twomey so fondly referred to last night was deemed unfit by someone who knows whether or not a bike is safe to ride.

In closing, the system we have been using for about a decade now, keeps our unclaimed bike inventory down, and returns serviceable bicycles to the community to those who can’t afford to buy one. How is that for our “Sense of the Community?”  And for her to state that the police officers should be “fired” is unfair and biased.

Two for the show

Ryan Fecteau

Ryan Fecteau

Of the 151 seats in the Maine House of Representatives, only 19 of them will offer a primary option for voters on June 10.

One of those 19 Primary Election challenges is taking place right here in Biddeford, and I know both of the Democrats who are battling for their party’s favor.

Of course, since this is Biddeford, a city that consistently sends a Democrat to Augusta, at least in this central district, whichever candidate wins on June 10 will most likely be able to coast comfortably onward to Freshman Orientation Day at the Statehouse.

This evening (May 22) Ryan Fecteau and David Flood will participate in a televised debate that will be held in the Little Theater at Biddeford High School.

I will be live Tweeting from the event, but I encourage my fellow voters in Biddeford to attend and learn more about the candidates.

Expect Fecteau to lean toward progressive themes and talk about youth and new energy. Expect Flood to talk about his succesful business experience and moderate views.

Fecteau has been running a visible and strong ground game. It’s not yet clear where Flood’s campaign has been over the past few weeks.

David Flood

David Flood

Added Bonus: Former Mayor Joanne Twomey will be in attendance, rooting for Fecteau. Now, there’s a reason to vote for Flood!

 

Third time is the charm?

Perry Aberle... Sun Chronicle Photo

Perry Aberle… Sun Chronicle Photo

While most people were picking out green outfits, drinking lots of beer or otherwise wasting time on St. Patrick’s Day, one select group of folks were bracing for potential fame and fortune as hopeful members of the 2015 Maine Legislature.

The deadline for wannabe state representatives and state senators came and went at 5 p.m. on March 17.

Given the impacts of last year’s legislative redistricting and Maine’s term limits law, voters will be faced with a healthy crop of fresh faces.

But you can always count on a few perennial candidates: those who think the next campaign will be the magic campaign, the Wonka Golden ticket that will admit them into the strata of being really important and somewhat relevant.Such is the case in Biddeford, where Perry Aberle — undaunted by two consecutive and somewhat epic campaign failures — has once again tossed his hat into the ring. Hopefully, someone will toss him back a working razor.

Aberle won his last election nearly two decades ago, when he was still in high school and was elected to serve one term on the Biddeford City Council. Since then, his campaign skills have deteriorated apparently.  He ran for the seat two years ago and was crushed by incumbent Paulette Beaudoin, the proverbial little old lady who cleaned Aberele’s clock by garnering nearly 64 percent of the vote (2,585-1,471).

A year later, Aberle brushed himself off and decided to challenge Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant. Despite a much larger pool of voters in a city-wide election, Aberle’s vote total shrunk by more than half, and he finished a distant third in a three-way race that also included former mayor Joanne Twomey. Casavant easily won re-election with 2,377 votes, compared to 720 for Aberle.

Today, Aberle is running as a Republican for the Maine House of Representatives in District 12, which includes the central and downtown portions of the city. He will face Biddeford businessman Martin Grohman, a Democrat, in the general election.

Will the the third try be the charm for Aberle? Don’t bank on it, would be my advice.

Over in District 11, which includes western portions of the city, Democrats Ryan Fecteau and David Flood will duke it out for their party’s nomination. The winner of that contest will face political newcomer Debi Davis, a Republican, in the November general election.

In the District 32 State Senate race, Democrat David Dutremble will once again bank on his family’s political legacy and last name recogntion to hold onto his seat for another term. Dutremble will once again be challenged by Arundel businessman James Booth who ran for the seat two years ago as an Independent. This time, Booth is running as a Republican.  Anything is possible, but Booth is facing an uphill battle in a district that historically favors Democrats.

Just like a prayer

Bobby Mills

Bobby Mills

Biddeford City Councilor Bobby Mills has a lesson for all of us who use social media.

It doesn’t matter much if the NSA has tapped your phone or if Google is using your online data to create a psychological profile, you have a responsibility to be careful about what you share on social media outlets.

Mills, an elected official, is upset that he was contacted by a local newspaper regarding a potential conflict of interest issue. According to Mills, the newspaper received an anonymous tip regarding something he posted online.

I’ll let Mills tell the story . . .

Interesting enough I just got a phone call interview from the Courier. Someone made an “anonymous” complaint about the unsuccessful Go Fund Me page I set up back in October/November for assistance in our down payment for our lease to own home. Since this page was only created for my family and friends on Facebook I’m simply amazed.
“The complaint was about public officials creating pages seeking donations and conflicts of interests that it may generate.  Seriously.  My family doesn’t live here and any friendships in Biddeford would never be in a situation to assist us if they could. Nonetheless conflicts of interests? Amazing.
 Everytime I’m reelected,  there’s always some “anonymous” nonsense. Hey. Why don’t you call me? 207-[redacted].  Your welcome to come and visit as well. Obviously you know where I live”

Bobby Mills and I have not always seen eye to eye. In fact, I’ve often been one of his loudest critics. But in this story, I feel some of his pain.

Please note: I said some.

Mills and every other adult who uses social media ought to understand how those platforms work. Social media is a power tool in the realm of mass communication, and like any other power tool, you can expect really bad results if you don’t follow some basic guidelines.

Mills said he posted his personal request for the benefit of his family and friends. He didn’t expect criticism or harsh comments about his financial situation from outside his circle of family and friends.

While I sympathize with Mr. Mills’ situation, his defense is extremely weak. He wanted to raise a lot of money (thousands) to help secure a down-payment for a home. You don’t post something online if you don’t want a lot of people to see it.

Rule No. 1 of social media: Never post or tweet anything that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.

Bobby Mills likes to use social media. In fact, he’s set up a Facebook page for a second run at becoming Maine’s next governor. Criticize him for that, if you want (and I will . . . later), but don’t knock the guy for being in a tight financial spot and then attack his character because of that fact.

Times are tough for a lot of people. There’s nothing wrong with asking family and friends for help. It’s a tough situation. If you haven’t experienced it, thank your lucky stars.

Raising questions about whether Mills’ original fundraising post constitutes a potential conflict of interest is a bit of a stretch.

By all accounts, Bobby Mills is a good husband and father who loves his kids. He holds several jobs and works hard. He gives a lot back to his community. His only crime here is being a bit naïve about how social media works.

However, if Mills still serves as a member of the Biddeford Housing Authority, and if the home’s sale is connected in any way to that agency, then Mills needs to put some distance between his personal objective and his role as a city official.

Elected officials are treated differently by the media for good reason. When you run for office you have to expect that.

And when you post something on Facebook, you should expect that a lot of people will see what you may not want them to see.

UPDATED: Bobby Mills is NOT a member of the Biddeford Housing Authority.

I hear that train a comin’

NOTE: I was just informed by a member of the newspaper’s staff that this is, indeed, just a “holiday thing.” But my concerns remain for the reasons listed below and because “one-time things” have a funny way of becoming “two-time, three-time, four-time things . . .

 

I am hoping it’s just a holiday thing, but I fear it could be a sign of things to come.

CourierThe latest issue of the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier seemed foreign to me. A free weekly that has been published since 1989, the Courier has always prided itself on being a “hometown newspaper,” exclusive primarily to the communities listed on its mast.

But the latest issue seems to be a compilation of the Courier and two of its sister publications, including the Kennebunk Post.

It’s been a tough decade for newspapers. A sluggish economy has impacted advertising revenues. Online news, combined with social media, has lured readers away from so-called dead tree publications, making it almost impossible for newspapers to be “first with the news.”

For those reasons, I can understand why the Courier’s publishers would be tempted to merge their publications into revamped “regional” weeklies. But this would be a huge mistake.

Before I proceed, a bit of disclosure is in order. I served as the Courier’s editor for the better part of seven years, between 1999 and 2006 under the newspaper’s previous owners. I also served as managing editor of the Courier’s five sister publications between 2002 and 2006.

The Courier and its sister publications were sold by David and Carolyn Flood in 2007 to Sample Media Group, a Pennsylvania media conglomerate that also owns and publishes the Journal Tribune and Times Record.

While working for David and Carolyn, I came to understand the value of a “local” publication. Readers wanted a publication that was focused on their hometown: a newspaper with a staff large enough and bold enough to cover controversial topics at City Hall, but also a publication that would routinely publish information that is often overlooked or dismissed by larger, regional daily publications: The honor roll, local births, expanded obituaries and just about anything else that someone would submit.

There was only one rule: It had to be local. We were not supposed to compete directly with the Portland Press Herald or the Boston Globe. Our success was founded in being different; in being a unique source of news. We were locally owned, locally operated and locally focused. That was our edge.

Moves toward larger regionalization rarely work out for newspapers, especially these days when more people are scrapping for a finite resource of advertising revenues. When local publications lose their local flavor, they also tend to lose their local readership.

As an example, look at the Journal Tribune, formerly the Biddeford-Saco Journal. In the late ’70s, the Journal merged with a daily publication that served the Sanford-Springvale region. That new newspaper has been going down hill since, despite some valiant efforts by a slew of talented journalists and other staffers.

Like every other newspaper, the Courier is also shrinking. And while it may be tempting to merge the publications to save on hefty printing costs, the move would ultimately do more damage than good.

So let’s hope this is just a holiday thing: an effort to get a weekly publication out the door during an especially slow news week (limited staff, vacation schedules, lack of municipal meetings and huge drop-offs in the retail sector).

Otherwise, this move will become another sad chapter in community journalism, especially in this community, which has been spoiled by two daily publications and two weeklies.

The (not so) usual suspects

David Flood

David Flood

Another Biddeford politician has thrown his hat into the ring to replace State Rep. Paulette Beaudoin in the Maine Legislature.

While some observers were thinking that newcomer Ryan Fecteau has all but clinched the June 2014 Democratic primary for the District 11 seat, it looks like voters could have several choices.

Former Biddeford city councilor and one-time mayoral candidate David Flood announced this week that he also will be running for Beaudoin’s seat, and he’s already received her endorsement.

Flood is best known in the city as the founder and publisher of the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier and five other weekly newspapers that he and his wife sold in 2007, only months before he won an at-large seat on the city council. In 2009, Flood lost his bid to oust Mayor Joanne Twomey, but two years later voters returned him to the city council.

Flood and Fecteau both have some advantages and challenges.

Fecteau, 21, is certainly eager and appears to have built a decent foundation for his campaign. In an unprecedented move, he publicly announced his candidacy last year.

Previously, Fecteau served on the city’s Charter Review Commission and as chair of the city’s Democratic Committee.  He has already set up a web site, social media pages and did what no other state representative candidate from Biddeford has done before: he coordinated a fundraiser and campaign event for himself in Washington, D.C., where he is a student at Catholic University of America.

Fecteau posted some photos from that Washington D.C. event and sent press releases to local newspapers. The photos show a bright-eyed kid with big dreams, holding a microphone and rallying a group of his peers who would be hard-pressed to find Biddeford on a map, never mind being able to vote for him.

Flood, 58, said he believes his experience as a successful business owner, entrepreneur and father makes him a strong candidate who understands the challenges of a struggling state economy and the real-life, day-to-day issues that impact voters. “This is an important time in our state’s history,” Flood said. “We need someone who knows what it’s like to pay taxes, to meet a payroll, to raise a family and deal with the complexities of life.”

 Flood also has Paulette Beaudoin’s endorsement, saying she called him and asked if he would consider running for the seat she now holds.

Flood is the founder of the Heart of Biddeford, a non-profit group that is working to revitalize the city’s downtown area. He also owns commercial properties on Main Street, including a previously empty building that he co-purchased and developed with Biddeford architect Caleb Johnson. Today, 265 Main Street houses Elements Cafe and other tenants, including Engine, a non-profit arts center. Earlier this year, he launched a new magazine, Innovation Maine.

Ryan Fecteau

Ryan Fecteau

“I think of myself as a newspaper guy,” Flood said. “Carolyn and I opened the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier on July 13, 1989. I had just turned 34, and our two sons were eight and five years old. We know what it’s like to start a business and work as hard as you can to make it work.”

By the time the Floods sold the company, it had increased to six newspapers with 28 full-time and a dozen part-time employees.

“I do not want local governments to have to raise property taxes because the state isn’t doing its job,” Flood said.  “This is an exciting time in Biddeford’s history – this is a way I can help.”

But Flood does have some challenges. Only weeks after winning his last election, he abruptly announced that he would be resigning his seat from the city council to return to the newspaper business. “It would have been a huge conflict of interest if I remained on the council,” he explained in 2011. “That opportunity came along right after the election, it’s not something I planned to do while campaigning.”

Flood’s return to the newspaper business was also short-lived, and he said he has no problems talking about that turn of events with voters.

Other Democrats who may be considering the seat include former Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey, who lost her primary challenge against Beaudoin two years ago; former city councilor Roch Angers and (because the district’s boundaries have changed) former State Sen. Nancy Sullivan.
 
Republican Perry Aberle is also considering another run for the seat. Aberle was trounced in his first bid for the seat by Beaudoin in 2012. A year later, in November, Aberle finished a distant third in a three-way race to be Biddeford’s next mayor.
 
District 11 was formerly known as District 135. Beaudoin held the seat for eight years and is being forced out because of term limits.
 

Let’s stick together

1277122_10200627116743607_506355194_oI have some dueling feelings, and would like to know what you are doing today?

Are you headed to the Maine Mall for some holiday shopping? Putting up your Christmas tree? Football game?  Browse social media and offer your political opinions?

How are you making the world around you a better place?

I am not trying to shame you because any of those activities above could dominate a big part of my own day. I just want to offer my observations of the last 24 hours; a mixture of blessings and loss.

Earlier this week, our community lost a tremendous leader; a man who embodied community spirit. I only met him a couple of times, only briefly. I did not know him as well as I should have. I didn’t even know he died until I saw the obituary that his daughter posted on her Facebook timeline.

Richard “Dick” Potvin was the embodiment of living in community. He was from the tail end of that “greatest generation:” men and women who didn’t talk about community service or brag about it. They just did it. And Mr. Potvin did that better than most people.

He was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life.

His obituary tells an amazing story of a working-class man who left behind an amazing legacy.

He was a standout athlete in high school and held the Amateur Maine State Golden Glove Welterweight Championship, undefeated  until he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War.  He served as a forward observer for an artillery unit and sustained a bullet wound to the head by a sniper. He was awarded a Purple Heart and honorably discharged.

That would be more than enough “service” for most people. But not for Dick.

He came home to Biddeford and worked for York Bottling Company and  married Doris Cote at St. Andre’s Church. After changing jobs, he and his wife moved several times over the next two decades before becoming the Public Works Director in Biddeford.  A couple of years later, the couple opened Potvin’s Market in Old Orchard Beach.

For a couple raising three children, you would think their plates were full. Running a convenience store does not offer much in the way of “down time.”

But Dick kept serving his community, serving nine terms on the city council and was appointed to serve on numerous city committees. He was also  a stalwart of the Maine Democratic Party, and according to his obituary, was invited to the White House for breakfast as a thank you for his support of President Jimmy Carter. He and his wife hosted Walter Mondale in their home during Mondale’s 1984  presidential campaign.

Enough, right? Wrong.

Dick was appointed as Maine State Athletic Commissioner and served under two governors, and was a member of the Elks, Knights of Columbus, AMVETS, VFW, and Fraternal Order of Eagles.

But wait. There’s more. Beyond his own three children, Dick was a mentor, coach and a steadying influence to countless children in Biddeford. Facing retirement, he founded the Southern Maine Boxing Club with the mission to promote positive youth activity through the art of boxing. His son, Jay, continues to successfully run the club.

Speaking of his children, Laura and I have the privilege and honor of knowing his daughter, Renee and her husband Jim, counting them among our friends.

Renee and her brothers are following their father’s footsteps in community service. Renee serves with Laura on the City Council’s Policy Committee. Renee also, stubbornly and nearly single-handedly led the effort to restore the city’s historical downtown opera house, City Theater.

This morning, I cannot fathom the emptiness that Renee and her family are experiencing. When men like Dick leave us behind, the void is huge, almost unimaginable.

So while we remember them in our prayers and thoughts, I want to do better. I want to be more like Dick Potvin. I want to be more like Renee O’Neil. I want to spend less time fretting about my own little problems and focus more on the world around me. I want to be more like the next person I am going to mention.

Never enough

Heroes are not reserved for comic books. They walk amongst us everyday. And I am so lucky to know so many of them by name.

One of our community’s shining heroes is actually a heroine. Over the last several years, Vassie Fowler has redefined the words “personal sacrifice in her efforts to make the world a brighter place for those among us who are less fortunate.

If you know Vassie and her husband, Jack, then consider yourself lucky. They are the owners of Union House Pub and Pizza in Biddeford. Every Thanksgiving, Vassie coordinates an epic turkey drive to help provide holiday meals to more than 100 less fortunate families.

Last night, Vassie and Jack hosted their fifth annual Toys for Tots fundraiser and dinner. The event started modestly, a small affair at their own business, attended by only a handful of guests. Last night, the conference facility at the Ramada Inn was packed with people opening their wallets and their hearts for children.

Vassie is a relentless giver. She gives, gives and then gives some more. She invests hundreds of hours every year making life better for other people. She works her fingers to the bone and pulls off grand events on shoestring budgets because of a work ethic that is beyond words.

It’s hard to match Vassie’s commitment to her community, but it can be done. Take, for example, another one of the people I am honored to call my friend, Pam Payeur.

Pam is the executive director of the Wounded Heroes Program of Southern Maine.

Every day, Pam can be found working in our community, raising awareness about the plight of our nation’s wounded heroes. Her work, dedication and passion for helping veterans is off the charts. Not just on Veteran’s Day or helping coordinate the annual Wreaths Across America event, but on a hot August day when a local veteran needs a ride to a medical appointment; or in September when she seeks volunteers to help move a veteran and his belongings to a new residential facility.

She is on the front-lines every day. Based on her Facebook wall, I strongly suspect she never sleeps. There is always something more that needs to be done. Always another opportunity to help a charity, raise awareness and champion the forgotten and discarded.

So allow me to ask you this. How is it that people like me get to live in a world among heroes like these? What are we going to do today to make our world a better place?

I don’t think you have to receive a Purple Heart, have breakfast at the White House or collect 200 turkeys for the less fortunate. But maybe we could just try to treat one another with little more kindness, a little more respect.

Maybe we can just carve out five minutes of each day or an hour each week dedicated to something beyond our own world. Maybe that is enough. Maybe not, but it seems like a good place to start.

Dangerous Type

Richard Rhames

Richard Rhames

During the last official meeting of the 2011-2013 Biddeford City Council, Mayor Alan Casavant said, ” . . . history will look favorably upon this council.”

I think he was right, but that may be a hard pill to swallow for the four councilors who lost their re-election bids: Roch Angers, David Bourque, Rick Laverriere and Richard Rhames.

Similar to what Dorothy said to the scarecrow just before waking from her dream, I think I will miss Councilor Richard Rhames the most.

You may be shaking your head, especially since I did not encourage people to vote for Rhames in the last election; and because I have previously (and rigorously) criticized his positions on a variety of policy issues.

But it should be noted that I also previously described Richard as “the city council’s conscience.”

Roughly two years ago, I ranked Rhames as ninth of the 25 most influential public policy masters in Biddeford-Saco politics.

From that previous post: Rhames began his political career by driving a grassroots effort to stop a planned expansion of the Biddeford Airport in the late 1970s. He then became one of the most outspoken opponents of the Maine Energy Recovery Company. Even his most ardent detractors concede that Richard is extraordinarily intelligent and that he commands a core following of people with similar political persuasions. He despises pragmatism and often rails against a “political class” that seems way too cozy with business interests. He is an unapologetic FDR Democrat, who believes the power of government should be reserved for those who are otherwise powerless.

Richard’s strength is his ability to point out the hypocrisy and greased skids tactics of the politically well-connected. He does not want to “get along” simply for the sake of “getting along.” His frequent and long-winded monologues follow predictable themes: opposing corporate influence, raising awareness about labor issues and the sorry-state of media (local, national and global).

Richard is the real deal. An authentic rabble rouser, who is arguably one of the best known people in Biddeford.

During my stint as the editor of the Biddeford-Saco Courier, I often poked fun at Richard in my weekly opinion column. Admittedly, I often crossed the lines of good taste and always cringe when I recall those rants about his “pony-tail politics.” Richard, however, was fair game, despite my sophomoric criticisms. He consistently injects himself – without hesitation – into the city’s political arena, and he could never be accused of being a shrinking violet. He also knows a thing or two about taking swipes.

But over the last 15 years of closely observing Biddeford’s political theater, I have developed a genuine respect for Rhames.

Although I am sometimes vexed by his approach and still disagree with some of his positions, he consistently (although indirectly) forced me to pause and question my own political bent. I admire his honesty and his consistency. There are no games with Richard. He is who he is. He says what he means and means what he says. Unfortunately, that makes him a rare breed among elected officials.

Rhames has always been an outspoken champion for the poor and the powerless. Yes, he can be snarky, condescending and sometimes hypocritical but he never pretended to be anything more than a flawed individual who was at least willing to speak up, even when he knows doing so is not in his own best interest.

Jimmy Carter may not have been a good president, but I am hard pressed to think of a more decent and honest man.

I agree with Mayor Casavant. I think history will look favorably upon this outgoing council, but I think it will look especially favorably upon Councilor Rhames.