Hello, goodbye . . . and some predictions

DSCN1587I noticed something this morning. My dogs are oblivious to the calendar. The could not care less that it is Wednesday, or even the first day of a new year. They were ready to tackle the new day with the exact level of enthusiasm and ambition they display on any other day.

Dogs, unlike most people, live in the moment. They do not reflect on the past nor do they worry about what the future may bring. They have no regrets and apparently make no predictions.

Dogs are always more than ready to eat, play and love. I think that was the name of a movie starring Julia Roberts.

I have long since abandoned the idea of making New Year’s resolutions. I live by the motto that “expectations are pre-meditated resentments.”

Two years ago, I publicly pledged on these pages to do a better job in how I conduct political debates with friends, acquaintances and strangers:  I will listen more than I speak. I will ask those who disagree with me how they came to their conclusions; and I will push myself to consider and reflect upon the contrary arguments I encounter along the way.

That resolution seemed to go the way of so many other resolutions, but it still seems more important than quitting smoking, losing weight or better organizing my sock drawer. Thus, I offer the same resolution this year.

In many ways, 2013 was a good year, and I have much to be thankful for. But, there were also some challenges. I lost a good friend to suicide. My wife and I both racked up some huge medical bills and the future seems uncertain. But the future is always uncertain. That’s why it is the future. It is unknown, full of possibility and ripe with potential.

Dogs don’t make predictions. Dogs avoid resentment. Dogs have low expectations. Dogs ignore the calendar and live completely in the present.

We are not dogs, however. We are humans and strive to control our lives, our futures. We enjoy making predictions because it helps quell the anxiety of what is ahead: the unknown.

A few days ago, I asked some friends to submit their best predictions for 2014. Here they are:

The future’s so bright?

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

Governor LePage: winner or loser in 2014?

Bad News for the GOP: It would be hard to know that my friend John Lovell is a die-hard Democrat if he never opened his mouth or approached his keyboard. John and I spar frequently, and I have immense respect for his intellect, wit and compassion. But I was not at all surprised by his predictions, which included Republicans losing several Congressional seats. He predicted Sen. Collins will lose her bid for another term and that Gov. Paul LePage will lose his re-election bid, describing him as  “the worst governor in Maine history.”

Bad News for Democrats: Matthew Angotti of Saco has a different perspective: “Obamacare woes will continue, and partially, as a result, Republicans will keep the US House, take the US Senate and even take one Maine Legislative body. Further, LePage will be reelected as Governor with 41 percent of the vote. Also, Seattle wins the Super Bowl.

Karen Moore, a Biddeford native who now lives in Colorado, is one of my favorite political foes. She is feisty, stubborn and thoughtful. She is an enigma to me, and I doubt she has any idea how much I love debating political and public policy issues with her. Karen offered a hodgepodge of predictions, saying former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will be found guilty of murder during his trial this year.

Karen also predicted that George Zimmerman will kill again; and that Paul LePage will lose the Blaine House to Democrat Mike Michaud, who will then become Maine’s first gay governor. She also predicted that Republicans will lose their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and that Democrats will maintain control of the U.S. Senate; and says that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in favor of gay marriage in 2014.

Beyond politics, Karen predicted two “hurricane super storms” next fall – one of which, will hit Rhode Island, Mass and Maine. Sadly, she also predicted another mass shooting incident that will involve “50+ children” and  will be committed by “a card-carrying NRA member who passed background checks and was formerly “responsible”.

Zimmerman will kill again?

Zimmerman will kill again?

She also predicted that there “will be a huge pipeline disaster on US soil,” and that John Boehner will resign in disgrace. On a final note, Karen predicts that a former U.S. president (unnamed) “will pass away and there will controversy at the State funeral – such as Putin won’t be invited but the North Korean or Iranian dude will attend.”

Let’s pause here to pop a couple antidepressants or partake in some recreational drugs. Whew.

On a much lighter note, my friend Ernie Corrigan, a former reporter and political advisor to Tip O’Neil, predicted that Sarah Palin will travel to Maine to advise Gov. Paul LePage on “how to stop saying every crazy thing that comes into his head.” Coincidentally, he says,  Columbia Pictures announces the release of Dumb and Dumber III.

Corrigan also predicted that “Republican leaders will announce they are going to continue to try to scuttle ObamaCare with legislation they say will provide affordable health care insurance for all. They are calling it The Affordable Care Act and it is instantly embraced by Republicans as the cure for ObamaCare.”
Corrigan also predicted a major shift in federal domestic policy, when Congress “announces that it wants to spend $100 billion on mental health, saying it will reach out to people who appear to be talking to themselves while walking down the street.”  Verizon, Corrigan predicts, will immediately file a class action suit in federal court, claiming the government is targeting their customers.
Racial tensions will continue in 2014, according to Corrigan’s predictions: Democrats, he says. will announce they are going into federal court and charging Republicans with a persistent pattern of federal election violations aimed at keeping African-Americans from voting.  “During simultaneous press conferences, only African-Americans attend the Republican press conference and only white Americans attend the Democratic press conference.”
 Corrigan also places a high degree of confidence in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Corrigan predicts that Kerry will engineer a peace accord in the Middle East with agreement from Israel, Syria, Iran and Iraq and the PLO. Soviet leader Putin attacks the accord as an attempt to destabilize the region, he adds.

Palin: Coming to Maine in 2014?

Palin: Coming to Maine in 2014?

Corrigan also says the U.S.  jobless rate will drop below 6 percent for the first time in 15 years, and that Leonardo DiCaprio will win Best Actor for his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Wall Street CEOs, according to Corrigan, will say the award confirms the strong work ethic of traders on Wall Street, despite the  film’s depictions of excessive patterns of group sex, infidelity, massive drug abuse and a persistent pattern of stock fraud and greed.”

Keeping it local, State Senator David Dutremble (D-Biddeford) predicts that Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, facing term limits, will challenge him in the June 2014 Democratic primary. Reason for this prediction?  “She has openly asked me to swap seats so she can have one term as Senator and I could take her Rep seat,” Dutremble said. “She previously said she didn’t originally run to play games and step down just so someone else could just have the seat, but now she has publicly endorsed another person for her  seat, leading me to believe she will challenge my seat. I have no proof, just a prediction.”
Former colleague and award-winning columnist John Swinconeck kept his tongue firmly in cheek with his predictions for 2014:
“Early one morning in 2014, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will wake up on a bed of Hefty bags outside a Portland night club wearing a torn, black cocktail dress,” Swinconeck opined. “Hung around her neck like a pendant will be the severed ear of “Fox and Friends” co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She’ll have no memory of what transpired the night before, she only knows that she is filled with a sense of peace she has not felt for years. That day, Sebelius sneaks aboard a freighter bound for Cairo. As the vessel sails from Casco Bay, Sebelius will offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the god of second chances, grateful that the voices in her head have finally ceased. Back in Washington, the tumult over the Affordable Care Act will continue.”
My friend Harvey Ardman, an accomplished writer and journalist, predicted that “Eliot Cutler will withdraw from the Governor’s race  two months (or more) before the election and [Mike] Michaud will collect most of his votes, winning handily over LePage.”
Jesse Ventura: Maine's next governor?

Jesse Ventura: Maine’s next governor?

See if you can guess the political leanings of my friend Sally Melcher McKeagney: Jesse Ventura moves to Maine in January 2014. He is drafted to run for governor. Ventura  wins in November. Governor LePage is very angry about the loss, so angry , he tries to blow up the PPH building. Though the explosions are little more than smoke and soft pops, LePage is forced to flee  to Jamaica.  He applies for refugee status.  Jamaica doesn’t really want him. They  offer to extradite him–they say they will even pay us to take him back. But the State of Maine cites his residency status–which is not Maine–and tells Jamaica “You’re on your own!”  Jesse Ventura turns out to be just as interesting as Paul LePage, and Democrats wonder how they can get Ventura to Jamaica.”

My friend Bob Meyers predicts that the Times Record newspaper in Brunswick will cease publication as a daily in 2014 and go to 2 or possibly 3 issues per week.
My friend Bob Mentzinger, editor of the Times Record, also predicted that George Zimmerman will kill again.  Mentzinger thinks LePage will be re-elected because Independent Eliot Cutler will remain in the race too long, waiting for a repeat of the 2010 surge.  On a final note, Mentzinger predicts the Carolina Panthers will win the Super Bowl, it will snow through April; and that the Dow will hit 18,000.
So there you go! Let the games begin and bring on 2014! Be careful out there, and remember: it’s never a bad idea to hold hands and keep your expectations in check.

If you believe in forever

US_CapitolAnd so it was — amidst all this talk of a government shut down, an “unfair” system of health care delivery and a skyrocketing national debt — that my youngest son was assigned to read Animal Farm.

As so many of us learned in high school, George Orwell wrote Animal Farm as an allegorical reference to the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Matthew finished reading the final chapter last night, and now it appears that our government is about to end yet another temporary shutdown.

Which political party will be blamed for this fiasco remains to be seen. We’ll likely have to wait a little more than a year for that answer.

Allow me to pause here for a moment to ask you a question. Are you surprised that our elected leaders have behaved so foolishly over the past several days? Really?

Maybe we shouldn’t be blaming Congress. Maybe we should be blaming ourselves.

Consider this. Americans elected a man (Republican) who believes that wind turbines “slow down” the wind. We also elected another man (Democrat) who believes that the island of Guam could actually “tip over.”

We have elected members of Congress who enjoy taking pictures of their own genitals and then sending those pictures to porn stars. We have elected members of Congress who believe the internet is little more than “a series of tubes.”

Take these people, put them together in a room with broad Constitutional powers and tell me that is not a recipe for disaster.

But a penchant for stupidity does not end at the DC Beltway. It extends into every nook and cranny of our great nation.

Despite all the rapid advances in technology, we humans have changed very little over the last 2,000 years.

The popularity of Wikipedia should have been a wake-up call. But still, so many of us keep doing the same things and yet expect different results.

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. We have access to so much information, yet we operate politically as if children still learn on chalkboards

We all want a chicken in every pot and repeatedly fail to understand the consequences of actually believing political candidates who make such promises.

All politics is local

In my hometown we will soon be asked to choose a mayor and new city councilors.

The lawn signs have begun popping up all over town. The candidates are working their campaigns and making their promises.

This is where it starts. This is where the numbing process begins.

One of our mayoral candidates is promising “lower taxes” and “more jobs.” Although he is short on specifics, I’m almost certain that he also likes puppies, French fries and cold beer. Why wouldn’t you vote for that guy? Sounds good, right?

Most of us are too busy to peel back the layers of such a perfunctory campaign. We have jobs, families and the Red Sox are playing.

Some local folks are upset about property taxes. They are planning to take out their frustration on an incumbent candidate who is seeking re-election.

Sounds smart, right? Toss the bum out. Vote for one of his opponents.

There’s just a few things you should consider. The incumbent has only been the mayor for two years, and the city council decides the budget.

Why is this important? Four years ago, under the leadership of a different mayor, the city’s voters overwhelmingly voted to approve a $35 million bond in order to finally complete a long overdue renovation at the high school. I supported that bond question but sometimes it feels like I am one of the few people who read the fine print on the ballot.

Yeah, taxes went up because we borrowed $35 million to finally fix a project we ignored for decades. Duh!

When I purchased my truck, I drove it off the lot with no money down. A few weeks later, the bank had the nerve to start asking for payments. How arrogant of them! I am going to get a new bank!

Voters are not blaming the former mayor for the tax increase. In fact, the former mayor is today hoping to get her old job back, a prospect made much easier by blaming the current mayor for a situation that happened on her watch.

Our city has several infrastructure problems that need to be addressed. For decades we have ignored and stalled many of these projects to keep taxes low.

The front stairs of our high school were literally crumbling and the gymnasium roof was leaking before we were willing to invest a dime. Stalling those repairs did not make them less expensive. In fact, we stalled right past the deadline to qualify for some state funding for those repairs.

But hey, let’s blame the guy who has been in the mayor’s office for 22 months. It’s all his fault, right?

For 30 years, our city bitched and moaned about a controversial trash-to-energy incinerator that was located in the center of our downtown area. The stench of burning trash became a humiliating calling card for our community. Merchants and businesses complained. Economic development was thwarted and diminished.

The city spent decades in court, racking up huge legal fees in fighting against the facility’s former owner. Every mayor in the last 20 years pledged to get rid of the facility. It was politically popular rhetoric.

Then, after 30 years of complaining and wringing our hands, our current mayor (the new guy) led a team that was able to negotiate the closure of the facility. The problem is now gone. No more wasted time, energy and resources will be spent on that particular problem.

Results matter. Talk is cheap and empty promises are politically convenient.

We have a responsibility to pay attention. Otherwise, the wind may begin to slow and islands could start tipping over.

Puttin’ on the Ritz

I don’t always agree with Oralndo Delogu, but when I do – - – I shout it from the rooftop.

Delogu is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law and a well-known policy wonk. He is also a frequent contributor to the Forecaster group of weekly newspapers in southern Maine.

With the increasingly controversial Affordable Health Care law looming on the near horizon, Delogu’s most recent column moneyraises a point that has been buried beneath the mounds of political rhetoric and stunning complexity of the new law.

In a nutshell, how do we make health care more “affordable” without addressing the skyrocketing cost of healthcare — even in the non-profit sector?

The first half of Delogu’s column focuses upon the fading memories of the Occupy Wall Street movement and all of its garbled rage toward corporate profits. But the second half focuses like a laser on the growing income disparity found in one of Maine’s largest non-profit health care providers. Delogu shares data he uncovered by Mainebiz about Maine Medical Center.

The state’s largest hospital, which is also Maine’s fourth largest employer, recently announced that it would be cutting more than 200 jobs. The hospital blames the usual suspects: uncompensated care, lower insurance payouts, etc.

But Delogu sniffs something else in the air.

According to Mainebiz, Maine Medical Center is the second largest nonprofit corporate entity in the state, with more than $1 billion in assets.

But here’s where it gets interesting:  Of the 27 highest paid health-care professionals in the state, 25 were associated with a “non-profit” hospital and seven of them are or were employed by Maine Med.

Delogu writes: “Based on 2010 salary data, the average annual salary of these seven physicians or executives was just under $1 million . . . one might ask how many hundreds of employees (at these 13 Maine non-profit hospitals) have annual salaries between $636,000 and say, $300,000?

Although there is plenty of evidence to suggest some outrageous behavior in the private-sector world of corporate America, it’s refreshing to see some analysis that is willing to examine other pieces of the puzzle.

Bravo, professor! Bravo!

Stick a fork in the GOP, they’re done

Maine’s next senator? John Baldacci…Bangor Daily News photo

Senator Olympia Snowe’s abrupt decision this week to abandon the national spotlight has caused widespread power outages, severe coastal flooding and scores of deadly tornadoes throughout the Midwest.

The unexpected announcement has also sparked dramatic spikes of violence, robberies and drug use in newsrooms from Caribou to Kittery, according to high-ranking law enforcement officials who say dozens of overworked reporters and copy-editors have “apparently snapped.”

During the chaos, more than 45 of Maine’s most prominent Democrats have been reported missing by their Facebook friends who do not understand how to use Twitter.

Office supply stores in Bangor, South Portland and Lewiston are reporting several cases of looting by “wild-eyed thugs” who bear a strange resemblance to former governors, state lawmakers and other notorious felons – all scrambling for a diminishing supply of clipboards.

“It was absolute pandemonium,” said Andrea Versay, an assistant manager at Staples in South Portland. “I saw grown men weep when we told them we were out of clipboards. I said we are expecting another shipment on March 16, but that just seemed to make them more upset.”

Senate hopeful? Rep. Chellie Pingree

Ok, so I may be exaggerating just a bit, but so are hundreds of delusional Maine Democrats who seem to think Snowe’s announcement signals the final death-knell of the Republican Party in Maine.

That over confidence can be found on Facebook posts and in the “reader comment” section of online newspapers across Maine.

You would think that someone dropped a house on the wicked witch of Falmouth. The munchkins are beside themselves with joy and dancing in the streets.

The Maine Republican Party is finished, they say.

In fact, one exuberant Democrat wrote: “The Republicans have been out of power in Maine for so long they do not have a strong, experienced bench.”

As communications director for the city of Real-ville, I would like to offer this news update for my friends and others who just awoke from a long coma:

The governor of Maine? He’s a Republican who got a larger percentage of the vote than John Baldacci did in 2006.

Governor Paul LePage

Maine’s current U.S. Senators? Republicans…well, sort of…but still Republicans who both voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

President of the Maine Senate? Republican

Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives? Republican

Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer? Republican, Republican and Republican.

Success rate of the last Democrat who ran for the Blaine House? 19 percent.

Results from Chellie Pingree’s last campaign in the First Congressional District against Republican Dean Scontras in 2010? 57%

Results from Chellie Pingree’s previous attempt to be a U.S. Senator against Republican Susan Collins in 2002? 41.56%

Total votes for the last Democrat who challenged Olympia Snowe (2006)? 26%

Bottom line? The Munchkins ought to exercise a bit of caution before an explosive fireball catches them off guard and sends them scrambling for cover.

George “Pete” Lamontagne is an uncomplicated man who has seen his fair share of complicated situations.

Political observers say the former city councilor’s laid-back personality and his friendly demeanor often calmed severe storms during especially contentious Biddeford City Council meetings.

He is a self-described man of the street, and he  is widely perceived as a champion of those without friends or power. He is soft-spoken, but commands attention and respect when he speaks. He is a lover of history, politics and art.

He is a simple, courageous man with an extraordinary reputation, and he loves his hometown of Biddeford.

We caught up with Pete in the lobby of the North Dam Mill building, formerly the home of the Biddeford Textile Company, where both Lamongtagne and his  father worked. As always, he was gracious, understated and relaxed.

With the exception of a two-year hiatus, Lamontagne served as a member of the Biddeford City Council for more than a decade, first elected as a Ward 5 Councilor in 1997. He returned to the council in 2001 and remained there, serving as both an at-large representative and council preident, until stepping down last year.

You and several other members of the last city council were roundly criticized  because of the infamous executive session meeting  held with the owners of Scarborough Downs before the city announced its intention to put out a racino referendum. Do you regret that decision?

“In hindisght, sure. We found out after the meeting that it wasn’t right. (Sighs) It doesn’t matter much now, it’s water under the bridge. I can’t speak for anyone else, we just wanted to do something for our community to help bring back jobs…it didn’t work out, and now the city will have to look at other things, but I don’t think we’ll ever see anything that big, anything that could have brought so many jobs here.”

You were a big supporter of the proposed Biddeford Downs project.

“Oh absolutely. I’ve spent a lot of time in both Bangor (Hollywood Slots) and Foxwoods, which are both about 180 miles either way of here. When West Point closed its doors, it was a like a stake in the heart of hope for those of us who worked there.

“I see these unemployed people every day. These are good people, hard-working people; they looked at this proposal and said, you know…maybe I can get a job there. It was something to hope for, and I was relentless. Today, those people are still unemployed.”

You were the president of the UNITE union and you worked in that mill for more than three decades. The closure hit you hard.

Pete Lamontagne examines a historical photo of mill workers who toiked in the same buildings where he and his father worked for the better part of more than five decades.

“Oh yes…. (Pauses) You know, I never thought it [West Point] was going to close. I never planned to retire. It was tough. It was devastating for a lot of families, my friends… A lot of us started taking retraining classes at the Community Center, but jobs are tough to find right now.”

You know a lot about hard times.

(Laughs) “I sure do, but I also know something about good times, and strangely enough, they often overlap.

“I grew up on Water Street, and back then it was a very poor neighborhood, mostly bars. But it was a also a close-knit neighborhood. It was where Raymond Gaudette and [former mayor] Gilbert Boucher grew up. I had lots of friends.

“Two of my aunts and one of my uncles lived with us; back then it was how families did things. Every store had a back room with warm beer, because that’s what people liked. Warm Schmidts …it was their beer of choice (Laughs).”

You were named after your dad.

(Laughs) “Well, sort of, . . . his name was Pete. He was a big guy. He worked at the mill as a mason in the late ’50s and early ’60s. People called me Little Pete or Pete junior. Actually, my middle name is Alphonse, but don’t print that.” (Laughs)

Did you get the political bug from your father?

“Well, you know, he ran for the council as a Republican, and he got trounced. I mean, he was a French Republican.”

Did he live long enough to see his son get elected?

“Yes, he passed away just after I won my first election. I think he was very proud.”

You served under three mayors: Dion, Nutting and Twomey. Is Biddeford’s political landscape as tough as its reputation?

“Oh yes, Biddeford politics can be very tough. You have to have a thick skin. I got to serve with [Jim] Grattelo and [Marc] Lessard. Those were my best days. (Smiles)

“There were times when I had to break up physical fights; and there were many times when Mayor Twomey and I found ourselves in very heated disagreements, and we didn’t always see eye-to-eye.”

So how did you broker the peace?

“I don’t look at the oyster shell, I’m always looking for the pearl inside the shell.”

You and Joanne Twomey go way back.

“She was a pretty, little blonde girl. When I was a young boy, my family spent a lot of time out at Hills Beach. She used to visit, and we would sit on the beach together and talk. I guess you could say she was my first girlfriend.” (Smiles).

You also befriended Rory Holland, a former mayoral candidate who is now in jail for murdering two young men.

“A lot of people didn’t like him. He was not well, but I think he understood where I was coming from. I would let him visit my house, but I was always firm with him, and told him I would not hesitate to throw him out. I think he respected me, but I also think he needed a friend.

“I woke up to the news about the shootings, and I was in shock. It took me more than three days to get my head around it, what a terrible tragedy. It still hurts to think about it.”

Your service in the Army didn’t get much respect from former mayor Wallace Nutting.

“His four stars had a big impact on me. I wasn’t intimidated by them, but I had a high degree of respect for his military service and accomplishments.

“I was a mail clerk in the Army, a desk jockey, serving with the Adjuntant General’s staff. But still, here was this 19-year-old Biddeford boy in France.

“Mayor Nutting had a different way of doing things. He would always ask for your input or opinions, but you always knew what the answer was supposed to be.” (Laughs)

Who did you vote for during the last election, Casavant or Twomey?

“No answer.” (Laughs)

You wanted to serve as a citizen member on the council’s Policy Committee, but you were never appointed. What happened?

I don’t know. Alan and I met shortly after the election, and I told him I wanted to be on the policy committee. We were in his office at City Hall, and I saw him write it down. Then, the council agenda didn’t include my name as an appointment.

“At first, I was mad….Bastard!, I thought, until I saw the two names of people who got appointed to that committee, Laura (Seaver) and Renee (O’Neil). Those were perfect choices, so I decided not to say anything. It could not have worked out better. I think those two will do a wonderful job. I was very pleased with the mayor’s picks.”

Burnin’ down the house

If you don’t know anything else about Biddeford politics, you ought to know about the Dutremble family, one of the city’s most prolific, political families.

For more than 50 years, the Dutremble family has been — in one way or another —  deeply entrenched in local political circles.

Biddeford Firefighter David Dutremble will make a bid for the state senate seat that was previously held by his cousin, Dennis “Duke” Dutremble

Lucien “Babe” Dutremble, one of 13 children, never lost an election during a political career that included several terms on the city council, six terms in the Maine House of Representatives, the mayor’s office and serving as a York County Commissioner. Babe’s brother, Richard, was a York County Sheriff. Babe’s son, Richard, today serves as a York County commissioner.

Just as Babe’s political career was winding down, his second eldest son was making a name for himself. Dennis “Duke” Dutremble served several terms in the Maine Senate before being tapped as the senate president. But he retreated from the public spotlight after losing his bid to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Flash forward nearly two decades, and yet another Dutremble is making a foray into the city’s political establishment, banking on his family’s legacy and his “outsider” perspective.

David Dutremble is a lieutenant in the Biddeford Fire Department, the youngest of Babe Dutremble’s nephews, and is now a candidate for the District 4 State Senate seat.

Despite his legacy name and strong local connections, David is facing some challenges on the road to Augusta.

1.) A crowded primary field could split the city’s Democratic base and allow someone like businessman James Booth of Arundel to take the seat as a unenrolled candidate. Booth, a native of the neighboring city of Saco, is the son of former Saco Mayor Haley Booth and served on the Saco City Council.

2.) Expect his primary opponents (which could include former State Rep. Stephen Beaudette and former city councilor James Emerson) to question whether Dutremble can effectively balance his city job as a firefighter while serving in the State Senate.

A chart that outlines the Dutremble family’s political influence

Furthermore, we were stunned that David has yet to seek the counsel of his cousins, Duke Dutremble and County Commissioner Richard Dutremble.

CAN’T WE JUST GET ALONG?

David Dutremble graduated from Biddeford High School in 1985. Since 1988, he has been a Biddeford firefighter. He and his wife, Charlene, have five children.

Why jump into the fray for a state senate seat without any prior political experience?

“Honestly, I would have gone into local politics a long time ago, but the city’s charter prevents city employees from holding municipal offices.  Initially, I was thinking about running for the House until I talked to Alan [Casavant] and found out he is hoping to keep his seat.”

You have all the political muscle you need, given your last name.

(Laughs) “It’s an intimidating last name, you know in local politics…absolutely, but it also carries a lot of expectations.”

Aren’t you busy enough. Why run for public office?

“I think we need more people in Augusta who can reach across the political divides. I think government has a responsibility to do good things for the people. Government should be creating an atmosphere that promotes economic development.”

You sound a little like a Republican.

(Laughs) “I’m a life-long Democrat, but I think both parties want to see Maine succeed. It’s time to stop all the political bickering and blame. It’s time to think about the people we serve. I don’t care who gets credit, as long as we do good things for the people.

“When my kids grow up, I want them to have the same opportunities I had. My step son had to move out west to find a good job. I think that’s really sad. It bothers me to see local kids miss out on the same opportunities we had growing up here.”

How can you be a firefighter and a state senator at the same time?

“I’ll use vacation time, and swap time. I’ve already run it past the guys in the department. I know I have support and we can swap shifts to accommodate my schedule.”

You haven’t talked to Duke about your decision to seek his old senate seat?

(Laughs) “He’s in Florida for the winter. I sent him an e-mail on Facebook, but I haven’t heard back. Maybe he doesn’t check his Facebook.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank Governor LePage’s performance?

(Pauses) “I’d probably give him a four. I just think his priorities are out of whack…like going after the labor mural.”

Same scale for President Obama?

“I’d say a 7. No matter who won in 2008, it was a no-win situation for our economy, whether we elected a Republican or Democrat. I don’t think we would be any better off if John McCain had won. I think President Obama has done a decent job.”

Do you really think you can change the political dynamic of partisan bickering?

“Yes, but you have to start small. People used to say that women would never be able to vote. We used to say that a black man would never drive the bus. I believe things can change for the better. I think elected leaders just need to focus on working in collaboration to solve problems.

Original or extra crispy?

(Laughs) “Extra Crispy.”

Coke or Pepsi?

“Pepsi…Diet Pepsi.”

Ginger or Mary Anne?

“Mary Anne, for sure.. (Laughs)

Like a virgin

A new mayor took the city’s helm a little more than 60 days ago, but he’s not the only one getting accustomed to the slow and tedious grind of public policy making in Biddeford, where even routine matters, such as liquor license applications or a purchase of road salt, can quickly morph into a an all-out, fist-to-cuffs brawl that requires 32 legal opinions, 14 SWAT officers, two paramedics and one obligatory 35-minute monologue by City Councilor Richard Rhames.

Brad Cote's Facebook profile pic

Welcome to Biddeford, boys and girls!

Sure, Mayor Casavant should know better. After all, he spent several years as a Biddeford City Councilor during the Eisenhower Administration.

But what about the council’s political newcomers?

Of the nine city councilors, three of them are just now waking up to the grave realization that they actually got elected to the Biddeford City Council.

So while Melissa Bednarowski, Brad Cote and Michael Swanton are learning the ropes at City Hall, we thought you should know a little bit more about them and about what makes them tick.

If I were a reporter, I would have to pick up the phone or actually go meet these people to get a better understanding of what butters their bread or frosts their socks.

Luckily, I’m not a reporter. Thus, I can do what every other basement-dwelling blogger does during those long stints between dates, experiencing daylight or bathing:

I looked at their Facebook pages.

We’ll start with the council’s most inconspicuous member, who represents the good people of Ward Three.

BRAD COTE:

It’s not hard to win an election in Biddeford when your last name is Cote. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 387,000 people with the last name of Cote living in Biddeford.

Brad is an affable man who was born in 1981, five years after I was first arrested and three weeks before I flunked my driver’s exam for the second time.

He is the living, talking definition of easy-going, non-confrontational politeness. He graduated from Biddeford High School in 1999, and today works as an “internal audit consultant,” which makes him somewhat dangerous. Imagine a city official who can add and subtract without a calculator. The mind reels.

Apparently, Brad and his lovely wife, Lori, recently had a baby. Or his profile picture could be his own; taken by one of his 205 friends who were not at all surprised that this mild-mannered auditor would actually want to sit through long-winded, unproductive meetings about the perils of re-opening Bradbury Street Extension.

Brad went to St. Mary’s College, a school well-known for producing some of the nation’s most notable internal audit consultants.

His interests are almost as boring as his occupation. He “likes” Redbox, the Saco Drive-In and It’s ah Hair Thing Salon.

I wanna party with this dude.

In all seriousness, expect Cote to be on the same side as Mayor Casavant and fellow Councilors Mike Swanton and David Flood 99.9 percent of the time. But he will also deliver hand-written apology notes to councilors he disagrees with.

Brad, your Delta Chi name is “Cub Scout.”  Let’s move along.

MICHAEL SWANTON:

Mike Swnaton's Facebook profile pic

You have to respect a man with such a serious moustache. Swanton, a plumber who originally hails from Garden City New York, looks like a contract assassin from a Quentin Tarantino

movie.

He attended Biddeford High School and rides a motorcycle in some of the city’s prettier neighborhoods.

Apparently, he’s not big into the whole “social media” thing. He has 18 Facebook friends, including yours truly, Mayor Alan Casavant and several of the other city councilors. He says on his Facebook wall that he “caved” to the pressure of his friends for not being on Facebook. Don’t expect this guy to have a backbone when a controversial liquor license application comes before the council.

But Swanton is his own man. He is quiet, studious and unassuming. The new councilor from Ward One also exceeds the council’s average height metric by a whopping two feet.

This next part is true: as of today, and according to Facebook, Swanton only has two things that “interest” him, one of which is this blog. Psst, Mike…time to get a hobby, dude.

Mike, your Delta Chi name is “Chipmunk”

MELISSA BEDNAROWSKI

Melissa Bednarowski's Facebook profile pic

Finally, it’s time to meet the only female member of the Biddeford City Council.

A former planning board member, Bednarowski was unopposed for her Ward 4 seat. It’s a good thing because the city clerk’s office could not fit any other names on the ballot under Ward Four.

Originally from Manchester, New Hampshire, Bednarowski seems to take her new position seriously, listing it as her occupation on Facebook.

Melissa is a bit of an enigma in the social media realm. She keeps her list of friends hidden from public view, but apparently fellow Councilor Roch Angers and I belong to a very elite and discreet club known as Melissa Bednarowski’s Facebook friends.

Melissa spends most of her time on Facebook posting photos of herself, her dog and some of her friends. She also likes to share thought-provoking quotes that seem to match her matter-of-fact style.

It’s hard to know how Melissa will fare over the next two years of her term. Expect her to be independent, stubborn and well-prepared for whatever debates may come down the line. She is a stickler for details and a true-believer of “government service.”

Melissa, your Delta Chi name is Wolverine.

Welcome to the club, folks!

The Top-25 Biddeford-Saco political players and coaches

Love them or hate them; it doesn’t matter.

The following list represents the 25 most influential players on the Biddeford-Saco region’s political landscape, at least according to my own observations.

Choosing this list, and determining its ranking order was much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I received several recommendations from All Along the Watchtower readers; and it was surprising to see how many people came up with the same “short list” of names.

It should also be noted that many of the people on this list also suggested names that should be included, but none of them even hinted they should be on the list.

There is no core science or mathematical equation to this process. The list is mine and, by default, imperfect and subjective.  I invite your feedback, and look forward to your comments and suggestions about who was overlooked and who got way too much credit.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that this is not a list of the most popular or most likable people. It is a list of people who can get things done; people who know how to bend ears, twist arms and raise money when necessary.

They each have an undeniable imprint on their respective community, and I invite you now to meet this community’s political movers and shakers.

25.) Sam “The Man” Zaitlin

Sam Zaitlin began his political career nearly 40 years ago, winning an election to become Saco’s mayor in 1976.

The Biddeford High School graduate told me once that he was a political idealist and still believes pragmatic solutions are the core of political success. Sam also served on the Maine Board of Environmental Protection; and was appointed by his longtime friend and motorcycle-riding buddy, former Gov. Angus King, to serve on the Maine Turnpike Authority. Before Casella purchased the embattled Maine Energy Recovery facility in 1999, Sam served as vice president of KTI (Kuhr Technologies, Inc.), the plant’s previous parent company.

Because MERC dominated both cities’ political discussions for more than two decades, Zaitlin became a lightning rod of criticism directed at the plant. He has been openly critical of those who he says use issues associated with MERC to “serve their own petty political purposes.”

24.) James “Not like Jello” Grattelo

The above described moniker for former Biddeford Mayor Jim Grattelo should be attributed to my former boss, City Councilor David Flood, who corrected my frequent misspelling of Jim’s last name. “There is only one L, Randy…not like Jello.”

Although it has been nearly a decade since Grattelo’s coiffed presence could be found at City Hall, he still keeps his finger on the pulse of local politics, and offers his counsel and advice to a wide range of people, including his longtime adversary, former Mayor Joanne Twomey.

There is little doubt that Grattelo thrived on political strategy, orchestrating moves in City Hall (both as a councilor and mayor) that would make Rahm Emanuel proud. His detractors called him mean-spirited and sometimes petty, but despite our many battles I always found Jim to be affable and even a bit shy. His name still makes people take note, and that’s why he’s on this list.

23.) Peter “I’m not asleep” Morelli

A former journalist, Peter Morelli gave up the long hours, crappy pay and the requirement of covering zoning board of appeals meetings to instead take a job with long hours, crappy pay and developing the agenda for zoning board meetings, a brilliant tactical move I have always admired.

Today, Morelli is director of Saco’s Department of Community & Economic Development. Morelli has been working in Saco longer than most people have been alive. In 1999, when longtime City Manager Larry Mitchell left to take a job in his home state of Oklahoma, Mayor Bill Johnson tapped Morelli to fill-in as the interim.

Morelli is quiet, thoughtful and prudent. All traits of someone who would not seek elected office. But make no mistake, he can shift and craft public policy with the best of them. He has incredible institutional knowledge and the respect of the city council. Nothing happens in Saco without Peter’s prior knowledge and analysis.

22.) Joanne “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” Twomey

Of course, Joanne is on this list. Despite being trounced in the last election, don’t go betting against hearing again from one of the most boisterous Biddeford politicians since Papa Lauzier (For you newbies and Johnny come-latelys, that’s why they invented Google.)

In mid-summer of 2011, I was walking up Congress Street in Portland and ran into Ethan Strimling, by far the prettiest person to ever hold elected office in the United States. Ethan heard that I was running Alan Casavant’s campaign to deny Joanne Twomey a third consecutive term as Biddeford’s mayor.

Portland Press Herald photo

“Do you really think she is vulnerable,” asked Ethan, cocking his head, furrowing his brow and examining me as if I had just crapped my pants. Ethan, a former state senator from Portland, is a respected and well-televised political analyst, despite the fact that I have had sex since the last time he won a campaign….yes, it’s been that long. Back to Twomey.

Twomey ran her last campaign on  the rails of the “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” message all the way to the unemployment line in November, betting that her support for a proposed racino would guarantee her a third term.

Twomey has gone toe-to-toe with former mayors Bonnie Pothier, Jim Grattelo and Donna Dion. She was a self-described political activist, the proverbial fly in the ointment, a loud bastion of unbridled, post-Nixon era, righteous indignation.

As a four-term state legislator, Twomey made a name for herself by withdrawing from the Democrat Party, just hours before a crucial House vote. She said she was a “champion of the people” and waged war almost daily with the various and assorted owners/operators of the MERC plant…right up until she saw an opportunity to politically exploit the situation to bolster her image as reasonable and almost sane.

She disrupted political gatherings. She publicly chastised former Gov. Baldacci when he was speaking at the Biddeford-Saco Chamber, and unfortunately she became a caricature of everything she once professed to hate…a sneaky and ruthless politician with an enemies list.

She takes politics personally, and few can play the game better.

21.) Gene “Yes, I’m this good looking” Libby

A Saco attorney, Gene Libby once served as York County District Attorney. His late wife, Mary Kerry Libby, became the inspiration for the very popular Mary’s Walk, an event that has mushroomed over the years to become one of Maine’s most well-known and well-attended fundraisers in the fight against cancer.

In 2000, Libby was tapped by former Mayor Bill Johnson, to serve the remainder of a city council term when the occupant moved out of his council district. He easily won re-election.

Libby has a good lawyer’s temperment: smart, calculated and quiet. He is the sort of guy who commands respect just because…well…because…he is Gene Libby.

The Kerry family has achieved iconic stature in Saco, but respect for Libby is probably based more on his ability to offer strategic guidance with a seasoned prosecutor’s sense of how to close a deal.

20.) John “No, I did not marry Theresa Heinz” Kerry

Speaking of the Kerry family …. John Kerry has certainly been around political circles for a long time. In fact, when he started, it was known as “political squares” because the circle had yet to be invented.

Kerry and his brothers are well known for operating the Kerrymen Pub, but John is also well-connected on many political levels, from the Boston Archdiocese to being appointed by former Governor John Baldacci to head the Maine Office of Energy Security & Independence. His work for Catholic Charities is evidence of his ability to cull local connections.

The fundraising and completion of the remodeled St. Louis Child Care Center in Biddeford is just one of the many examples of how John Kerry has helped  and influenced his community.

Politically, he generally stays comfortably below the media radar line, but real insiders know that if you want a future in Saco politics, you ought to have a chat with John Kerry before you order your lawn signs.

19.) Roger “I have a badge” Beaupre

Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre’s talent for political survival is superseded only by his ability to cook a perfect hamburger or apply for federal grant money.

Journal Tribune photo

Roger Beaupre has been the city’s police chief for a long time, and he has seen a lot of political bluster during his career, including the incident in which Joanne Twomey (No. 22) was handcuffed and escorted from the City Council Chamber.

Beaupre is Biddeford’s equivalent to J. Edgar Hoover with better looks and the ability to smile. He knows all of the city’s secrets. Better yet, he knows when to keep his mouth shut. The command center near his office rivals NORAD, equipped with more technology and surveillance equipment than Fort Meade.

Roger knows the city better than most people, but he never brags about it. He is stealth, strategic and generally a nice guy, so it’s hard not to respect the man who could make your toes curl with stories about the old days, when dinosaurs, Jack Kerouac and rowdy politicians roamed the unplowed city streets.

18.) Doug “is this building for sale?” Sanford

Doug Sanford is perhaps the best thing to happen to downtown Biddeford since the discovery of the Saco River.

In less than 12 years, this boot-strap real-estate developer has become one of the city’s largest commercial property owners. A self-described “attention deficit disorder junkie,” Sanford is always furtively scanning the horizon, looking for the next bunch of cinder blocks with potential.

He can beautifully renovate a building almost as fast as he talks. He is passionate about the city and its potential, and he despises the slow, tedious grinding of the political process.

He’s a mover and a shaker, literally.

He is also a guy with an impressive Rolodex and an iron will to get things accomplished. He prefers the background, and he is an inspiration for anyone who has become cynical about the merits of community involvement. Make no mistake, politicians of all stripes and calibers know that Doug Sanford’s blessing carries enormous weight.

17.) Tammy  “Get off your ass” Ackerman

Okay, so once you get past the fact that she didn’t go to Biddeford High School or sing in the Thornton Academy chorus, it’s hard not to recognize that this “person from away” is here to stay…and make it a bit more, shall we say…aesthetic?

Tammy is the heartbeat of downtown revitalization efforts, and she’s not afraid to put her money where her mouth is.

Although she narrowly lost her first bid for political office to Bob “Do you know who I am?” Mills, many people in the city rightly believe that Ackerman has a bright political future in the city, despite her Anglo-Saxon surname.

Ackerman is ambitious, talented, passionate and outspoken, which leads a lot of people to believe she is an alien being sent here from a planet where things make sense and projects are judged on their merit, not stereotypes.

If you come across Ackerman, run…don’t walk. Otherwise, you will likely be lulled into serving on some committee or helping the community. Who needs that when you have cable television?

16.) Donna “unity in the community” Dion

Former Biddeford Mayor Donna Dion accomplished what no other mayor since who knows when has accomplished. She served three consecutive terms in the city’s top political seat.

With more than 489,000 close relatives (and who knows how many cousins) living in Biddeford, Donna was able to stifle the gamesmanship of her political adversaries including Jim Grattelo (No. 24), Marc Lessard and former city solicitor Harry Center.

Dion’s biggest weakness is that she remained politically naïve throughout the six years she reigned over the city. In 2010 she must have eaten some bad acid because she decided to seek the Blaine House with no money, statewide name recognition or political affiliation.

She was a common sense candidate with absolutely no common sense.

Nonetheless, Dion has a loyal following, even though she angered a core chunk of her constituency by embracing and joining a PAC to bring a tribal casino to Biddeford.

She may be in the political background, but she still has influence, so long as she doesn’t declare as an independent candidate for president.

15.) Bill “would you like a cup of coffee?” Johnson

Only the most studious of political historians may recall a time when Mark Johnston was not the mayor of Saco. But don’t ask Bill Johnson, he never believed he was the city’s mayor, mistakenly believing that he had been elected to serve as the city’s affable grandfather.

Don’t get me wrong. Bill is a retired oil company executive. He has seen and done things.

He’s been around. He’s old school, sort of like Norman Mailer…tough guys don’t dance and if you don’t vote the way I want you to, I’ll beat the crap outta you when no one is looking.

You would be hard pressed to find a guy who is more civic minded than Bill Johnson. He and wife, Mary, live on a pastoral farm on the city’s outskirts, yet Bill spends his retirement serving on non-profit boards and helping civic organizations. He is a Universityof Maine trustee and serves on the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s board of directors.

Bill served as Mayor Emeritus after retiring from local politics, gladly filling in for Mayor Mark Johnston who was often too busy trying to keep his business going to attend ribbon cutting events and Dr. Seuss reading hours at Fairfield School.

Bill has lots of friends and enjoys tremendous and widespread respect from his adopted hometown of Saco.

14.) Craig “Holy Shit, I have to wear a tie?” Pendleton

Few people in Biddefordord or Saco can pick up the phone and get Senator Olympia Snowe on the other end of the line. Craig Pendleton is one of those people who can.

Craig is not your typical political player. Many people, including yours truly, were at least temporarily taken aback two years ago, when Pendleton was hired as the executive director of the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce. But it didn’t take long for him to settle in and put his skills and talent to use.

A life- long commercial fisherman, well-known for his frank demeanor, Pendleton distinguished himself as a visionary in Maine’s commercial fishing industry (or at least what’s left of it.) He was the driving force behind the creation of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, a loose-knit association of fishing communities throughoutNew England. (Yes, dumbass…this is the northwest section of theAtlantic! Look at a map).

Whatever Pendleton lacks in polish and tact, he compensates for it with a work ethic that would land most people in the Emergency Room. His wit, enthusiasm for new ideas and his honest, straightforward reputation has earned him the respect of national and state leaders.

Often overshadowed in public policy circles by his older brother, Carl (CEO of Sweetser), Craig has made his own distinct mark on federal and state policies, especially on fisheries related issues and an obscure state law that dictates how far a strip club can be located from the shoreline.

His greatest accomplishment happened last year, when he single-handedly saved Camp Ellis during a severe winter storm. He simply strutted to the end of the jetty and “had a talk” with the ocean. “You keep messing with my neighborhood, I’m gonna pull every friggin’ fish off Jeffrey’s Ledge”. The ocean retreated.

13. Bill “Don’t even think about it” Kany

I know what you’re thinking. Am I talking about the elder Bill Kany, aka Bill Kany, Jr. or about his son, Bill Kany, Sr.?

My response: Does it matter? They’re probably tied anyway.

Bill Kany (right) is a mover and shaker in Saco

The Kany family has unmistakable influence in the city of Saco, despite confusion over their names and ages. To prevent confusion, let’s stick with the older William Kany, a manufacturing industry icon of the Saco Lowell days, he later became chairman of the Saco-Biddeford Savings Institution’s board of directors. Never, and I mean never, accidentally call that bank Biddeford-Saco Savings. If you have to ask why, you don’t know Bill Kany; and you will likely never make this list.

Growing up in Saco, I often heard the legend of Bill Kany. If you were thinking about doing something in the city, you were first required to drive down the Ferry Road, find Kany outside his home wearing Bermuda shorts and trimming his hedges. You pitch your idea, and he either raises his thumb in approval or lowers it to doom and dash your dreams.

He is, after all, a modern-day Marcus Aurelius, an elder statesman who commands respect without ever asking for it. He was the driving force behind the creation of Saco Spirit; and once he gets behind an idea, there’s no stopping him.

12.) Bonnie “Bounce Back” Pothier

If you could combine grit, muscle and charm, Bonnie Pothier would be the end result. I nicknamed her “bounce back” because of her incredible resilience and survival skills. Her supporters and detractors agree: She is a force to be reckoned with.

She became Biddeford’s first woman mayor; and it was a difficult and contentious two-year term as she plowed ahead against a sea of those from the “old boy” club who sought to see her destroyed. She never backed down from the fight; and despite every obstacle helped bring the city’s government into the 20th Century, paving the way for a new type of city structure that would later include hiring a full-time city manager.

Pothier’s intelligence and her penchant for efficiency and professionalism proved to be politically unpopular; so much so that she was ousted after one term and replaced by a man who could arguably be called the city’s worst-ever mayor, Roger Normand…a nice enough guy, but little more than a puppet for those who were pulling the strings from the smoke-filled confines of Ward Eight. (Again, Google it)

Pothier bounced back; and landed on her feet. She played a pivotal role in creating and coordinating the formation of Biddeford Tomorrow, a loose affiliation of individuals who wanted to see an end to Biddeford’s reputation for political bickering.

Members of Biddeford Tomorrow played a huge role in up-ending the conventional wisdom associated with the three-way 2003 mayoral race that saw a Republican become the city’s mayor for the first time in more than 40 years….I mean a Republican who was actually registered as a Republican.

Politically, Pothier today remains mostly behind the scenes, but did play a key role in ousting Mayor Joanne Twomey (No. 22) from office.

11.) Roch “Old School” Angers

One of the few people on this list who is currently serving as an elected official, Roch Angers is a strategist’s strategists.

He is old-school defined; and he’s got the temperament and experience to back it up. He has probably forgotten more about Biddeford politics than most people will ever learn. He has served on the Biddeford City Council under four mayors (Normand, Grattelo, Dion and Casavant), but his family has been involved in shaping the city’s political landscape for more than three generations, including the many late night meetings at the former South Street market run by his father.

Angers knows how the city’s political infrastructure works because he and his family designed most of it. In fact, the late legendary songwriter/singer Jim Croce was probably most influenced by Roch Angers when he penned the following lyrics: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape; you don’t spit into the wind ;- -  you don’t pull- – the mask –off the ol’ Lone Ranger; and you don’t mess around with Roch.”

Sure, uptown got its hustlers, and the bowery’s got its bums, but City Hall is always just a bit more interesting (hard to imagine) when Roch Angers and his fiery rhetoric is sitting at the table.

Roch has enormous influence in almost every nook and cranny of the city. He is a fierce campaigner, an outspoken advocate of the powerless and a man who wields political power with the deft precision of a skilled surgeon.

Despite being bald, standing no taller than 5’2” and his wicked cool first name, he is not someone you want on your bad side. If you want to get elected in Biddeford, you would be well-advised to sit down first with Roch Angers.

And now….drum roll, please…..the TOP 10:

10.) Chris “The Suit” O’Neil

This St. Mary’s School prodigy has better political connections than Karl Rove; most likely because of the secret files and photographs he kept from the late-night, after-work parties with fellow crew-members from Tobey’s Restaurant, which has sadly been replaced with an Amato’s sandwich shop.

Portland Press Herald photo

Actually, Chris O’Neil began his political career in 1996 by running for the Maine House seat that represents the northwestern half of Saco. His ascension is state politics can be attributed to his wit, intelligence and ability to work well with others.

He is a snappy dresser with a snappier vernacular.

He earned the respect of both Governor Angus King and Governor John Baldacci by being a moderate Democrat who could effectively herd wayward legislators back into the caucus fold. Before the end of his career in the Legislature, O’Neil was tapped to chair Baldacci’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Insurance Reform.

O’Neil had an enormous role in drafting the enabling legislation that created the now much-maligned Dirigo health care program. He also became a respected Augusta insider, parlaying the relationships he developed into a successful lobbying practice.

He is respected by both Republicans and Democrats for his brutal honesty, keen insight, remarkable sense of humor and his ability to find compromise. You may loathe the back-scratching apparatus of the lobbying industry, but few do it better than Chris O’Neil.

More recently, he was the face behind Mainers Against A Rotten Deal, successfully leading the charge against the development of a racino in Biddeford. It was a mission that cost him some friends on both sides of the river. But no one can deny that O’Neil runs political offense with very few interceptions; and so far…he has yet to be sacked.

9.) Richard “I’m a dirt farmer with a camera” Rhames

Sometimes alliteration is fun, but not when it comes to Biddeford City Councilor Richard Rhames, a man who could best be described as the city council’s conscience.

A regular council gadfly, Rhames has twice been elected to serve as one of the council’s two “at-large” seats. He began his political career by driving a grassroots effort to stop a planned expansion of the Biddeford Airportin the late 1970s. He then became one of the most outspoken opponents of the Maine Energy Recovery Company, although he credits his friend and political ally Joanne Twomey (No. 22) for leading that particular charge.

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).

He was Occupy back when Occupy members were complacently upgrading their I-Phones, hoping for a corner office and craving a double-latte from Starbucks.

It has been said that Congressman Charlie Rangel lorded over the powerful House Ways and Means Committee with an iron fist, but it hardly compares to Richard’s fierce control of Biddeford’s Cable TV Committee, a committee he has chaired since before television was invented.

Richard is the architect, builder and master of the city’s public access television programming, a tool he built from scratch with the blood, sweat and tears of political battles with James Grattelo (No. 24) and a long list of others who saw an emerging, publicly controlled media as a “clear and present danger” to the political establishment.

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

8.) Linda “Main Street” Valentino

Unless she is abducted by aliens, Linda Valentino is all but assured of winning the District 5 State Senate seat now held by Barry Hobbins.

Facing term limits in the Maine House, Linda has been planning and dreaming about this day since she was a little girl, playing hopscotch and helping her neighbors register to vote.

Linda is a thinker who doesn’t threaten those who don’t think much. Translated: she is very good at making people feel good about themselves.  She also has a knack for knowing when it’s time to take the gloves off. If you don’t believe me, just ask Don Pilon.

Valentino is often a walking-talking contradiction: she is a political hustler with a keen eye for detail. She’s outspoken, independent and very good at getting media attention.

She may not have Barry Hobbins’ old school cred, but I expect big things from Valentino in the not-too-distant future.

7.) Mark “The Wizard” Robinson

What Michael Jordan is to basketball, Mark Robinson is to public relations and political strategy: a solid and consistent slam dunk.

Robinson is the master of the game, the guy behind the curtain and someone who only sticks his fingers in just the right pie. He is a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, a Green, a Libertarian…aww, heck…he’s whatever he needs to be, whenever he chooses.

Portland Press Herald photo

He’s the proverbial ghost in the machine. A Biddeford native who was educated at Dartmouth and plays a mean harp, he’s also a member of the “in crowd” with a Rolodex that is more impressive than Gene Libby’s hair.

Mark is the consummate professional, and it takes him less than 15 seconds to assess a situation and only 30 seconds more to craft a plan for dealing with it.

If you ever find yourself on his opposing side, watch out. He uses a typewriter like Muhammad Ali uses a left-hook punch. It hurts really, really  bad when you’re on the wrong end of it.

For example, he helped get Joanne Twomey (No.22) elected as mayor, but then she crossed him; and BAM!….he made sure she got unelected. She never saw that left hook coming.

Mark started in the game with his younger brother, Chris, forming Biddeford-based Robinson & Robinson in the early 1990s. They quickly became a dynamic duo of writing and marketing that was involved in almost every single major political issue affecting York County.

When the Biddeford firefighters union was getting hammered, they called Mark Robinson. Problem solved. When MERC opponents found themselves consistently under the bus, they called Mark Robinson; voila…the creation of Twin Cities Renaissance.

From developing the city’s motto to the election of five different mayors, Mark was the guy making the wheels go round.

Mark’s greatest strength is perhaps the relationships he has developed with media folks from Caribou to Kittery. He is a professional competitor and a savvy insider who knows who to call and when to call them. He is at the top of his game, and his clients know it.

6.) Dennis “Duke” Dutremble

There are some names that just speak for themselves, and if you live in Biddeford; and don’t understand the implications of being a Dutremble then you are likely unaware that Biddeford has a coastline.

Duke is the second oldest of  Lucien “Babe” Dutremble’s five sons.

Babe, a former mayor and state representative, was one of the most beloved and respected politicians ever to serve the city.

Duke was standout basketball and football player at the former St. Louis High School and taught social studies at Thornton Academy while also serving in the Maine Legislature as both a member of the House and then seven-term member of the State Senate.

In 1993, he was tapped by his Senate colleagues to become the senate president, but later lost his bid for Maine’s First Congressional district seat.

The Dutremble family is synonymous with Biddeford politics, from the Sheriff’s Office to County Commissioners.

Word on the street is that another Dutremble may soon be entering the political arena. But despite his departure from the public spotlight, Duke Dutremble has unmistakably and forever secured his place in Biddeford’s political hierarchy.

5.) Michael “Marcus Aurelius” Cantara

Okay, okay…it’s the second time with the Roman reference, but it’s apt.

The Honorable Mike Cantara probably tops the list of respected former politicians, and remains today as a beacon of integrity, discipline and good judgment. Probably why he’s a judge…go figure.

A former Biddeford mayor, Cantara was later elected to become York County’s District Attorney before being tapped by Governor John Baldacci to serve as Commissioner for the Maine Department of Public Safety and later as a Maine District Court Judge, where he serves today.

Cantara may no longer be politically active, but he does know the ins and outs and the “whos” and the whys of the city’s political landscape. His counsel and experience are invaluable to anyone who wants to better understand the complex subtleties of local politics.

He is a quiet, unassuming man with ice-cold blue eyes and striking white hair. He reportedly was the man who recruited and convinced Bonnie Pothier (No. 12).  to run for mayor. And he was a mentor to a young and impressionable city councilor named Alan Casavant.

Cantara knows policy inside and out. That fact, coupled with his undeniable and sophisticated street-smart intuition, makes him a formidable figure in the world of local politics.

4.) Alan “Facebook” Casavant

There is no question that Alan Casavant is a very likable mayor. But it remains to be seen whether he will be as effective as he is popular.

He may seem all genial and goofy on the outside, but he’s got a political backbone that will soon be tested by his detractors.

Portland Press Herald photo

A veteran high school teacher and an incumbent  three-term state representative, Casavant strikes some people as the most unlikely of Biddeford politicians. He prefers mid-day naps and old movies over orchestrating who will actually serve as chair of the city’s Solid Waste Committee.

He can be simultaneously naïve and cunning. He is a visionary who often strays off point when trying to convince others about his ideas. He’s generally in bed no later than 10 p.m., but once roused he can move quickly.

Casavant is fresh off the heels of a major political coup, a landslide election that tossed an incumbent from office like am empty  No. 2 plastic bottle into a recycling bin.

But did that 62 percent of registered Biddeford voters vote for him; or did they vote against his opponent, Joanne Twomey (No.22)?

There is no question that Casavant was able to seize upon new campaign technology, leveraging social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and a daily blog during his campaign. But he will need a lot more than some tweets to navigate the perilous waters of the upcoming and likely vicious budget debate.

Meanwhile, Casavant has other problems. He is being challenged by State Senator Nancy Sullivan for his District 137 House seat; and Sullivan is much better at campaigning. In fact, Casavant once  lost a primary bid for his State House seat by failing to vote for himself.

He’s no longer a young punk serving on the city council in the 1980s. He needs a pair of big-boy pants if he’s going to make the cut going forward.

Whether the absent-minded professor can survive Sullivan’s challenge or his first term as the city’s mayor will be interesting to watch.

I ranked Alan in the Top-5 because few people have as much potential to significantly alter the city’s political and policy landscape over the next two years.

3.) Barry “The Pope” Hobbins

From high atop his penthouse law office on Saco Island, State Senator Barry Hobbins surveys his kingdom and releases a heavy sigh of satisfaction.  “This is my town,” he exclaims, ignoring the fact that he’s pointing to two cities. “These are my people.”

On the seventh day, God may have been resting but Barry Hobbins was busy putting up lawn signs, a chore that was about as critical as cleaning your sock drawer.

That’s because no one ever challenged Hobbins during his last eight-year stint in the Maine Senate….well….almost no one, unless you count Republican newcomer Charity Kewish who received about 18 votes or Peter Truman, a perennial political candidate who also attempted to sue Wal-Mart after injuring his genitals with one of the store’s toilet seats. Truman later appealed his case to the US Supreme Court, where it was summarily rejected. I kid you not, that is a true story.

Barry came into the political world the usual way. He’s the proverbial hand-shaker and baby kisser. Few understand the game better or enjoy playing it as much as the once awkward kid from Saco.

Barry is perhaps one of Maine’s best political storytellers, proudly recanting the time when he crossed paths with the Prince of Eagle Lake, John Martin. If you don’t know that name, you shouldn’t still be reading this.

In the early 1980s, Barry could be found at the gates of Waterhouse Field, greeting fans at the annual Battle of the Bridge football game with U.S. Senator George Mitchell. He is old school Biddeford-Saco politics; Eddie Caron/Bob Farley old school.

Barry got the political bug at an early age, and he quickly learned how to excel at the game. At the age of 21, he was elected to his first Legislative term in the Maine House of Representatives and was re-elected to four more terms, followed by one term in the Senate.

In 2004, he returned to the State Senate, and today serves as the Minority Senate Leader but will be forced from office by term limits in November. He serves on numerous boards and even owns a piece of the Maine Red Claws, the state’s only professional basketball team.

Hobbins knows how to use his power and influence, on issues ranging from MERC to telecommunications  to crafting energy development policies, few can move as adroitly as Barry Hobbins.

2.) Wallace “The General” Nutting

It does not matter on which side of the Saco River you find yourself. Wallace Nutting is someone you should know.

Nutting grew up in Saco, graduated from Thornton Academy and still got elected as the mayor of Biddeford, as a Republican, no less!

Nutting had a fascinating  military career that started at West Point and ended with four silver stars on his epaulet…becoming a four-star general is no easy task, but it’s nothing compared to being a Republican from Saco and winding up as Biddeford’s mayor.

Nutting, who designed the U.S.military’s extrication of Panama’s Manuel Noreiga, also served as  Commander In Chief of the US Southern Command and as an advisor to President Ronald Reagan.

Nutting was considered by many people as an “outsider,” when he tossed his hat into the mayoral ring, less than three months before the 2003 mayoral election.

But Nutting proved his detractors wrong on Election Day. Once the votes had been tallied, Nutting beat-out his two more well-known Democratic opponents with 41 percent of the vote, earning the top spot in six of the city’s seven voting wards and leaving City Council President Marc Lessard, an early favorite, in last place.

It was a much different result than Nutting’s first bid for political office in 1994, when he ran for the State Senate. He lost the Republican primary to John Hathaway of Kennebunk, who later went on to win the seat.

One political observer said Nutting’s mayoral win was the result of a “perfect political storm,” in which several key issues converged into a mass of voter resentment about politics as usual.

He seemed like a fish out of water when he first assumed the mayor’s seat. For a guy who built his career on assessing intelligence and developing strategy, Nutting often fell short when the objectives became political, including his failed move to oust Harry Center as the city’s solicitor. Only Nutting thought he had enough votes.

But Nutting got more powerful as time went on, and he became an ambassador of goodwill and a cheerleader for promoting Biddeford’s potential.

Two years after his surprising win, he was unchallenged for a second term before he finally retired for good.

Other than Civil War hero and Maine native, General Joshua Chamberlain; Nutting is the only person to have his portrait hanging on the walls in both Biddeford City Hall and Saco City Hall.

And now, finally, the most politically influential person in Biddeford-Saco:

Mark “Let’s Make A Deal” Johnston

There was a time when Mark Johnston was not the mayor of Saco, it’s just that no one can remember when that was.

From behind the counter of his Main Street delicatessen, Johnston has engineered and closed more deals than a coked-up Goldman Sachs executive.

His political counsel is sought from both sides of the river.

He knows when and why someone farts in either city.

He has several pairs of big boy pants, and he wears them wrinkled, usually accompanied by an ugly sweater.

The guy is certified weird. He runs a business with his ex-wife and can always recommend the perfect bottle of wine to fit any occasion and budget. He knows more about MERC than the people who own MERC.

But he wasn’t always so suave….in fact, he once failed to get enough votes to become the mayor even though he was the only candidate on the ballot. (True story….sad, but still true)

He began his political career as a malcontented hippie, upset about a vacant car lot on Elm Street. He was immediately dismissed by the city’s political establishment as a Richard Rhames (No. 9) impersonator.

But someone bought him a razor and loaned him enough money to get a haircut. And then? Well, it was off to the races….

Johnston knows what his city council is thinking before they do. He has a better grasp of what’s happening in Biddeford than anyone else on this list.

He can play nice or he can play mean. He’s polite. He’ll let you decide how you want to proceed before he tells you what you are actually going to do.

Mark Johnston is the consummate politician….

He’s Bugsy Seigel, Charlie Lucianno and Meyer Lansky all rolled into one affable, near-sighted man with an uncanny resemblance to Sir Elton John.

He’s Number One, baby….. And that’s a wrap.

Ready to rumble?

The game of politics is a lot like baseball.

Some people can actually watch an entire baseball game without ever paying attention to the stats, the subtle nuances of play and the cryptic signals given between the dugout and field.

These people are normal and are not afflicted with severe attention deficit disorder. They are likely able to sustain a relationship, hold a job and do not live in their mother’s basement.

Others sit in the stands with calculators and steel-trap memories, comparing Freddie Lynn’s RBI stats to Nomar Garciaparra’s. These people actually know how a state caucus works. They can talk at length about the decline of the Whig Party, but generally struggle with finding a date on New Year’s Eve.

If you’re part of that first group and enjoy the experience of just eating a hotdog at Fenway. Stop reading here.

However, if you’re a true political junkie, or someone who has absolutely nothing better to do with your time, hang on!

Let’s start in Biddeford, where politics is full-on tackle.

In this corner, we have newly elected Mayor Alan Casavant, hoping to also hold onto his District 137 State House seat, which includes portions of Biddeford and Kennebunkport, for another two years.

And in the opposing corner, we have State Senator Nancy Sullivan, a fellow Democrat who is facing term limits and an end to her eight-year stint in the Senate. Sullivan held the 137 House seat for three terms (1998-2004), leaving only to run for the open senate seat when Lloyd LaFountain was forced out because of (here we go again)…term limits.

Traditionally, these seats are swapped off as incumbent House and Senate members politely trade their respective seats as an end-run around Maine’s pesky term limits legislation.

A few months ago, Casavant opted to take on incumbent Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey, a fellow Democrat who was a strong supporter of a proposed racino. Twomey, coincidentally, served four terms in the neighboring House District seat and then lost a primary bid for the Senate seat to, ….wait for it, ….Nancy Sullivan.

Casavant crushed Twomey’s hopes for a third term as mayor, earning 62 percent of the vote, despite huge voter support for the racio. Analysts attribute Casavant’s landslide win to the overall brilliance and tactical genius of his campaign manager.

But this is going to be a tough Democratic primary; and I think Republican strategists must either be in a self-induced coma brought on by the complacency of holding 20 of the Senate’s 35 seats or distracted by widespread media reports surronding allegations that a 47-year-old, double-amputee Somalian man from Lewiston donated $5 to Senator Peggy Rotundo’s “Clean Election” campaign while receiving foodstamps.

But back to House District 137.

As the incumbent, Casavant’s strengths will likely include the full-weight and awesome power of the Maine Democratic Party, the same group that nominated a gubernatorial candidate who got 19 percent of voter support last year and lost both chambers of the Legislature to Republicans….

Casavant will also be buoyed by the overwhelming support his mayoral bid garnered in Wards One and Three (the main portion of District 137). Wards One and Three include Biddeford’s more affluent neighborhoods (Biddeford Pool, Fortunes Rocks and Granite Point)

These are the same Biddeford neighborhoods, where Republicans feel brave enough to drive Subarus and Volvos without the requisite Obama 2012 bumper stickers but still register as Democrats to avoid having their homes torched.

The District also includes Kennebunkport, summer home of George HW Bush. Here, Republicans are much bolder and generally loathe the idea of driving a Subaru.

Sullivan’s support of a proposed racino will likely hurt her in District 137, but she is a very tough campaigner, ousting incumbent Republican Steve Joyce in 1998 while he was busy trimming his toenails and putting the final touches on legislation that would require all Francos in the District to register on a state web site.

Later, Sullivan fended off a primary challenge by Joanne (I’m crazier than you can possibly imagine) Twomey to earn the Democratic nomination for the State Senate. She then jousted with Donna (I’m thinking about running for president) Dion, a three-term mayor, who also touted a different casino proposal and ran as an independent.

Notice a pattern here? Sullivan can crush other  women who like casinos. She can also whip pretty boys like Steve Joyce who did not know that Biddeford had a downtown area until he got lost there.

But now Sullivan is a woman who likes casinos, so she will likely tackle Casavant by pointing out that he now holds two political offices. Expect her to also make hay about his facial hair.

Casavant, meanwhile, will be buoyed by his 438,756,823 Facebook friends and his strategic maneuver of organizing a Biddeford winter carnival during winter.

It’s going to be a heck of a ride! Time to break out the Jiffy-Pop, boys and girls.

Next Week: Biddeford firefighters fan the flames of the Maine Senate’s dysfunction.

It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

In less than 24 hours, this campaign will be over, finished, completed, kaput.

Stick a fork in it, it’s done.

Volunteers gather in Alan Casavant's kitchen on a cold October morning before our citywide door-to-door canvass.

At this juncture, there is not much left to say or do. Thus, in a pitiful attempt to keep my blog current, I have pasted below the e-mail I just sent to our campaign team. Regardless of how you feel about the issues, please get out and vote tomorrow…….

Tomorrow, the voters of Biddeford will have their say; but regardless of the outcome I have a few thoughts I wanted to share with each of you.

As I reflect over the last several weeks and months, I experience a range of emotions; and I am sure the memories will survive long after the campaign signs are packed up and the party draws to a conclusion. Tomorrow night, we will celebrate, regardless of the outcome. We will celebrate the overall experience and the amazing effort put forth on behalf of a better and brighter future for our city.

I have worked on a lot of campaigns on the federal, state and local level; yet I have never been so honored to work with such a fantastic, talented and dedicated group of individuals. None of us have received financial compensation, instead we were fueled by a passion….by a belief that Biddeford’s potential can only flourish if its people are respected and their commitments are honored.

You are all part of a diverse and unmatched group, representing each of the city’s seven voting wards. Some of you are seasoned campaign veterans; others are new to the game. Despite our differences, we came together as a team without so much as a bump. We gave our neighbors, friends and families something to talk about. We challenged the incumbent administration’s style, tone and leadership in hopes that we may make a positive difference in our community.

For that, we should all be proud. I have been consistently impressed by your dedication to this campaign, by your passion for the city we all call home and by your relentless and generous outpouring of work, sacrifice and time.

Alan Casavant will be a great mayor for Biddeford; just as he has been an outstanding state representative and one of our city’s most beloved teachers. Alan Casavant does not lead with an iron fist. Instead he inspires those around them to become more involved. He leads with intellect, compassion, humor and integrity.

I don’t care what happens tomorrow, and I only know this much to be true: This was a fight well worth fighting; and I am a better person for working with you. It was an honor and privilege to be a part of this team. I have learned something from each of you over the course of this campaign, and I have been inspired by your friendship and camaraderie.

You should all be proud of what we have accomplished. It has been an honor and a privilege to fight alongside you. Get some rest, and let’s the start the next chapter of Biddeford’s history with equal passion, drive and dedication!

Finally, make no mistake: WE WILL WIN TOMORROW NIGHT, in more ways than one.

All my best,

Randy

P.S. Please vote for Alan Casavant to be Biddeford’s next mayor.