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.
 

Same as the old boss

Some things never change.

Once again, we are on the verge of another election cycle in the fair city of Biddeford, where local political maneuvering is a blood sport.

Joanne Twomey: A "real" Democrat?

Joanne Twomey: A “real” Democrat?

According to the City Clerk’s office, some very familiar faces have taken out nomination papers for a variety of elected positions.

But wait, that’s not all.

Once again, a few dime-store strategists are enjoying some late summer shenanigans: several candidates have taken out various and multiple forms of nominating papers. One candidate, in fact, can’t decide if he should run for an “at-large” seat on the council, run as a candidate for his own Ward or serve on the school committee.

This strategy is meant to confuse the opposition and observers like yours truly. They will wait until the final moments before the filing deadline to turn in their papers, hopefully scaring off would-be challengers and leaving them with few options at the filing deadline.

Of course, former Mayor Joanne Twomey is looking for revenge. After being trounced two years ago by Mayor Alan Casavant (68-32 percent), Twomey is determined to get her old seat back.

Despite also losing a Democratic primary bid last year to replace State Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, Twomey is convinced that she is somehow still relevant.

She’ll have a hard time beating her last showing of 38 percent, especially if some of the declared mayoral candidates follow-through with filing their 125 signatures of registered voters.

Joining Twomey in the race for the mayor’s seat is former city councilor Perry Aberle and Karl Reed, Jr. Casavant is expected to take out nomination papers later today.

Thus, in a four-way race, Casavant would need to lose big numbers, which will then likely be divided by his three challengers.

But Twomey isn’t the only familiar face looking for a comeback.

Former city councilor and one-time mayoral candidate Marc Lessard is apparently thinking about returning to the council either for an at-large seat or representing Ward 6. Lessard, an early favorite in the 2003 mayoral race, ended up last in that three-way race. He hasn’t been heard from since.

Until now.

But wait, there’s still more.

Former city councilor Ron Peaker, who also serves as commander-in-chief of Peakers Squeakers ( a vocal group of three old white guys from coastal Biddeford who consistently oppose the school budget), is also thinking about a return to either the council or the school committee.

Peaker is joined by his pal, John McCurry, another former city councilor who was aligned with Lessard, Peaker and former mayor James Grattelo back in the good ol’ days. McCurry is considering a run for either the council or the school committee.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Jim Emerson, a former councilor and school committee member, is thinking about an at-large seat or a return to the school committee. Current councilors Mike Swanton, David Bourque, Bobby Mills, Brad Cote, Rick Laverierre and Mike Ready all seem dumb enough to endure another two years on the council.

But back to the mayor’s race for a second. Does Perry Aberle, a one-time staunch Twomey supporter, stand a shot?

Sure, anything is possible. The sun may also not rise in the east tomorrow, but don’t bet on it. Aberele got slapped hard when he tried a bid to replace Paulette Beaudoin last year.

What about Karl Reed, Junior? Little Karl will have to do a lot better than his old man did in 2009. Big Karl sank like an anchor in his first local political bid, a four-way mayoral race in 2009 (the last time Twomey won an election).

Big Karl earned 170 votes. Sounds impressive, right? Wrong.

That is 170 votes out of 7,876 votes cast.  I guess you could feel good about less than 3 percent, unless you consider that nearly four times as many people left the ballot blank on the mayor’s race.

Maybe, Little Karl will bring some respect back to the family, but again . . . don’t bet on it. If he breaks the 10 percent mark, I’ll be surprised and Twomey will be in trouble.

Updated for corrections, August 21. Apologies to the city clerk’s office.

When you’re a stranger

Fighting in Biddeford

Fighting in Biddeford

Here’s a picture now. Take a good look.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant and I are standing in line outside the Biddeford Ice Area on a Saturday night.

Considering the hundreds of other people waiting in line with us, we both feel very out of place.

We didn’t know what to expect. We had front-row, ringside seats for a series of  NEF cage match fights. Of the approximately 2,000 other ticket holders, neither Casavant or I spotted a familiar face. And that takes some doing.

Some two miles away, a non-profit group is hosting a performance dance event in one of the former mill buildings that dominate the core of our city.

I wouldn’t hesitate to bet my next paycheck that attendance at the cage match fights far outpaced the number of people attending the dance performance.

Both Casavant and I were a bit elitist about our initial perception of the fights and the crowd that seemed thirsty for blood. We were outsiders, and well outside of our element.

It was interesting to note, however, that Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a one-time Democratic candidate for the US Senate, “likes” the NEF page on his Facebook page.

If not for the complimentary tickets, you can be assured that neither Casavant or I would be there.

After more than two hours of watching raw, intense competition, Casavant and I left with a changed opinion about both the event and its participants. There was a mutual respect among the fighters. The violence ended abruptly at the end of each match as the contestants would embrace and indicate their admiration and respect for each other.

It was nothing short of a bizarre experience for me . . . on the eve of once again writing about cultural diversity and elitism.

Pride cometh before the fall

Here’s another picture, and take a good look.

It takes a community

It takes a community

It is a Saturday afternoon on Main Street in downtown Biddeford. I am standing outside Elements Book Store and Cafe, waiting to meet with Tammy Ackerman, and I bump into my friends Jim and Renee O’Neil.

The conversation quickly turns to my previous blog post, Fool for the city

As we talk about Biddeford’s cultural heritage and words like elitism and diversity, we are briefly interrupted by a strange convergence.

A couple that summers in coastal Biddeford Pool come onto the sidewalk, each holding paintings they had just purchased. Renee met the couple just moments before and she introduces me to them as the conversation about Biddeford continues.

Moments later, a man in his late 20s is in our midst. He is wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap backward. His tanned, muscular forearms seem to be a canvass of tattoos, but most strikingly he has a very large boa snake draped over his body. He is accompanied by a little girl, maybe four years old. Just behind him, is a woman pushing a baby stroller and puffing on a cigarette.

We are — all of us —- on the other side of a giant window that looks into Elements. The patrons inside look up from their laptops and cappuccino, curious about this new picture on the other side of the glass. Me, Renee and Jim, a couple from Biddeford Pool and this man with a giant, scary snake.

Strangely, it does not seem even the slightest bit unexpected or awkward.

After a few moments, the man moves onward down Main Street with his entourage, and the rest of us continue our conversation.

Renee, a lifelong and well-known resident of the city, adamantly disagrees with my assertion that Biddeford continues to struggle with talk about cliques, elitism and a pervasive sense of class warfare. Her husband, Jim, is concerned that I am not accurately portraying the picture.

The funny thing? They both admitted that they had yet to read the what I had written the week before.

“It seems like you should be holding up a mirror, but instead are using a piece of stained glass,” Jim offers. “Mirrors simply reflect light, but stained glass filters the light to present a certain picture.”

They are both somewhat troubled that I wrote about Tammy Ackerman, a downtown activist, in a blog post that poked at the touchy subject of elitism and cultural diversity.

“Tammy is like Mother Theresa,” Renee quipped. “She’s the last person that anyone should describe as an elitist.”

More about my conversation with Jim and Renee in just a bit . . .

After reading last week’s post, Tammy Ackerman phoned me to share her thoughts and opinions about my half-assed attempt to bite down on an apple most people want to discard or at least ignore:

 That people in Biddeford seem especially sensitive about the words elitism, cultural diversity and a push for change that is being driven by relatively newer, non-traditional stakeholders…

People from away.

Subsequently, we spent the better part of 90 minutes talking face-to-face yesterday at Engine, her gallery and multi-use space on Main Street. I very much enjoyed that conversation, and I left the gallery with a lot of conflicting thoughts and opinions.

Last week I wrote about how former Biddeford mayor Joanne Twomey described Ackerman (and others) as elitists at an April 16 City Council meeting during a liquor license application for Fatboys Saloon. I opined last week that Twomey was “maybe, just maybe . . . a little bit right.”

According to Ackerman, the more division we create; the more we use labels, the more we remain stuck. “I guess I bristle when someone calls me an elitist because I come from the same working-class cloth as anyone else,” she said during our first phone conversation on the subject.

But elitism doesn’t have to be solely identified or explained by economic capacity, I countered.  A lot of people have talked about cultural or ideological elitism . . . the idea that Biddeford is lacking in culture or diversity makes many other people bristle.

On Saturday, Ackerman said the points I was trying to make were anything but clear.

“I guess I don’t understand what you were trying to say on your blog because I have done nothing to exclude anyone from anything,” she responded. “I don’t say bad things about Biddeford. We’re not creating gated communities here. I am imposing anything on anyone.”

My point, I conceded, was partially lost . . . or at least not very clear last week. When I said that Twomey was “maybe a little bit right” I was speaking more to the pace and the perception of the conversation, not necessarily the facts.

Ackerman and some of Biddeford’s other newer immigrants are incredibly passionate and motivated. Perhaps a little too motivated.

Ackerman’s efforts to heighten and amplify arts and culture in the downtown caught some people off guard. The push, at times, seems aggressive. Ackerman (and others) sometimes fail to understand a dynamic that is embedded in this community: an exaggerated sense of pride that is used to mask a lingering sense of low self-esteem.

Make no mistake. People who live in Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth or Camden are very proud of their communities, but they never talk about their pride. That would be uncouth, ill-mannered.

Pride in the name of love

Pride in the name of love

But in communities like Biddeford we wear our pride on our sleeves. A proud city rising where the water falls is our motto. Tiger Pride.

Maybe, just maybe, we’re not quite so proud. Maybe, just maybe, there is still a dynamic of self loathing going on here.

 Maybe, just maybe, we are much more consumed with envy than pride.

It ain’t me; I ain’t no senator’s son

Ackerman says that issues such as elitism, the creative economy and quality of place are inherently subjective. 

“Quality of life is important,” she said. “Ask one person to describe quality of life and you get one answer. Ask someone else and you get another answer. Ask 10 people, and you get 10 different answers.”

She also says she is perplexed how anyone could define her as an elitist, but she concedes that the term can have both negative and positive connotations, such as the pride associated among an elite group, i.e. the Navy Seals.  But she also remains stuck on the apparent misnomer of elitism when it is attached to her efforts to promote a creative economy in Biddeford.

“I’m not a fancy person, so I guess I don’t get the ‘style police’ commentary,” she said. “If style police means I care about how our downtown looks, then maybe I am the style police, but I’m not sure why anyone would be opposed to our downtown looking as good as possible.”

 Ackerman spoke at length about her experiences in Biddeford, her struggles and her vision. I plan to write a more detailed piece about that in an upcoming post, but we kept jostling with the tricky concepts of elitism and diversity.

 Whether talking about Fatboys Saloon or the pushback to ideas about transforming downtown Biddeford, Ackerman repeatedly pointed to a Downtown Master Plan that was coordinated by the Heart of Biddeford two years ago.

 The downtown master plan was a very open and inclusive process that sought input and guidance from any stakeholder who was willing to participate. An over-arching theme of that process resonated clearly: Almost universally, people in Biddeford wanted the downtown to be a ‘family friendly’ destination.

According to Ackerman, taking a position in Biddeford is a daunting proposition for many small business owners and others who worry about some sort of retribution for their viewpoints. “Who wants to go through that? It’s not fun, and it’s certainly not profitable,” she said. “A lot of people are unwilling to get involved.”

Ackerman says she wants Biddeford “to be a good place for everyone” and as inclusive as possible. She says peoples’ behavior often reflects the treatment they get. If all residential landlords took small steps to maintain their properties, it would enhance not only the appearance of the downtown, but also the attitudes of those who live there, which could lead to a greater level of respect and an enhanced sense of community ownership.

But in a follw-up e-mail she sent me, it seemed clear that Ackerman remains frustrated that I urged her and others to be just a bit more mindful of the city’s  cultural history and a laundry list of perceived and some very real examples of elitism. She disagreed with my suggestion that maybe we should pause a bit to remember the past before pushing so headstrong into the future.

“I’m still not sure what “dial it back” means,” she wrote, responding to my point that some people are a bit uncomfortable about the pace of the conversation or the sudden (and admittedly positive) changes in our community. “I have the energy to help Biddeford discover what’s good about it now. I may not have this energy in a couple of years! Biddeford’s time is now. Decisions made today will impact the future just like the decision to bring MERC [the controversial, former downtown waste-to-energy incinerator] in impacted 25 or so years of Biddeford’s future.”

As clear as waves on the sea

I was honestly surprised by the reaction to last week’s post. While some people thought I hit the nail on the head, others thought I was far off base. Regardless of the opinions and their sometime surprising sources, I know one thing is beyond dispute. I had tapped something raw, something that makes people queasy.

One friend, another lifelong resident of Biddeford, told me my analysis was spot-on. There is again another battle of elitism happening in Biddeford, he said.  “I don’t know how to define it, but it seems pretty obvious to anyone paying attention. It’s like heading to the beach and seeing the waves. I don’t necessarily know where they came from or exactly how they were formed, but I know that they are there.”

City Councilor Roch Angers grew up in downtown Biddeford, and says many of the dividing lines are self created, but often painfully obvious. “It’s been going on for as long as I can remember,” he said. “It’s like an embedded piece of our culture. I think it’s part of our Franco heritage. There has always been a push back against those who appear to be succesful . . . a certain sense of envy. I agree that it’s more perception than fact, but no one can deny that it is there.”

Angers agreed with the historical foundation of my argument: the way immigrants (old and new) are received by their new hometown. A lingering sense of suspicion, a healthy dose of skepticism and a maddening attempt to thwart any attempt at change.

It’s not a new phenomena. It’s been going on for quite a while: The division between the affluent coastal neighborhoods and the inner city, which included two secession movements in the 1990s (Ultimately, the Maine Legislature refused to allow Biddeford Pool to become part of Kennebunkport)

The push to keep the city’s coastal beaches open to public access, championed by Mayor Gilbert Boucher in the early 1970s; the town/gown divide fostered by both sides as it relates to the University of New England’s campus, students and administrators.

The way that it’s still okay and politically correct to make jokes about Francos or a city that comedian Bob Marley describes as “Lewiston by the Sea.”

“I think people like Tammy [Ackerman] and Doug Sanford add a ton of positive energy to this community,” Angers said. “I also think they sometimes seem to be in too much of a rush to do the things we can probably all agree should have been done a long time ago. I think we are on the right track, and we just need to remember some balance.”

But Joanne Fisk, a 1976 graduate of Biddeford High School and another lifelong resident, adamantly disagrees that those historical divides or perceptions still exist.

“That all may have been true 30 years ago or so, but not today,” Fisk says. “I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish other than opening a can of worms that we have moved well beyond.”

Fisk also says that Biddeford is not an anomaly, nor are any issues of elitism more pronounced here than in any other community.

“I guess it’s easier to talk about the things that divide us, but I also think we would all be a lot better off if we spent more energy talking about our common ground.”

On the other side of the coin, Mark Robinson, a Fortunes Rocks resident, says he knows what it’s like to be called an elitist, and how the label often doesn’t fit.

A lifelong resident, Robinson said his best teachers were those at Biddeford High School, despite his Dartmouth College degree. He says he learned some of his most important life lessons as a teenager working in a mobile dining cart that catered to late-night downtown mill workers.

“I think the new energy in town is fantastic, and all the new players have my support one hundred percent. I know almost all of them personally, and they’re great,” Robinson said. “That said, I do think once in a while it’s possible to get a little too exuberant about the way things should be.”

In an e-mail, Robinson wrote that he was also troubled earlier this year by the tensions created by the announcement of Fatboys Saloon pending arrival to the downtown business mix.

“I was out of state at the time, but I remember being very upset reading about the brouhaha over what was described as a biker bar,” Robinson responded via e-mail. “I thought that was way over the line. Don’t like a TV show? Hey man, don’t watch it. Don’t like a biker bar? Don’t go there. Hell, it’s even OK to hope the place fails miserably and goes out of business. I don’t have a problem with that at all. But he should have the right to sink or swim on his merits, and he was getting crucified before he even got the place off the ground. Not at all fair, in my book,”

Born to be wild

Delilah Poupore, executive director of the Heart of Biddeford, said she was “taken aback” by my earlier commentary.

“I think that having community conversations about these topics can be very constructive and helpful,” she said. “But when you isolate particular individuals as part of the conversation, you are doing little more than creating more tension and controversy.”

I pushed back. At the same time that Heart of Biddeford took its first ever public policy position about a specific business (Fatboys Saloon), public policy makers in Augusta were weighing public comments related to the closure of the controversial MERC waste-to-energy incinerator that was located in the heart of the city’s downtown.

Delilah and just about everyone else at the Heart of Biddeford agreed that MERC’s presence was a major challenge to the downtown’s ongoing revitalization efforts. In my professional capacity, I represented MERC’s parent company and knew that the Heart of Biddeford and other downtown stakeholders were crucial to our efforts to build public support for the plant’s sale and eventual demolition.

I arranged meetings with both the Heart of Biddeford and the Downtown Development Commission. Both groups allowed me to make brief presentations to their respective members. DDC members were somewhat less supportive, concerned about the significant losses of both property taxes and downtown jobs if MERC closed. Conversely, the Heart of Biddeford crowd warmly embraced my message about how the closure would dramatically improve downtown Biddeford.

But when it came time to make public comments, the Heart of Biddeford declined to make any formal statement. “It’s not our place to make public comments about a specific business,” they explained.

Then, BOOM! Only a few weeks later, the Heart of Biddeford offered public testimony, raising questions about the impact of a “biker bar” into the downtown business-residential mix. I guess they changed their policy. This one time.

And that, I think, is why some people had such a strong reaction. Apparently, a biker bar would be a much bigger problem than burning garbage on an industrial scale in downtown Biddeford.

Something didn’t seem right.

Poupore maintains that her organization’s concerns were meant only to help the city council consider the liquor license application from a “planning/zoning” perspective. But the organization had never before raised any public concerns about any of the other several bars in downtown Biddeford or their annual liquor license applications.

Tammy Ackerman, a former city council candidate and a Heart of Biddeford board member, voluntarily waded into The Fatboys controversy. That spark reignited a lingering flame of resentment among some self-identified stakeholders, who admittedly spend far more time complaining than participating.

Once again, accusations of elitism and class warfare emerged upon Biddeford’s public stage.

Next week: Part III (THUNDERDOME: Residents offer differing perspectives about elitism and cultural diversity in Biddeford).

 

 

Ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

EC

Eliot Cutler

Mike Michaud. Eliot Cutler. Larry Gilbert. Joanne Twomey.

Whaaattt?

Every year it seems as if the NHL playoffs stretch closer to summer, as if football starts sooner — and like everything else, those who love politics and speculating about those playoff games,  the political season no longer seems to have a beginning or an end.

We used to be a bit more dignified and wait until after Labor Day to begin political campaigns in earnest, but now it seems that social media fuels an insatiable thirst for political bloodletting.

As evidence, just look at the past two weeks.

While legislative Democrats continue a contentious, budget showdown with Gov. Paul Lepage,  we’ve had two major candidates announce they are seeking the Blaine House in 2014, and former mayors from two of Maine’s larger cities announced that they are hoping to regain their respective seats.

Eliot “I’m really not a wealthy, elitist, Democrat from Cape Elizabeth” Cutler announced last week that he will formally announce sometime later that he will announce another run for governor as an Independent candidate. Press packets are likely prepared for each of these crucial announcements.

Unless you have been in a coma for the last four years, this was not news. Cutler has been running an intensive campaign since the day he lost his last campaign, and about as subtle as an aircraft carrier steaming across Moosehead Lake with his One Maine campaign and any other opportunity to remain politically relevant – barring any trips to places like Rumford, Sanford, Lincoln, Lewiston or Biddeford.

Joanne Twomey

Joanne Twomey

And then U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud today “announced” that he’s thinking about running and has authorized an exploratory committee that is charged with developing some Google maps of interesting places to explore in southern Maine.

On the more local scene, former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert announced yesterday that he will once again seek his city’s top political post. That announcement came only days after former Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey announced that she will also run again for the mayor’s seat.

Gilbert actually invited the media to his announcement and had a small gathering of supporters standing by his side.

But Twomey’s announcement seemed more like Khan going after Captain Kirk; swearing revenge on Mayor Alan Casavant, who ousted her from office in 2011 with 62 percent of the vote.

Twomey is some pissed off that Casavant agreed to co-sponsor a bill in the Legislature that could potentially open the door for a racino in southern Maine.  You see, only Joanne Twomey is allowed to change her mind about the merits of a racino.

Twomey is adept at changing her mind. She’s flip-flopped on everything from casinos to her own party affiliation. Casavant already stole her thunder in closing MERC, and now he has the temerity to consider upstaging her once again??

So, what will the next political “announcement” look like. Frankly, I have no idea, but I do have some advice for Mike Michaud:

Spend a lot of time this summer in southern Maine and pray that Joanne Twomey endorses Eliot Cutler…. ( just think of the announcement potential!)

Just around midnight

Within 24 hours the family feud will be over but political tensions in Biddeford will likely remain high long after the ballots from the June 12 Primary Elections are counted.

For the first time in more than 25 years, incumbents in each of the city’s three legislative districts are facing primary challenges.

Joanne Twomey

Now for a few predictions about tomorrow’s outcomes. (these are not necessarily my choices, just my predictions)

District 135 House Seat (Paulette Beaudoin v. Joanne Twomey)

Beaudoin, the incumbent, has never faced a primary challenge, and she has her work cut out for her with a challenge by former Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey. Twomey held the House seat and previously recruited Beaudoin to fill her shoes. Joanne took her loss for a third term as mayor hard, but this campaign has been relatively quiet, despite a last-minute dump of cash from a pro-casino PAC. If signs are any indicator, Beaudoin will do well….but political signs are little more than psychological warfare and Twomey is a savvy campaigner. In this race, I predict a razor-thin victory for Beaudoin. (less than 5%)

District 136 House Seat (Megan Rochelo v. Bobby Mills)

Bobby Mills

Bobby Mills

This is a rematch between incumbent Rochelo and perennial political candidate Bobby Mills, a city councilor who often runs for elected office). Rochelo is hoping for a second term in the district that is bubbling over with Democrats. Mills is hoping to settle a score, but screwed up significantly a couple of weeks ago by posting callous and stupid remarks about his opponent and her husband’s funeral on his campaign’s Facebook page. Mills attempted to edit his stupidity, but it was too late for his revisionist tactics. Several of his supporters backed away; and despite his open and forceful support for a casino in Biddeford, even the boys from Vegas took a few steps back and Mills did not receive any of the support that other local legislative candidates received from a pro-casino PAC. Rochelo by 10 points or better in this race.

District 137 House Seat (Alan Casavant v. Nancy Sullivan)

Nancy Sullivan

Nancy Sullivan

Casavant, serving his first term as the city’s mayor, is being challenged for his House seat by outgoing State Senator Nancy Sullivan. Sullivan really does not want to leave Augusta, and she is running a tight and competitive campaign with plenty of help from the boys in Vegas. Although she approached Casavant late last year, suggesting he should run for her termed-out senate seat, she is now campaigning on the premise that Casavant cannot effectively serve two masters. The problem here, is that she may be right, especially when considering some of the things Casavant repeatedly writes on his Facebook page. This will be a close race. Despite a contentious municipal budget, Casavant is still very popular and downright likable. Sullivan, however is a fierce competitor and better financed. Despite the intent of term limits, I predict Nancy will recapture her old House seat in what will be one of the state’s tightest Primary elections. Sullivan by less than 2 percent.

In other races, expect Linda Valentino to roll past Don Pilon in Senate District 5; Jon Courtney will blow Patrick Calder out of the water for the GOP’s chance to take on Democrat Chellie Pingree in November for Maine’s First District Congressional seat. In a crowded race, Republicans will almost evenly split between Rick Bennett and Bruce Poliquin for the chance to hold Olympia Snowe’s US senate seat for the GOP. (Charlie Summers looks tired, and not enough people know any of the other candidates.) Meanwhile Cynthia Dill will do well with Democrats in southern and coastal Maine, and expect her to dominate college campus towns and maybe Blue Hill; Jon Hinck will do well in Portland’s West End neighborhood, but Matt Dunlap, a more moderate candidate from Old Town, will ultimately win the ticket to a suicide bid against former governor and independent candidate Angus King in November.

Walking on sunshine

Joanne Twomey: A “real” Democrat?

Former mayor, state representative and city councilor Joanne Twomey announced Sunday that she would seek a return to the Maine House of Representatives.

At the Biddeford Democratic caucus, Twomey told a sparse group of fellow Democrats that Dist. 135 needs a “real” Democrat to stand up to Republicans in Augusta.

Twomey also said that she encouraged Rep. Paulette Beaudoin to seek the Dist. 135 seat four years ago, but decided that Beaudoin was either unwilling or unable to stand up to Republicans and should be replaced.

Funny thing is: Twomey was not worried about Beaudoin’s performance until she lost her re-election bid for the mayor’s seat. Now Twomey needs a job. Now she is ready to fight Republicans and Democrats and anyone else who gets between her and her need for health insurance at taxpayer expense.

A video from the Biddeford-Saco Courier:

Joanne likes to talk about her “no-compromise/principled” position.

But does that hold water?

1,) The woman who once bemoaned the idea of a casino in Biddeford — testifying before the Biddeford City Council in 2003 by saying  — “In my Christmas village, there is no casino,” suddenly flipped when she got herself into a budget pinch, and she quickly became a cheerleader for a proposed casino. Principled? Really?

2.) The woman who built her political career on the backs of criticizing the owners of the MERC facility was giving them hugs in front of news cameras just two weeks before the 2009 mayoral election.

Just a few weeks later, after winning re-election as mayor, Twomey once again reversed her position. Principled? Really?

3.) On Sunday, during Biddeford’s Democratic caucus, Twomey said she encouraged State Rep. Paulette Beaudoin to run for the legislative seat that Twomey held until term limits forced her out in 2006. Now, Twomey says the people of District 135 need a “real” Democrat.

For such a principled person who professes to believe in the people, Twomey does not hesitate to play political hardball, but her victim routine is wearing thin.

It’s probably why Biddeford voters threw her out of office by an overwhelming margin in November. You can only fool people for so long.

But there’s also another reason Twomey lost by a 62-38 margin: She did very little campaigning.

Maybe she was overly confident. Maybe she was tired. Maybe she thought the city’s strong support for a proposed racino would ensure her easy re-election.

Twomey is a political quaqmire. On the one hand, she is a savvy politician. On the other, she is ruled by her emotions.

But this time, it looks like she is in this campaign to win. She’s accepting help from Ryan Fecteau, an eager beaver youngster with a solid grasp of 21st Century campaign techniques.

Twomey will likely do well in the Democratic primary against Beaudoin, a post-70-year-old woman who isn’t much of a campaigner and has never been challenged by her own party.

Former Biddeford City Councilor Perry Aberle, a man who describes himself as a “friend of Joanne,” is considering running as a Republican in District 135. If Twomey wins the Democratic Primary on June 12, Aberle will have his work cut out for him.

As I predicted on November 8, 2011, Joanne Twomey is far from done in Biddeford politics.

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.