Meet your candidates

Mayor Alan Casavant (Sun Chronicle photo)

Mayor Alan Casavant
(Sun Chronicle photo)

Hear ye, hear ye . . .

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

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

Let’s start at the top . . .

The Mayor’s Race:

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

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

City Council, At-Large:

Laura Seaver

Laura Seaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ward One:

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

Ward Two:

John McCurry

John McCurry

Councilor John McCurry is the only candidate running unopposed.

Ward Three:

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

Ward Four:

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

Ward Five:

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

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

Ward Six:

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

Ward Seven:

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

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

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

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

Dime Store Mystery

Moments after learning that she had been ousted from the mayor’s seat, Joanne Twomey declared that the citizens of Biddeford “don’t deserve me.”

She was right.

We deserve better.

In my last newspaper column, published in December 2005, I tried to explain what motivated that column for so many years.

“Political bullies are very much like their school-yard counterparts. They’re just not as clever, and they often cloak themselves in robes of self-described nobility and purpose,” I wrote.

Many people have described Maine Governor Paul LePage as a political bully.

Regardless of your feelings about the governor, what happened this week during one of his “town hall” events was an embarrassment to an entire community.

Joanne Twomey (Portland Press Herald photo)

Joanne Twomey (Portland Press Herald photo)

I suppose it would be easy to understand Ms. Twomey’s irrational outburst — which included lobbing a jar of Vaseline at the governor — if this were a one-time event: a tipping point of rage and resentment triggered by emotion.

But that’s not what it was.

Instead it was just one more incident in a long line of emotional outbursts from Ms. Twomey, a woman who  loves creating controversy, grabbing headlines and listening to herself roar with self-righteous indignation.

Twomey has a long history of creating scenes. These outbursts serve no other purpose than to draw attention to Ms. Twomey.

If you listen to her speak, no one cares more than she does for the poor and afflicted, but don’t expect to see her volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home. Generally speaking, there are no TV cameras at such places.

Some people have applauded Twomey’s latest tirade. They say the governor got what was coming to him.

But what would they say about her angry outbursts that were directed at other governors, including Democrat John  Baldacci and Independent Angus King?

It’s not about politics; it’s about Joanne Twomey and her rage du jour.

In the early 1990s, Twomey was removed by police from City Hall, following another hissy fit, when once again her rage trumped manners and decorum.

As a state representative, she cried on the House floor when she did not get her way. She is a professional victim and the consummate hypocrite.

And her only real accomplishment is tarnishing the image and reputation of my hometown, which is now undergoing a transformative renaissance.

Since Twomey was ousted from office, the city of Biddeford has closed MERC, a controversial trash incinerator. Since Twomey was ousted from office, the city has attracted millions of dollars in new investment, started a curbside recycling program and has seen dozens of new small businesses open in the downtown area, and worked with the neighboring town of Saco to create the River Walk.

But Twomey’s tirade gets far more media attention. Following Thursday’s incident, social media, radio stations and television crews have repeatedly linked Biddeford to Twomey. “The city twice elected her as mayor,” they say.

They don’t bother to mention that she has lost her last three elections. Finally, the people of Biddeford see through her charade of indignation.

Over the last few years, many of our residents have poured blood, sweat and tears into revitalizing Biddeford.

Twomey’s contribution to that effort? Zip. Zero. Nada.

So once again, my community becomes a laughing-stock, a portrait of dysfunctional government, despite all the progress made over the last few years.

Twomey will tell you that she is principled and fighting the good fight on the side of the angels. But let’s look at her track record.

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.) During Biddeford’s Democratic caucus in 2012, Twomey said the city needed a “real Democrat” in Augusta, failing to mention that she encouraged Democrat State Rep. Paulette Beaudoin to run for her former legislative seat.

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.

Last year, Twomey huffed and puffed before the Biddeford City Council, accusing the city’s police department of discarding perfectly good bicycles that could be given to disadvantaged children.

It was later discovered that those bicycles were deemed beyond repair by the non-profit Community Bicycle Center.

Did Twomey apologize. Nope. Apologizing is not in her DNA.

In summary, Joanne Twomey has become everything she once despised: a petty, vindictive politician who keeps an enemies list.

But she was right about one thing: Biddeford does not deserve her.


PS: Here’s what syndicated columnist and radio talk show host Howie Carr had to say about Thursday’s incident: (At 12:50, he gives a hat-tip to this blog)

Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong (Redux)

Joanne Twomey

Joanne Twomey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make an inquiry at the police department? Nah.

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

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

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

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

The rest of the story

Chief Roger Beaupre: Journal Tribune photo

Chief Roger Beaupre: Journal Tribune photo

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Eliot Cutler

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


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!)