Dangerous Type

Richard Rhames
Richard Rhames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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