It is a well-known fact that participation in the world of politics – whether it is national, statewide or local — is often a rough and tumble affair.
But here in my hometown of Biddeford, politics is a blood sport and its machinations are not for the faint of heart, those with thin skin or fragile egos. You better put on your big-boy pants if you want to play in this arena.
This was a strange election year in our city. Several city council seats were uncontested and the mayoral campaign between incumbent Alan Casavant and his challenger Victoria Foley was relatively quiet — right up until the last few days of the campaign.
So, what happened? Why did just a small handful of Foley’s supporters all of a sudden go rogue on social media and get their knickers in a knot?
Well, it was a couple of things, including a direct mail piece that the Casavant team sent out just a few days before Election Day. The reaction to that mailer from a few renegade Foley supporters was swift and scorching. Heads exploded, small children went missing and locusts began to ravage the city.
Relax. I’m joking.
(Disclosure, I was a member of Casavant’s campaign team.)
Foley, and an overwhelming majority of her supporters, ran a clean, positive and civil campaign. But some new terminology was introduced into the broader spectrum of campaign rhetoric this year: ageism and nativism.
What? Do I now have to feel guilty about being an old native of Biddeford?
The unhinged objection from a small group of Foley’s supporters on Facebook was likely sparked by Casavant’s use of a direct quote that Foley gave to a newspaper reporter several weeks ago. “My opponent says Biddeford is on a great trajectory,” Casavant wrote. “I appreciate her kind words.”
Another objection was the mention of Foley’s age on the Casavant mail piece. Again, that was from a newspaper profile of the candidates. I very much doubt that any member of Foley’s team wanted to storm the Biddeford-Saco Courier’s office because they had the temerity to list her age (38). For the record, Casavant is 69.
Throughout the campaign, there were many subtle comments made about the need for a more “energetic” candidate in the mayor’s office. I will not reveal the names of those thin-skinned Foley supporters, but I will quote some of their social media comments, which, by the way, were taken down very quickly once the Casavant team replied.
No worries. I have the various screen shots.
PR 101: Nothing is ever truly “erased” once it has been published on a public site.
A Foley supporter, who I will dub as Jane Doe, wrote a screed on Facebook attacking the mayor for invoking his experience and for the fact that he is a lifelong Biddeford native who bleeds black and orange.
“When I saw the first post on the socials for Alan’s re-election campaign weeks ago, I was repulsed by the nativism dog-whistle language, that only someone “from” Biddeford, who has deep roots here, is capable of being Mayor of Biddeford,” Jane Doe wrote. “. . . (and) mentioning Victoria’s age is a clear attempt to label her as “too young” to do the job.”
And John Doe wrote this: “There is a young, progressive female Democratic (sic) running for mayor of Biddeford, Maine. The current mayor is an old, entrenched, multi-term good ol’ boy Democrat.”
John Doe continues: “As with everything the current mayor does, there’s plenty of wolf-whistle nativism on the (Casavant direct mail piece.). The whole production looks and reads like an Onion joke about old, straight white guys desperately clinging to their fiefdoms…but unable to do more than make fun of the competent women around them.”
What John Doe conveniently forgets is that Alan Casavant appointed Victoria Foley to the city council. Casavant also appointed Councilor Amy Clearwater to the council. I could keep going, but you get the point: Casavant obviously recognizes the competency of female candidates.
The Casavant team created a campaign website, which included video endorsements from several “natives” but it also included profiles of newer residents who like the way our mayor is leading the city. Maybe that stung. Who knows? But I also know several lifelong residents of Biddeford who supported Foley’s attempt to capture the mayor’s seat.
Biddeford has a long and storied history of welcoming and embracing “immigrants” who flocked here to work in the textile and shoe mills more than 100 years ago. These people, and all the others who followed in their footsteps (Including Victoria Foley) contribute so much to the fabric of a truly diverse community.
In summary, we should all thank Ms. Foley for offering an alternative checkbox on the ballot. She has a lot to offer this community and she has a bright future ahead if she chooses to continue in the city’s political landscape.
Now it’s time for this old white guy to take a nap.