As we continue coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now more important than ever for the media to take extra steps to ensure that their news stories are fact-based, without hype, without speculation and a minimum of bias.
Wait. Did I just say “a minimum of bias?”
Conservative news consumers on the right of America’s political spectrum often talk about bias, screeching that media outlets such as the New York Times and MSNBC television are in the pockets of left-wing billionaires and prominent Democrats. President Trump gleefully eggs them on, attacking the ‘liberal’ media of delivering so-called “fake news.”
Meanwhile, those on the left side of the political spectrum dismiss news outlets such as FOX news and the Washington Times, saying those media outlets are dripping in conservative rhetoric.
Are the pundits right? Do “news” outlets practice media bias?
According to two veteran journalists, the answer is yes, with varying moderation.
Dennis Bailey, who now lives in Washington, DC, is a veteran journalist who spent several years as a reporter working for the Maine Times and Portland Press Herald. He readily acknowledges that his personal politics are more in line with Democrats.
“I’ve never been a believer in objective journalism,” Bailey said. “A good story is a good story but it does come with some bias.”
Bailey points to certain realities about how the news story is produced. “A reporter often decides what story to follow,” he said. “From there, an editor decides the placement of a story and the headline of that story. These are all subjective decisions.”
On the other side of the political aisle, John Day, who spent several decades as a reporter and then as an editor of the Bangor Daily News, agrees with Bailey about media bias.
“I’m a big fan of diversity,” Day said. “But I was always a contrarian. Fake news has always been around. If all news outlets reported every story the same way, then it would be nothing more than a giant circle jerk.”
Although they seem to disagree on just about everything, the two men agree that journalism has gone through some profound changes over the last 30 years, including the 24-hour news cycle and social media.
“People today have a much wider range of choices when it comes to the news,” Bailey said. “There is a notable absence of media literacy today. You can find anything you want to support your own views on the internet.”
Bailey and Day both point to the Watergate scandal and the role that the media played during that crisis. The Washington Post led the way on the story while the New York Times and other media outlets took a more measured approach.
“Walter Cronkite was the godfather of news,” Bailey said. “He was such a trusted guy. We don’t have that anymore.”
According to Day, more than 95 percent of news stories about President Trump are negative while stories about Maine Senator Angus King are nearly always positive. “Angus is not much more than a boot licker for Chuck Schumer,” he said.
The lines between news and opinion are becoming more and more blurred as cable news shows fill air time with pundits such as Rachel Maddow on the left and Sean Hannity on the right.
Today, too many people pick their news source to align with their personal viewpoint, according to both Bailey and Day. “I have more respect for CNN than MSNBC,” Day said. “At least they try to be objective with guests such as Chris Christie.”
So long as media outlets chase ratings and circulation, their ability to maintain objectivity becomes more difficult.
We need to be increasingly vigilant about how we get and choose our news sources.
President Trump is not the first president to have a deep disdain for the White House press corps. More than 50 years ago, former president Richard Nixon lashed out at the media following his loss to Democrat Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial election.
Appearing before more than 100 reporters, Nixon didn’t mince his words about his frustration with the media. “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference,” the candidate said.
More recently, an editorial published in the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2015, James Risen, then a reporter at The New York Times, called the Obama administration “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”
As Walter Cronkite consistently said at the end of each of his evening broadcasts: “And that’s the way it is.”
‘In the absence of science, religion flourishes . . .’
One of today’s most hotly debated public policy matters is the subject of Climate Change, formerly known as “global warming.”
Before I go any further with a blog post that will surely divide my followers and Facebook “friends,” let’s get right to the meat of the matter.
When former vice president Al Gore declared that “the planet has a fever,” he was right. Global Climate Change (GCC) simply cannot be denied.
I am not a scientist, geologist or meteorologist. I am just another pundit with yet another point of view.
But while my friends on the left are far more likely to celebrate my above statements about the reality of GCC, I have some serious misgivings about many of their proposals to “fix the problem.” Recently hundreds of high-school students skipped classes to rally against GCC.
They should have hit the books instead.
When debating GCC, we should be able to acknowledge some fundamental facts:
Planet Earth is approximately 4.543 billion years old;
The Ice Age began 2.4 million years ago, lasting until approximately 11,500 years ago;
Humans began roaming the planet approximately 200,000 years ago.
So what do these facts tell us?
Well, for starters, the earth’s climate has been changing for a long, long time and humans had little to no impact on the earth’s atmosphere until about 50 years ago.
But before we begin any conversation about GCC, we should check our emotions at the door. This is a complex issue, and rhetoric – from either deniers or fanatics – won’t do a damn thing except possibly increasing your blood pressure.
Climate Change Impacts: A brief history
If you want to talk about other impacts that affect GCC, let’s take a relatively short journey back in time.
According to an article by Karen Harpp, an assistant professor of geology at Colgate University, published in the Scientific American newsletter:
“In 1784, Benjamin Franklin made what may have been the first connection between volcanoes and global climate while stationed in Paris as the first diplomatic representative of the United States of America. He observed that during the summer of 1783, the climate was abnormally cold, both in Europe and back in the U.S. The ground froze early, the first snow stayed on the ground without melting, the winter was more severe than usual, and there seemed to be “a constant fog over all Europe, and [a] great part of North America.”
What Franklin observed, Harpp writes was “indeed the result of volcanic activity.”
“Natural forces cause Earth’s temperature to fluctuate on long timescales due to slow changes in the planet’s orbit and tilt,” according to a Q & A published by Climate Communication, which is a non-profit science and outreach project. “Such forces were responsible for the ice ages. Other natural forces sometimes cause temperatures to change on short timescales.”
On the other side of the debate there is plenty of scientific evidence regarding human impact on GCC, especially so in the last 50 years. The human impact has, in fact, outpaced natural impacts.
So what do we do?
Industrialized nations (United States, Japan, China, Russia, Great Britain, India and France) have more responsibility because of their bigger global impact. The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed by all of these counties and many more nations that have a far lower impact or produce fewer greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide.
And then there is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on scientific consensus.
I don’t dispute the science that provides more than ample evidence of human impact on climate change, but I am an ardent opponent of so-called carbon taxes. Just a few days ago, the state of Maine rejected the notion of placing a dedicated tax on gasoline and home heating oil. Phew! We dodged another bullet.
So-called carbon taxes are the rallying cry of the activists, but those additional taxes would place a further burden on the citizens who can least afford it.
Maine Governor Janet Mills is pushing for a $50 million bonding package that would study the impact of rising sea levels on coastal Maine communities. “We’re all in this together,” she said.
Rather than creating yet more taxes, perhaps we should focus more attention on creating incentives to reduce greenhouse gases.
I have worked as a public relations consultant on several energy projects, including wind power and an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminal in eastern Maine. I was always amazed when environmentalists opposed clean, renewable sources of energy, citing bird strikes and the need for flickering red lights atop wind turbines. I live in a community that once burned trash to generate electricity, but don’t get me started on that boondoggle.
We humans have a right to occupy this planet and we all share an inherent responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources. I recently took a quick gander around my house, comparing it to my parents’ home. When I was growing up there were no microwave ovens. We didn’t have a dishwasher, flat-screen televisions or computers.
I am not suggesting that we should get rid of these things, but maybe we could be more mindful about our energy consumption, and explore expanding clean energy sources such as hydro projects – and yes – nuclear power. (Last week, Forbes magazine published an article that examined the safety of nuclear power plants.)
In a March 11 Portland Press Herald editorial, the editorial board wrote that “the global climate fight will take many forms.”
There were a few lessons to be learned this week for campaign operatives and political junkies in Maine.
1.) A financial war chest does not necessarily win an election;
2.) Voters in small communities become weary of aggressive campaigning that lasts for more than two or three months; and
3.) Negative campaign tactics still work, despite the fact that most people will say negative campaigning is a turn-off.
Lewiston’s mayoral race, in which Robert Macdonald won a third term, garnered national media attention. Tuesday’s run-off results were reported by media outlets across the country, including NBC News and the New York Times.
Although Ben Chin, a progressive Democrat, got the most votes during a five-way race for the mayor’s seat in the November 2015 election, a runoff election was required by the city’s charter because he did not capture at least 50 percent of the vote.
Democrats tend to favor run-off elections and/or a concept known as ranked choice voting, but Tuesday’s results bit them in the ass, when Republican Macdonald came out on top, 53-47 percent over Chin.
What would have otherwise been a small community election became amplified when the campaign took an ugly turn in October.
Several signs that featured a caricature of an Asian man were hung on buildings in Lewiston. Those signs contained a blatantly racist message: “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin. Vote for more jobs not more welfare,” according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.
Is cash really king?
Because of the national attention, Chin’s campaign was able to raise a whopping $87,800. Maine Democrats wanted to send a message and large amounts of money poured in from all over Maine and across the country. Chin, the political director for the Maine People’s Alliance, was able to turn on one of the state’s biggest political machines.
In total, Chin’s campaign raised roughly 15 times more than Macdonald’s campaign, which raised $5,800.
By contrast, in the city of Biddeford, a typical mayoral campaign raises somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. This year, however, Mayor Alan Casavant raised a paltry $1,270 and spent $818 of it to secure a third term. He got 2,494 votes at a cost of roughly 33 cents per vote.
Chin garnered 3,826 votes; spending nearly $23 per vote. Macdonald, on the other hand, garnered 4,398 votes; spending roughly $1.32 per vote.
Chin edged out second-place finisher Macdonald in November, but Macdonald won Tuesday’s runoff, despite being outspent roughly 15-1. Why?
Almost every one I speak to about this race has a different theory, but I think voters were turned off by an incredibly aggressive campaign that was raising so much cash from outside of the city.
It was a bit over the top.
According to the city of Lewiston’s web site, 33.5 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots in the November election. That number dropped slightly on Tuesday, when 32 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots during the runoff election.
By contrast, slightly more than 30 percent of voters in Biddeford cast ballots in that city’s 2015 mayoral election.
Mayoral campaigns in cities like Biddeford or Lewiston usually have a shelf-life of between two or three months. Tuesday’s run-off election added another month to the process. I heard stories of voters being weary of door-knocking and incessant telephone calls.
Sometimes, too much of a good thing (grassroots campaigning and cash) can be a bad thing.
One friend of mine recently speculated that Lewiston’s voters are conservative (and perhaps just a tad racist). He failed to explain how Chin, a progressive Democrat, came out on top in November if a majority of Lewiston’s voters are bigoted or conservative.
In fact, Lewiston, which is a lot like Biddeford, has historically been a bastion for conservative, traditional Democrats (mill workers and Franco-Americans).
Macdonald, a former police detective and Vietnam War veteran, is a blunt speaker and has a propensity for being “politically incorrect.”
When you consider all these factors, it’s no wonder that a small Maine city’s mayoral race attracted national attention.
It was a campaign that defied conventional wisdom, and it offered some lessons for all of us.
Some 48 hours before Donald Trump “officially” announced his candidacy for president on Tuesday, I posted a quip on Facebook that I would be seeking the mayor’s seat in Biddeford.
The idea was jokingly bantered about while Mayor Alan Casavant was attending a party at my home. (Full disclosure: Casavant is serious about seeking a third term, and I support him.)
But my announcement was never intended to be serious.
For starters, I have absolutely no business running for any elected office. I can barely manage my own life, as detailed here.
While my Facebook quip generated some buzz, lots of positive comments and even comments from people willing to help my “campaign,” it was, again, a sarcastic joke.
Now that I think about it, my announcement was actually much less a joke than Trump’s escalator event on Tuesday; and many of us are left to wonder if he is truly serious or just seeking some more attention to further inflate his own ego.
Consider for a moment what Trump laid out as his agenda before a group of New York City tourists, some mentally deranged followers and a gaggle of reporters.
He hit all the hot-button topics: immigration, saying we will be build a massive wall between the United States and Mexico. How will we pay for it? Trump said he wold force Mexico to foot the tab through higher tariffs on their imports.
Umm, this is a direct violation of the North American Free Trade Act.
Trumped bragged about his wealth, pointing to what he estimates at a net worth of nearly $9 billion.
He pontificated about his fantastic business career. But riddle me this, how does a man who has filed four bankruptcies amass a fortune of $9 billion, much less describe himself as a savvy businessman? Has he directed any of his fortune to settling old debts with his creditors?
Trump says he will make America strong again, a nice talking point, but one best left for dictators.
For my friends on the right who criticize President Obama for a slew of Executive Actions; the Donald listed out more than a dozen executive actions he would take if elected.
Perhaps he’s been in his mahogany-paneled boardroom so long that he has forgotten the president must work with 535 pesky members of Congress.
Congress controls the purse strings, not The Donald.
More importantly, can Trump’s ego handle the bruising? How will he react when he comes in second, third or tenth in the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary?
Sure, Donald has a certain appeal, and he’s good at tapping into America’s growing resentment against the rest of the world. He excels at fear mongering, but he is anything but a serious presidential candidate.
And who do we blame for this phenomena? This perverse distraction?
Look in the mirror. The vast and overwhelming majority of registered voters don’t cast ballots; we leave that to the partisan fringes, where emotion so often “trumps” logic.
We are a nation more concerned about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner; television shows like Honey Boo-Boo, the tribulations of the Duggar family, American Idol and Big Brother.
We are a nation addicted to bread and circuses. Is it any wonder that we have sent in the clowns to run the country?
Donald Trump has no business running for president. I have no business running for mayor of Biddeford. The difference between us is that one of us knows a joke when we see it.
WARNING: If you are a partisan Democrat or Republican, you may not want to continue reading because this post will surely piss you off.
Nearly 24 hours after the polls closed, there is still a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on here in Maine, where Republicans had much to celebrate last night.
All the pundits, professional and otherwise, have bellied up to the bar to offer their “expert” opinions and analysis about what happened last night, so please forgive me for piling on to the fray of analysis and speculation.
Throughout the day, on social media and around the water cooler, I have heard a wide range of opinions about why Democrat Mike Michaud lost his bid to oust Republican Paul LePage.
Many people blame Independent candidate Eliot Cutler. I disagree, I think Cutler was a factor but not that significant, let’s say 5%
Other people said the controversial “bear-baiting” referendum brought out “conservative/sportsmen” voters who would have otherwise stayed at home during a midterm. Wrong again, in my opinion. But let’s give this “factor” another 5%
Others have said that Gov. LePage was able to latch on to the Ebola hysteria that dominated the final days of the campaign cycle. This one I find laughable, but let’s give it 2 percent, anyway.
Still others have said it was because Michaud was an openly gay candidate. I have a fair amount of Republican friends, and I never heard this issue raised in conversation. But I am also a realist, and I know that awful bigotry does lurk everywhere, so let’s give that factor another 5%.
So far, if you add all these factors together, you only have 17 percent of the puzzle.
So, what really happened last night?
In my opinion, it was two things that really mattered.
For almost four years Democrats have howled and railed about how awful governor Paul Lepage is. In this campaign cycle, they spent boatloads of cash driving home that message. He is a bully. He is an embarrassment. He likes to kill puppies. He spews dioxins.
Let’s, for a moment, assume the Democrats were right that Paul LePage is the worst governor to ever occupy the Blaine House. Let’s assume he is the great Satan.
Well, if that’s the case, how do you lose against such a God-awful candidate? You nominate a weak candidate to take him on.
Everywhere I go, I hear people tell me that Mike Michaud is a “nice guy.” And that is the truth. I have met Mr. Michaud. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a nicer guy.
But you need more than being a nice guy.
Maine’s Democratic Party cleared the primary decks and anointed Michaud as heir apparent with no contest. On paper, it made a certain amount of sense. Michaud was from northern Maine, and he could probably carry southern Maine. He is a respected legislator and held his Second District Congressional seat for several terms. He is likable. A working-class guy just like you.
But Michaud’s campaign focused primarily on being “not Paul LePage.” Voters turn out to be for a candidate, not against a candidate.
LePage had the advantage of being an incumbent and trumpeted his accomplishments. No matter how you feel about the guy, he has a loyal fan base and they rallied like there was no tomorrow.
But all that only counts for 40 percent of why Michaud lost and LePage won last night.
What’s the missing piece of the puzzle?
History and voting trends.
Make no mistake, the President played a factor in this race and several others. Historically, the second-term mid terms are a major disappointment for the person sitting in the Oval Office.
The nation is weary and wants a new direction, away from the party that controls the White House.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane to 2006. George W. Bush was halfway through his second term in office. He lost Congress in 2006. But what was happening in Maine?
Gov. John Baldacci was seeking re-election. The Republicans nominated conservative Chandler Woodcock to take him on. But the Dems had other problems. Barbara Merrill, a former Democrat lawmaker from Appleton, filed papers as an independent. Pat Lamarche, the driving force behind Maine’s Green Party was also a candidate and threatened to peel progressive votes from Baldacci. Between them, LaMarche and Merrill got roughly 20 percent of the vote.
Baldacci still won because a.) he was a stronger candidate than Woodcock; and b.) because Republicans nationally and at home were useless during the waning days of the Bush Administration.
By contrast, Cutler only got eight percent of the vote, but it would be a major leap of speculation to assume that every one of those votes would have gone to Michaud.
In the end, Michaud was a mediocre candidate who ran an uninspiring campaign while his political party was suffering all over the country.
Attitudes regarding marijuana have dramatically changed during the past two decades.
Those in favor of legalizing the drug are finding increasing support from an expanding constituency, including millenials who can now vote and health care providers who say the drug can benefit their patients.
Even retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens — not a likely Cheech & Chong fan — says it is time for marijuana to be legalized.
In an interview with Scott Simon on National Public Radio, the former justice said: “I really think that that’s another instance of public opinion [that’s] changed. And recognize that the distinction between marijuana and alcoholic beverages is really not much of a distinction.”
Talk about a dramatic shift. In 1987, after admitting that he once used marijuana, Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg was forced to back away from the nomination process.
And last year, voters in both Colorado and Washington defied federal law and legalized the use of marijuana as a controlled substance.
But the quest to legalize marijuana in all 50 states face an uphill battle, best evidenced by what has happened in the Maine Legislature.
In November The Legislative Council, a 10-member group of legislative leaders, split on a proposal that would have sent a statewide referendum question to voters. Because the vote was tied, it failed and cannot be considered again until the next Legislature convenes in 2015.
It was the third time the Legislature has rejected proposals by State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) to legalize marijuana. Russell could not be reached for comment.
But State Rep. Alan Casavant (D-Biddeford) said he is glad the proposal failed.
“I voted against it every time,” Casavant said.
Casavant, who spent more than 35 years teaching high school, said he experienced first hand the impact of marijuana on his students.
“Legalizing it would be nothing more than a continued erosion of our culture,” he said. “I have heard all the arguments for and against, and I can’t support it.”
Casavant also said the issue should not be debated on a state-by state basis. “For it to happen, we really need some guidance from the federal government. It’s a very complicated issue. Where do you draw the line on intoxication, for example?”
Casavant says he is sympathetic to those who need marijuana for medicinal reasons, but says the risks still outweigh the benefits, even when considering that marijuana could provide a bumper crop of new tax revenue.
“As the mayor of a city, as a legislator, I am very aware of how we need new sources of revenue that will not impact people who are already struggling to keep up, but despite those realities, I can’t support this. Not now.”
State Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) said he is “evolving on the issue.” Chenette said he had initial apprehension about the issue when first approached for his support by Russell.
“Being a college student so recently, I have witnessed the rampant use of marijuana on campus,” Chenette said. “I am concerned about how young people will use it, but I also see the other side. I would be in favor of sending the question to referendum, but I have yet to formulate a strong opinion one way or the other. It’s something that warrants more study.”
Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford is hoping to be a member of the next legislature.
Fecteau, 21, says he generally supports the legalization of marijuana but does not want to see it included in the Maine Democratic Party’s platform because it could be wedge issue in a year when Maine Democrats need to be focused on bigger fish, including capturing the Blaine House.
“I think it should be treated the same as alcohol,” Fecteau said, adding that additional revenue from the state sale of marijuana could provide much-needed tax relief for seniors and revenue that could help fund critical programs.
With a little help from my friends
A few days ago, I posted a simple question on my Facebook page about the legalization of marijuana.
That informal survey drew more than 100 responses in 24 hours.
I was surprised by some of the responses. I was also fascinated to see that an almost even split of Republicans and Democrats were on each side of the issue.
Moreover, both men and women overwhelmingly support legalization (male approval led female approval by only a slight margin).
Women with children were equally split. Among male opponents, more than 75 percent are politically conservative, yet nearly 40 percent of male supporters are conservatives.
I remember when we got our first color television. It was 1973. My parents purchased the house two years prior, and that television was a refurbished Zenith console model.
I was the remote control.
From his favorite chair, my father would bark at me: “Turn to Channel 13! I want to see Walter Cronkite.”
Growing up in that house of Franklin Street in Saco with my sister and our dog, Kelly, I was positive we were a middle class family.
My father was a teacher. My mom worked part-time at Canal Bank. I was a Cub Scout and took clarinet lessons. My sister took ballet and tap lessons. We ate dinner at the table, and put on our good clothes for church on Sunday.
Shit, I was an altar boy. Life was good. Right?
Maybe, but it was certainly more a perception of reality than a hard fact.
What is the middle class? Who can define it? Is it disappearing or was it always a myth?
Defenders of the Myth
Politicians, pundits and just about everyone else loves to “stand up” for the middle class, but what are they defending?
Few politicians dare define the middle class because they fear what will happen if the economy tanks, and more people feel left out of the so-called American Dream.
Just look at Mitt Romney’s blunder when he attempted to define the middle class (“Those earning $200,000 to $250,000 and less’)
According to an April 14 story in USA Today: “President Obama mentioned the middle class a half-dozen times in his State of the Union address this year, and House Speaker John Boehner told Obama to “stand up for middle-class jobs.”
Google says [the middle class] has been called the “backbone of the country” at least 2.3 million times.
From gridlocked Washington to cities and town everywhere, the middle class is far and away America’s favorite socioeconomic group.
Yet no one can agree on what, exactly, the middle class is.
Economists and sociologists say that’s a big deal. Decisions are made, laws are written and elections are won or lost based on people’s beliefs about the middle class and what it means to the country. A nation that so values the middle class, they say, really should be better at defining it.”
Perception or reality?
According to numerous polls, most Americans define themselves as “middle-class,” despite ample statistical evidence to the contrary. It would appear that we prefer the middle. A short drive on the Maine Turnpike will back-up my anecdotal observation, watching drivers hug the center lane.
By definition, the “middle” is wedged halfway between lower and upper, between large and small, equidistant between left and right.
Go to the grocery store and try to buy “small” eggs. You can’t. The smallest eggs you can buy are “medium-sized” Try to buy a small soft drink at McDonald’s. You can’t. The cashier will offer you a medium. It’s ridiculous how we play these games of perception that have no basis in logic.
We don’t like to talk about the lower-class, the lower rungs of our socio-economic ladder. Nor are most people comfortable contemplating the rungs above.
Politically, we tend to generalize and demonize both the lower and upper class. Poor people have made bad choices and are inherently lazy. Rich people are greedy bastards who only care about themselves.
We puff ourselves full of self-righteous indignation, armed with little more than anecdotal evidence.
What is middle class? Are you middle class?
It appears that few things are more subjective than determining where you fit on America’s socio-economic scale. But let’s look at some data.
Using 2012 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s easy to see that median annual household income in the United States is $51,371. The median is halfway between the top figure and the bottom figure (not an average). This means that half of all households in the U.S. earn less than $51, 371 per year; and that half of all households earn more than $51, 371.
Now let’s look at the state of Maine, where the median household income is lower, estimated at $46,709 per year. Remember, this includes all income from everyone in your household, regardless of whether they are related to you.
So what should be the margin for determining middle income in Maine? For argument’s sake, let’s say +/- 10 points, so now we have determined the middle household income range based on data ($42,000 -$51,380).
Are you still in the middle class?
In fairness, middle class is more than just income. There are numerous other factors: home ownership, profession, level of education, marital status, etc.
But what about debt load? Even with a good income, those with high debt loads may be struggling and not feeling like the middle class.
Feelings are not facts
How we feel about our situation makes up a large part of our subjective analysis regarding whether we are middle class or not middle class.
A friend of mine recently stated that the middle class is evaporating. He bemoaned the good ol’ days of his youth and the opportunities his father had in the booming years following World War II.
Let’s think about that for a minute. In fact, I challenge you to get up from your computer and take a quick walk around your home. Is your standard of living higher now than when you grew up?
I’ll share my own observations.
I started by stepping outside for a cigarette break. I have a snowblower. My parents had shovels. I have a boat, a camper. Not my parents. My truck was purchased brand-new; my wife’s car is fully loaded with tinted windows and a retractable moon-roof. My parents bought used cars.
Our houses are somewhat similar except my parents’ home had one bath. Mine? Two bathrooms and enough space for a home office. My parents didn’t have a cell-phone bill. They did not pay for internet. If you had blue-tooth, you needed to see the dentist. There were no home theater systems, no stainless-steel appliances and no one could imagine having a “personal” computer.
My father was able to finish college not thanks to a federal student loan but because my mother worked third-shift, painting little lines on resistors and capacitors at Components. We washed dishes by hand. We never needed a new printer. We had three television channels. No one in my neighborhood had granite countertops. No one had a Jacuzzi in their bathroom. We didn’t have microwaves.
The more I think about it, the more it feels like I am George Jetson, son of Fred Flintstone.
We have moved the bar on “living comfortably.” We have raised the standard of living to keep up with the Joneses.
I was speaking with a friend yesterday about the recent municipal elections in Biddeford.
“I bet you’re glad it’s over,” he said.
“Over?” I responded. “It’s hardly over. Already candidates are lining up for local legislative races that will be decided next November. There’s always another election around the corner.”
He shook his head and smiled. “Who cares about who we send to Augusta,” he said. “It’s not like it matters.”
It’s understandable that most people feel a bit burned out by the political process.
Only a few weeks after arguing and ranting about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, political junkies turned their attention to controversial referendum questions pending in South Portland and Portland. While local candidates were seeking city council and mayoral seats, Congressman Mike Michaud, the likely Democratic nominee for the Blaine House, announced that he was gay and thus strategically overshadowed Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement about his own official re-election campaign this week.
I almost expected Independent Eliot Cutler to announce that he was bi-sexual, pledging allegiance to neither heterosexual nor homosexual preferences; a true Independent — just like Maine — in a desperate attempt for some much needed press during a tough news cycle.
It’s no wonder that voters have become a bit apathetic and cynical about politics.
For the record, I could not care less about a candidate’s sexual orientation. I also don’t care about their favorite color or whether they like their chicken original or extra crispy. I want the candidates and the media to focus on the issues that are affecting every day people who are struggling under the weight of a difficult economy. I want to hear new ideas. I want to hear each candidate describe their vision.
Although I am pleased that an overwhelming majority of voters in my hometown chose vision over fear, positive over negative; I also expect those who won their seats to get real busy, real quick and to focus with laser-precision on economic development, creating streamlined efficiencies and encouraging private investment.
Voter turnout in Biddeford this year hit a 10-year low. Fewer than one-third of the city’s voters bothered to cast a ballot. Sure, there were no sexy referendum issues like a casino or marriage equality driving people to the polls; but the decisions we made yesterday impact every part of our lives: our roads, our schools, public safety, our sewers and yes . . . our tax bills. The people chosen on Tuesday will be responsible for making decisions that could have long-lasting impacts.
So why was voter turnout so pathetic? The weather was beautiful. There were no long lines at the polling places. What gives?
It’s always difficult to gauge voter sentiment, but there are a few likely reasons:
a.) Voters are content with the way Biddeford is being managed. They sensed Alan Casavant had a commanding lead and, therefore, their vote was unnecessary;
b.) Voters are upset with the way Biddeford is being managed and feel disenfranchised. You can’t fight City Hall;
Or c.) the most likely reason: voters just didn’t care. Period.
If you belong to any of the above three groups, you are an idiot.
Members of Group A risked a potential loss and a step backward for the city. Members of Group B missed a real opportunity to send a powerful message about their discontent; and members of Group C ought to be required to take a remedial civics lesson.
Voting is important. You are an equal shareholder in this community. Your voice matters. Imagine how different the election would have been if only 20 percent more of the city’s register voters had bothered to participate?
Of course, it’s too late to speculate. And those who did vote sent a pretty clear message. They want a fiscally responsible council. They want a positive and professional mayor leading the city. They are not afraid of making long-term investments in their community (all five state bond questions passed easily).
Sure, it’s more fun to get wound up about a particular, controversial issue, but if you can’t be bothered to exercise your civic duty, then be prepared to accept whatever comes down your path.
Voters tend to turn out for things they want; things they support.
Throughout this last election cycle, many of Casavant’s loudest critics failed to articulate who they supported. They were against someone, but for no one. A sure-fire prescription for voter apathy and a stunning loss at the polls.
Sure, Casavant’s opponents split their opposition, but looking at the results tells an even stronger story. Even if you add the total votes of each opponent, Casavant’s numbers were still higher. Fifty-seven percent is a clear victory. Winning each of the city’s seven wards reaffirms the voters’ decision.
If the opponents are struggling to accept the results, maybe they ought to spend a little less time bitching and a bit more time convincing their friends and neighbors to get to the polls two years from now.
I said it before, and I will say it again: Campaign signs do NOT win elections; Facebook or other social media tools do NOT win elections; debates or endorsements do NOT win elections. What wins elections? It’s about how many people you get to the polls. Game over.
Much has been said about Maine’s quality of place, a subject that hit me like a brick this weekend as I once again travel the roads of rural Maine.
But what is the value of a quality place without a quality life?
GrowSmart Maine describes quality of place as:
“. . . our majestic mountains, unbroken forests, open fields, wild rivers, pristine lakes, widely-celebrated coast, picturesque downtowns, lively arts and culture, authentic historic buildings, and exceptional recreational opportunities. It is our principal advantage in today’s global economic competition. Quality of place will help us keep and attract skilled workers and entrepreneurs to fill Maine’s declining workforce population.”
Sounds good, right?
Sure, right up until you drive along Rte. 4 past Livermore Falls and into the town of Jay on your way to someplace pretty.
The policy wonks, pundits and environmental do-gooders slap themselves on the back with self-congratulation over drinks at the Senator Inn in Augusta after passing some piece of legislation designed to protect Maine’s “quality of place,” but I wonder if they have ever strolled along Water Street, less than a mile away or driven past the dilapidated tenement triple-deckers that line Rte. 8 on the way toward the Civic Center.
Try telling someone in that neighborhood about quality of place.
Better yet, visit the Wal-Mart in Calais, Skowhegan, Newport or Sanford. Tell the single-mom buying generic-labeled cereal about “quality of place.”
Drive past the gutted factories and the ghost towns that were once homes to thriving industries like shoe shops, paper mills and textile manufacturing. Pull over and tell the people who are barely living there about quality of place.
Drive north, east or west from Portland. Get off the main roads and count the number of blue tarps that serve as substitute roofs on ramshackle homes. Pause and tell those people about “quality of place.”
There are no easy answers, but I never see the pundits or the lobbyists shopping for pre-paid cell phones, making an installment payment at Rent-A-Center or drying their clothes at the Laund-O-Matic on a sweltering July afternoon.
These people —the not-so-pretty and the not-so-fortunate ones —- are largely forgotten, discounted and mostly ignored. They routinely buy lottery tickets. Many of them smoke, and they keep their heads above the surface like prison inmates. One fucking day at a time.
It’s easy to judge them. To think we know better about how they should live or how Maine should be managed, but few of us know — really know— that if this is quality of place . . . That if this is as good as it gets…..
What is the value of having an abundance of natural resources if you cannot feed your children? What is the value of open space if you don’t have a car to get there?
How do we achieve the balance between protecting the things we cherish in our backyard without forgetting or discounting the people who live there?
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.