Friday, October 29, 2010

Mitchell as spoiler, Part II

A week ago, I argued here that the Maine gubernatorial race had boiled down to two facts: a majority of Mainers don't want Tea Party darling Paul LePage to win the race and (b) Democrat Libby Mitchell has become the spoiler, a candidate who can't win the race, but is splitting Maine's moderate majority sufficiently to put a volatile social conservative in the Blaine House.

A series of polls have since come out since confirming this analysis. The latest, made public hours ago, has Independent Eliot Cutler (31%) in striking distance of Mr. LePage (37%), with Ms. Mitchell falling to a distant third (22%.) It's worth noting that this poll comes to us from Pan Atlantic SMS Group, which is headed by longtime Maine Democratic Party chair Victoria Murphy and her husband, Patrick, and thus unlikely to have animus against Mitchell.

Polls earlier this week differed on how far LePage is ahead, but agreed that Mitchell's support is declining while Cutler's is surging. Pine Tree Politics has a graph of all the polls, save the new one, showing the trend since the primary. Yesterday's Public Policy Polling survey also confirmed that Mitchell is the least liked and most disliked candidate in the race, while Cutler is the most liked and least disliked, despite a barrage of negative advertising against him by the Republican Governors' Association, the Maine Democratic Party, and Emily's List (d.b.a. "Maine Women VOTE!") [PDF]

Indeed, the negative adverts appear to have backfired on the Democrats, who overstretched the truth in their anti-Culter pitch. (Example: they quote Culter saying "Governors don't create jobs," but leave off the rest of the quote "What governors and governments can do is create the conditions in which people and businesses will invest, prosper and create new jobs.") A senior party official, Democratic National Committeeman Sam Spencer condemned the Maine party's ads last week, amid a stream of unflattering stories on the more Sinophobic ads. (Mr. Spencer is Cutler's godson, but I don't doubt his integrity in matters of political principle: he was the only one of the 471 national DNC members to oppose the national party's stunning decision to retain superdelegates' ability to overrule voters earlier this year.) Mitchell had an opportunity to distance herself from the more absurd ads in the debates, but declined to do so.

Mainers who fear a LePage victory appear to have but one fruitful course of action open to them: uniting their support around Mr. Cutler.

[Update, 10/29/10, 14:30: Right-leaning Pine Tree Politics concurs, as does the proudly leftist Progressive Review (d.b.a. Coastal Packet)]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Beginning or the Beginning of the End for Portland's Working Waterfront?

Portland, Maine's commercial waterfront has been largely protected from non-marine development since voters passed a ballot initiative in the late 1980s. But as some marine sectors have declined, pier owners have argued that the zoning should be loosened to allow restaurants, retail stores, and other Old Port-style development on the piers and the water side of Commercial Street. Only in this way, they argue, can they generate sufficient revenue to maintain the piers.

While there's general agreement that the status quo isn't working [PDF, p. 5]-- and that the south side of Commercial Street could probably be developed without harming the working waterfront on the piers behind -- loosening the zoning for the overall Central Waterfront Zone is a tricky matter. Get the details wrong and Portland's fishermen, bait dealers, seafood buyers, and chandlers could be forced out by luxury hotels, swank restaurants, and tourist-minded shopping.

Zoning changes are working their way through the city's policy machinery. If they turn out to doom the working waterfront, someday we may look back on last night's Community Development Committee vote as the turning point. Councilor John Anton put forward a series of amendments that would serve as an insurance policy for the working waterfront [PDF], effectively separating the 150-feet bordering Commercial Street (where all sorts of development would be permitted) from the piers themselves (where restaurants, retail, and any non-marine first floor tenants would be banned.) Anton's amendments were defeated by his colleagues Cheryl Leeman (who argues there are plenty of safeguards already) and Dory Waxman (who didn't say much of anything.)

The unamended package goes before the full city council for final approval in December. Those who care about Portland's working waterfront should scrutinize it carefully beforehand, as at this stage even the stakeholders themselves aren't sure what the effect of the Byzantine rules will be, and the fail-safe button is now in the off position.

I'll be covering this story as it unfolds, and the potential effect of the proposed zoning changes becomes more clear.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Maine: Fresh campaign reports for Portland city races

As the city can't manage to post campaign finance reports online until years after the fact, I've taken it upon myself to do so, and to at least skim them before each election. It's a tiresome task, so I do hope someone compels the city clerk's office (or their technical support people) to get their act together before the next election.

The latest disclosures for city office and the city ballot measure to introduce an elected mayor were due last Friday, and cover the entire campaign through Oct. 19. I'll post them over at my ad hoc Portland, Maine campaign finance page when I get a chance, but for now, here's the cliff's notes version:

City Council, at large race: This pits incumbents John Anton (Green) and Jill Duson (Democrat) against outgoing district three councilor Dan Skolnik (D) and challenger Charles Bragdon (G). The top two vote getters will claim a seat at City Hall.

Longtime councilor Duson has raised the most money -- $2038 -- with the Longshoreman's union and their leader, Jack Humenick, contributing $450. Maine Turnpike Authority manager Paul Violette and former councilor Will Gorman($100) also back Duson, along with the proprietors of something called CT Management (who gave a combined $700.)

Skolnik, who announced he was retiring from his District 3 seat, but is now staging a write-in campaign for at-large, won his previous term with the help of substantial donations from people associated with Ocean Properties, the firm behind the Maine State Pier debacle. Apparently the old OP crowd still likes the guy. Former VP Bob Baldacci (the governor's brother) gave $100 and former spokesman Harold Pachios, $250. Former legislator Ethan Strimling ponied up $100 as well. Total kitty for Skolnik: $645.

Anton is apparently confident in being reelected, as he reported having no activity this cycle. Bragdon also raised no money, but gave himself $79.60.

City Council, District Three Race: This pits former mayor Ed Suslovic (D) against political newcomer Will Mitchell (D), son of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell.

Mitchell raised an impressive $6394 this cycle from a long list of donors, large and small. These included his mom and dad ($100), councilors Anton ($350) and Nick Mavodones ($100), former councilors Gorman ($100), Jim Cloutier ($100), Jim Cohen ($100 with his wife), and Anne Pringle ($100), and the Portland Longshoremen (the maximum $350.) It's clear where the establishment stands on this one.

Suslovic raised $2355, but also loaned himself $10,000. Donors included Yarmouth Senate candidate Dick Woodbury ($250).

Question One: This asks if we should have an elected mayor, instead of letting the councilors appoint each other to the post. (I wrote on this issue and the background to it earlier this year in Down East.)

Two Political Action Committees have raised and spent thousands to ensure the measure passes. The driving forces are the League of Young Voters, which kicked in $1300 for their own PAC, and the Portland Chamber, which have $2500 (and another $2936 in in-kind support) to the "Elect Our Mayor - Yes On 1 PAC." The other big donor to that aforementioned PAC: Burt's Bees founder, philanthropist, and real estate accumulator Roxanne Quimby, who gave $5000. Makes one wonder if she's planning to run herself.

[Update, 11/1/2010: I made a second trip to City Hall to get the disclosures for the anti-elected mayor PAC.; see the last item here.]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mayflower: the real story

On account of new fatherhood, I took a short hiatus from writing the Talk of Maine column in Down East, but the new issue has my review of a new book on the Pilgrims: Nick Bunker's Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History.

As you'll read in the review, Mr. Bunker's account sheds new light on the Mayflower voyagers and the role early Maine played in their successes. As Bunker is from England -- not New England -- his book is liberated from the tropes of the Bay State's historical myth makers, giving us a refreshing and more accurate perspective on the Pilgrim experience.

(By contrast, here's what I've said of Nathanial Philbrick's popular Mayflower, a more readable account that failed to break with the Mass-o-centric paradigm handed down by Harvard's Victorian Era dons.)

I have a feature in the next issue of the magazine, but I'll be back at Talk of Maine in the January issue of the magazine, which hits the racks the second week of December.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Who's the spoiler in Maine governor race?

Maine's three-way gubernatorial race has boiled down to this: a majority of voters don't want Tea Party darling Paul LePage to lead the state, but they've had a hard time deciding what to do about it.

The large proportion of undecided voters in the race -- nearly thirty percent in some polls -- are resistant to voting for Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell, who has proudly run as the candidate of the status quo. They could line up behind centrist Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, but they've been paralyzed by the fear this will split the moderate vote, handing the Blaine House to LePage, a serial liar with socially conservative views, a hostility to environmental protection, and the political instincts of a small town street thug.

But recent polls suggest it is Mitchell who has become the real spoiler. The Critical Insights poll released last night confirms the trend: Cutler has doubled his support base to pull into a dead heat with Mitchell, who has been hemorrhaging support since the primaries. (Pine Tree Politics has posted a useful graph of the polling trends here.) Mitchell's candidacy is going nowhere because independents and moderate Republicans can't stomach her (notice she gained no supporters, even as LePage's support dove by fifteen percent in the aftermath of his public tantrums) and many progressives see her as part of the state's cozy Democratic establishment.

It's no accident that Cutler has won the endorsements of the state's leading newspaper (the historically conservative Bangor Daily News), the newspapers in Republican-friendly southern York County (the Seacoast group), the owner of the Village Soup weeklies in Waldo and Knox County (self-declared 'disruptor' Richard Anderson), and the decidedly liberal-progressive alt weekly, the Portland Phoenix. He's the only candidate with a hope of defeating Paul LePage.

[Update, 10/22/10, 15:00: The Brunswick Times-Record has just endorsed Cutler, noting Mitchell has not provided "persuasive evidence she’d be a different governor than fellow Democrat John Baldacci has been for eight years."]

[Update, 10/24/10, 07:50: The Portland Press Herald has also endorsed Cutler, saying
"Mitchell – although a dedicated public servant – is not the agent of change Maine requires."]

[Update, 10/26/10, 09:00: The Lewiston Sun Journal has endorsed Cutler, while the Biddeford Journal endorses Mitchell, rounding out the Maine dailies. Not one of them supported LePage.]

[Update, 10/29/2010: There's a follow-up to this post here.]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Maine: Press Herald fails readers again

I'm trying to avoid having this space become a running commentary on the shortcomings of Maine's former newspaper of record, the Portland Press Herald, but once again they've churned out a story so jaw-droppingly bad, I can't help but tear into them again.

Yesterday's paper contained a puff piece -- a puff piece! -- on Ocean Properties, the development firm behind the greatest Portland political scandal of the past decade. Ann Kim's piece "Ocean Properties' brand boosts racino's allure" touts its "reputation for having a golden touch."

Uh, right.

Ms. Kim and her editors failed to mention the fact that right here in Portland, the company allied with certain city councilors who deceived the public into thinking a critical piece of public infrastructure -- the city-owned Maine State Pier -- was in critical disrepair, and could only be saved by leasing it to the company for the better part of a century so they could build a $100 million waterfront hotel and office complex on top of it. Company personnel gave lavishly to the campaigns of city councilors Jill Duson, Dan Skolnik, and Dory Waxman (who they had employed as a community organizer for the project), all of whom refused to recuse themselves from Ocean Properties-related votes. Mayor Ed Suslovic and ex-mayor Jim Cloutier both lost their seats in the ensuing food fight, reshaping the city council.

Only later did it emerge that the city had known the whole time that the only reason the pier needed $26 million in "repairs" was so it would be strong enough to build an Ocean Properties-like development on top of it.

The Press Herald ignored this story under its previous owners. Under Rich "We don't sell news" Connor, it is whitewashing the past, even turning to Ms. Duson as a source on OP's reputation. One hopes the fact that former OP front man Bob Baldacci is a part owner of the paper isn't playing a role.

Maybe part of the problem is that there are few people left at the paper who know anything about this city. That would explain last week's editorial on the resumption of ferry service to Nova Scotia that wrongly asserts that The Cat and Scotia Prince docked in Halifax, not Yarmouth. If you don't understand even the basic routes the service has used (and why those route lengths make economic sense) you shouldn't be editorializing on them.

(For more on the history of Portland waterfront issues, start here. For the campaign finance disclosures of city councilors, start here. For the disclosures documenting OP's contributions to city councilors, download this pdf. For background on ferries, start here.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mainers: rescue the Press Herald's comments section

The comments area of Maine's former newspaper of record, the Portland Press Herald, has long been a nasty neighborhood, dominated by a pack of ignorant thugs. Thoughtful readers have learned not to even look at the comments, given the foul, often racist tenor of the remarks there.

That's a pity, because a well moderated comments section can be a more interesting and informative read than the news site itself. Take a look, for instance, at any story on the CBC's site for our neighbor (and demographic doppelganger), New Brunswick. The comments and debate there between readers is lively, pointed, and generally constructive. Often times you learn lots of things about the issue at hand that the CBC itself failed to report.

I've been a critic of Rich Connor's leadership of Maine's largest newspaper chain, but I'm encouraged to see his staff has just put out a reader survey asking if anonymous commenting should be eliminated, a step that might encourage posters to consider if they really stand behind their words. I encourage any of the paper's potential readers -- we all know how many of us have given up on the hapless broadsheet in recent years -- to take part.

My own position is that anonymous posting and blogging is often the refuge of scoundrels. Exercise your First Amendment rights proudly, thoughtfully, and in your own name.

[Update, 10/19/10: In an unusually cogent statement, Maine Today Media has announced it is ending online comments at all three of its newspapers, at least until such a time as they can figure out how to hold people accountable for their words. Now if you want to comment on a story, you'll have to write a letter to the editor under your real name, which is how it should be.]

[Update, 10/20/10, 10:00: The paper, perhaps reconsidering having posted something cogent and forceful, has taken down their explanatory statement, which had accurately described the comments section as having become "vicious," replacing it with this bland form that allows you to send your thoughts to Connor.]

[Update, 10/21/2010, 16:00: In another example of erratic, unprincipled leadership, the paper has reintroduced anonymous commenting.]

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lincoln Chafee on future of "old school" Republicans

Over at last week I wrote about the future of Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and, by extension, the "old school" Northeastern Republican tradition in these Tea Partying times.

As sometimes happens, some interesting material ended up on the cutting room floor by the time the piece passed through editing. In this case, it was former Republican Senator (and current independent candidate for governor of Rhode Island) Lincoln Chafee's thoughts on the future of this "Teddy Roosevelt" or "Rockefeller" Republican tradition, now that even Sunbelt conservatives are being challenged from the right.

“Ultimately I don’t think we can all survive as unaffiliated independents, and the Democratic Party hasn’t proven attractive for us,” Chafee told me. “I think a third party, a progressive party, might have to be formed so we can have a true home and organization.”

The Cha
fee family's G.O.P ties go far deeper than those of the current national party leadership, most of whom were Southern Democrats until the 1970s. The son of a Republican senator and governor, great-great-grandson of another governor, and great-great-nephew of two more, Chafee's remarks highlight the historic sea change in the party in recent decades, which could now be said to be the Party of Lincoln in Name Only.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

LePage: a more comprehensive look

It's a sign of the state of Maine's media that the most comprehensive and richly sourced article on gubernatorial frontrunner Paul LePage comes to us from an out-of-state publication.

Suzy Khimm, a reporter for Mother Jones magazine, appears to have done the article entirely by telephone from Washington, D.C., but managed to speak to more Republican and Tea Party sources than any of our daily newspapers to date.

One quibble: Ms. Khimm quotes former Maine G.O.P. chair Ted O'meara in the piece, but fails to mention he is also the campaign manager for one of LePage's gubernatorial rivals, independent Eliot Cutler.

For further reading: I've written a couple of pieces on LePage and the Maine "Tea Party" effect in recent months, including this one in Down East and this other one for Newsweek.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Are Snowe and Collins Vulnerable?

My latest piece for just posted, this exploring whether Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are vulnerable on their right in these Tea Partying times.

As you'll read, the fate of Maine's senators is also that of the old Northeastern (or "Rockefeller") Republican tradition, the one that created the G.O.P. and ran it for the first century of its existence. These "old school" Republicans claim to uphold a decidedly Yankee combination of frugality and (government-directed) social reform, both outgrowths of the Calvinist mission of the early Puritans. But the Sunbelt-controlled national party has swerved to the right since the mid-1960s, declaring government the enemy (and, often, Jesus as their policy adviser), driving many Rockefeller Republicans into the ranks of the unenrolled or into the arms of the Democrats. Their supporters gone AWOL, moderates can find themselves in a tough spot in winning over increasingly conservative Republican primary voters.

There's input from both senators, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, a national pollster, and a wide range of Maine politicos. After reading, you may wish to peruse Public Policy Polling's polls -- here and here -- on the Maine Senators' alleged vulnerability. I've also written in more detail about the state of the Maine G.O.P. in this article at Down East.