City races get nasty in final stretch
Mahaney accused of trying to “buy” election
By Chris Busby
With less than a week to go before Election Day, the races for Portland City Council and School Committee seats are beginning to resemble the take-no-prisoners campaigns typical of presidential races, with negative ads, partisan bashing, allegations of corporate corruption, and Tony Buxton.
Yes, Tony Buxton. Buxton, a Portland resident and attorney/lobbyist with the firm Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachois, led efforts to raise money in Maine for Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid. As the Boston Globe reported last February, he’s now working on behalf of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.
In addition to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, we can now add City Council candidate John Anton and school board member Ben Meiklejohn to Buxton’s list of political enemies.
Yesterday, campaign signs began appearing around town declaring, “These GREENS cause CHAOS,” with big red X’s behind Anton’s and Meiklejohn’s names. A sticker on the signs indicates they were “paid for and authorized by Tony Buxton.”
Buxton did not return a call seeking comment.
The signs are the latest, and nastiest, salvo fired so far in what’s shaping up to be the most partisan municipal election in recent memory.
But the buzz over this partisan flare-up was nearly drowned out today by talk of another factor said to be corrupting the election: money.
A public financial filing indicates that Olympia Companies President and CEO Kevin Mahaney made a $10,000 contribution to The League (formerly the League of Pissed Off Voters) last summer. Olympia is vying with Ocean Properties to redevelop the publicly owned Maine State Pier, but the current City Council is deadlocked 4-4 over which developer to negotiate with.
Next Tuesday’s election could tip the vote in favor of Olympia. (Ocean Properties does not stand to gain any proponents on the Council regardless of the outcome on Nov. 6.) Anton prefers Olympia’s proposal, and The League has endorsed Anton’s candidacy and worked on behalf of his campaign.
That smells bad to Ocean Properties executive Bob Baldacci. He said Mahaney’s contribution “smacks of someone trying to buy an election.”
Justin Alfond, who heads the Portland chapter of The League – a national, officially nonpartisan political group aimed at getting young people involved in civic affairs – denied there was any quid pro quo.
The Portland chapter has an active membership of about 300 people, Alfond said. Between 30 and 40 members who’d contributed at least eight hours of volunteer time to the organization were eligible to vote on endorsements, but none of them were aware of Mahaney’s contribution before the endorsements were made in September, he said.
The League has had significant financial struggles of late. Earlier this year, they were reportedly about $30,000 in the hole. Alfond said he asked Mahaney for a contribution as part of his routine fundraising activities. For example, Alfond also hit Ocean Properties up for a donation.
They declined. “We felt he was just too political,” Baldacci said of Alfond, “and didn’t think it was appropriate to make any sort of donation.”
Mahaney initially responded to The Bollard‘s inquiry about this matter by facetiously asking which donation we meant: the one Mahaney, a Connecticut Republican, made to Gov. John Baldacci’s political campaign; or the donation to the scholarship fund set up in the name of the Baldaccis’ late brother, Paul; or the money his family gives to the Mitchell Institute, a scholarship program established by former Sen. George Mitchell, who’s partnered with Ocean Properties on the pier project?
What the League contribution was really about is family ties and a common desire to help young people reach their goals, said Mahaney. He said his father, the late Larry Mahaney, and Alfond’s grandfather, Dexter Shoe tycoon and philanthropist Harold Alfond, were “best friends.” Harold Alfond helped sponsor Mahaney’s effort to compete in the Olympics in the 1980s. The elder Alfond has been a promoter of programs to help youth succeed, with the expectation that they will later give back to the community, Mahaney said.
“So when Harold’s grandson comes to me and says, ‘Kevin, I’m working on something to get young people involved in… the political process,’ I don’t think it took me a quarter of a second to say yes.”
Justin Alfond pointed to The League’s endorsement of two pro-Ocean Properties candidates this fall: City Councilor Jill Duson, whose reelection bid is being challenged by Anton’s candidacy, and Dan Skolnik, who’s running for the District 3 Council seat being vacated by Dr. Donna Carr.
Bob Baldacci said that despite the group’s endorsement of Duson, they have done little to further her candidacy. “All you have to do is ask Jill Duson what she thinks of it,” he said. “She’ll tell you she hasn’t gotten anything from their endorsement.”
Duson did not return a call seeking comment.
Alfond disputed the notion that The League hasn’t helped Duson. He said his group has been “trying to respond” to the level of campaign assistance each candidate it endorsed has requested.
The League has mailed campaign literature on Anton’s behalf, but it also did a mailing specifically for Skolnik, said Alfond. Though it has not done a mailing specifically for Duson, Alfond said The League is sending out an e-mail on her behalf this Friday, and has held fundraising “house parties” which “Jill has taken advantage of.”
In addition to Anton and Duson, independent candidate Mark Reilly is running for one of the two at-large City Council seats up for grabs this fall, as is incumbent Councilor Jim Cloutier, who’s seeking a fourth three-year term.
“I am really very surprised,” Cloutier said of Mahaney’s contribution to The League. “I’ve never seen anything like this… I think this is a very serious matter.” Cloutier, who favors Ocean Properties’ pier proposal, declined further comment pending more information about the contribution and how it was used.
Asked if he felt Mahaney’s contribution tainted The League’s support of his candidacy, Anton said, “no,” and didn’t have much else to say about the matter. “I can’t speak for Kevin Mahaney or The League,” he said.
As for Buxton’s sign, Anton said, “it seems very petty for a national player, and I just think it’s poor strategy on his part. He’s injecting exactly the kind of partisan divisiveness the voters don’t want in local politics.”
“It’s unfortunate somebody’s stooping to the level of negative campaigning,” said Meiklejohn, who’s in a five-way race for two at-large school board seats. He faces two registered Democrats in the race, an independent, and a fellow Green, Leslie Minton, who registered with the party by mistake.
Meiklejohn said he was puzzled to be included as a target alongside Anton. “We’re not endorsing each other,” he said. “We’re not even voting for each other.”