Gossip from January and February 2008

By Chris Busby


February 25, 2008

Úna mas, Bleachers goes Italian
Úna, the classy tapas, wine and cocktail lounge on Fore Street, plans to expand into the space next door formerly occupied by Portland Pie. In documents submitted to the city, proprietor John Reed said the expansion will allow the lounge to offer more entertainment. The City Council is expected to approve the request at its meeting tonight. 

Portland Pie vacated the space last year after a dispute with landlord Kerry Anderson. The pizzeria has since opened a much larger location nearby on York Street. Anderson had planned to build a seven-story retail, office and condo building next to the building Úna occupies, but city officials say there’s been no progress on that development since it was presented to the planning board last summer.

In other nightlife news, the Bayside sports bar Bleachers has a new owner, Gene DiMillo, son of DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant founder Tony DiMillo. DiMillo is renaming the establishment G&R DiMillo’s Bayside, renovating the building, and adjusting the menu to give it more Italian flavor. He’s also adding entertainment, but only plans to have music about once a month. The reborn sports bar is expected to open soon. And no, it will not float.


February 6, 2008

A recent "Picture of the Week" on Portland's new sidewalk vigilante Web site, portlandsidewalks.org.
A recent "Picture of the Week" on Portland's new sidewalk vigilante Web site, portlandsidewalks.org.

Online sidewalk vigilante steps in
City officials recently wrestled again with the problem of keeping sidewalks clear of snow, and decided last Monday to maintain the status quo for the rest of this winter while a committee studies the costs of various alternatives.

There’s plenty of dissatisfaction with the current system, which relies on citizens to alert the city of properties where snow and ice has not been cleared at least a day after a storm. A city inspector is supposed to issue lax property owners a notice, and if the sidewalk isn’t clear after another 24 hours, public works employees may clear the sidewalk and charge the property owner for the task.

The current policy simply “isn’t working,” Councilor Jim Cohen said during Monday’s meeting. Residents complained that sidewalks along major roadways off the peninsula are not plowed, and even with the threat of fines, many property owners aren’t shoveling. One resident of outer Congress Street brought in a picture of the sidewalk outside her home, where she said city plows had left an enormous pile of snow. “You expect me to shovel this?,” the sign read. 

There’s inadequate enforcement of the city ordinance requiring sidewalk-clearing “unless someone is ratted out,” noted Councilor Jill Duson. Now, thanks to a local pedestrian activist – who requested anonymity due to the nature of his rabblerousing– it’s gotten easier to rat out irresponsible property owners this winter.

The Web site this activist maintains, portlandsidewalks.org, has an explanation of city policy (and a link to research and report violations online), a blog following the latest political developments, a list of offending properties, and an “action alert” e-mail bulletin sent out after major storms to rally fellow vigilantes. 

With more snow forecast to fall later this week, you may want to bookmark that one.


January 27, 2008

Life after Ethan
The buzz has begun over who will represent the peninsula and western mainland neighborhoods in State Senate District 8, the seat Congressional candidate Ethan Strimling has held since 2002. 

At first, the top dog in this contest was J. Elizabeth Mitchell, daughter of State Sen. Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell of Vassalboro, the Democratic majority leader. Elizabeth the Younger, also a Dem, served two terms in the Maine House in the mid-1990s (she ran unopposed both times), and was considered the candidate to beat when she formally filed papers to run earlier this month.

Enter Justin Alfond, director of the Portland chapter of The League (formerly The League of Pissed Off Voters) and grandson of the late philanthropist Harold Alfond. Last month, Alfond announced he was leaving his job with The League after almost five years heading the non-partisan organization that works to get young people engaged in politics. At the time, he told The Bollard he wasn’t sure what he’d do next, but said he’d stay on as League director through the election this November, to help his successor transition into the job.

Now Alfond tells us he’s “considering” a run for the Maine Senate. (Sources say he’s been considerably more committal in private conversations, and plans to step down as League director well before Election Day to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.)

A registered Democrat, Alfond could have forced Mitchell to compete in a party primary this June – if she’d stayed in the race. 

According to Sive Neilan, chair of the Portland Democratic City Committee, Mitchell has dropped her bid for the Senate seat – she recently had a baby, Neilan noted, so the timing isn’t great. 

The Green Independents don’t have a well-positioned contender for this seat, and a Republican would have a snowball’s chance in hell in this left-of-center district. But Mitchell’s exit doesn’t mean Alfond’s got a free ride to Augusta. 

Enter Cliff Ginn.

Opportunists: Cliff Ginn, third from left, and Justin Alfond, far right, with Gov. John Baldacci after the Opportunity Maine bill was signed into law last year. (photo/Ramona du Houx, The Maine Democrat)
Opportunists: Cliff Ginn, third from left, and Justin Alfond, far right, with Gov. John Baldacci after the Opportunity Maine bill was signed into law last year. (photo/Ramona du Houx, The Maine Democrat)

Ginn and Alfond have more than party affiliation in common. They’re both founders and major figures in Opportunity Maine, the organization that got a law passed last year giving graduates of Maine colleges a tax credit if they stay and work in the state. Ginn is president of the Opportunity Maine board; Alfond serves as treasurer of the organization’s lobbying and political action committee arms. 

Ginn confirmed that he’s running as a Democrat, but said he wasn’t sure whether his Op Maine colleague will do the same. Neilan said she was also unsure what banner Alfond would run under, then noted that City Councilor John Anton became a Green shortly before making his recent bid for public office – a telling remark.

Alfond and The League caught flack from the Democratic establishment last fall for promoting Anton’s candidacy. Some local Dems said they felt The League didn’t work hard enough on behalf of Councilor Jill Duson, a Democrat whom the group also endorsed in the (officially non-partisan) at-large council race Anton and Duson won. [See “City races get nasty in final stretch,” Oct. 31, 2007, in News.] Alfond defended The League’s level of support for both candidates, saying each had gotten the amount of backing they had requested.

Interestingly, Ginn’s own party loyalty is hardly rock-solid. The Harvard Law grad was a leading Green Party organizer on the Cambridge campus back in 2000. He told The Bollard today that he was a Democrat before becoming a Green, and rejoined the Donkey Party in 2003 when he moved back to Maine. 

One of Nader's invaders: Ginn at Harvard eight years ago. (photo/Perspective magazine)
One of Nader's invaders: Ginn at Harvard eight years ago. (photo/Perspective magazine)

With Mitchell out of the race, it’s quite possible more Dems will join the fray next month, when the party’s caucus provides a good opportunity to collect signatures to get on the ballot. Stay tuned. 


January 19, 2008

Spilled test-tube shots on Oasis' patio in the summer of 2006. (photo/Mich Ouellette)
Spilled test-tube shots on Oasis' patio in the summer of 2006. (photo/The Fuge)

Wharf Street shakeup 
Threeways out, Cake to walk, Oasis to return
Big changes are afoot in the heart of Portland’s Old Port. Five nightclubs and bars have either closed or will soon close within the block of Fore and Wharf streets between Union Street and the byway the cops call “piss alley.” 

Digger’s and Liquid Blue, the adjoining bar and dance club on Fore Street owned by Tom Manning, closed earlier this month after Manning lost his appeals to have the establishments’ liquor and entertainment licenses reinstated. Manning is also the proprietor of The Iguana, a bar on Wharf Street expected to close in a few months, when its lease ends. 

Cake, the restaurant and nightclub Manning opened next door to The Iguana about a year ago, is also on its way out, said Mike Harris, who holds the lease on a portion of Cake’s space. Manning’s attorney, Gary Prolman, has not returned calls seeking comment.

Harris formerly leased the building next door to Cake, when it was the dance club Oasis. Oasis closed in late 2006 and was replaced by the dance club Threeways, which recently ran afoul of its neighbors. The Portland City Council gave Threeways a probationary period of sorts last month to clean up its act. Instead, the club’s clearing out to make way for: Oasis. 

Harris said a new company has bought the lease and Oasis’ name from him, and plans to reopen the club next month. The reborn Oasis will be “the same thing,” Harris said. “Same staff, same music, same fun stuff” – just a different owner. The new owner’s request for liquor and entertainment licenses is expected to come before the city council on Feb. 4.

Harris also owns The Stadium, a sports bar on Free Street that made news last year when he announced plans to make it Maine’s first Hooters, inspiring a brief city ban on chain businesses downtown. Harris said he’s helping a representative of Kalmon Dolgin Affiliates (KDA), the New York–based real estate investment firm that owns several buildings in the area, find new tenants for the properties.

The owners want “a high-end restaurant” in Cake’s space, Harris said. Other sources have talked more specifically of that being an Italian restaurant. Representatives of KDA were not immediately available for comment. 

Plans for Liquid Blue “are kind of up in the air [between] nightclub and retail,” said Harris. The adjacent Digger’s space is being eyed for another restaurant, and The Iguana may change ownership but remain largely the same, he added. 

So, for those of you keeping score, that’s five bar/nightclubs out, two new restaurants likely coming in, plus one or two new nightclubs and another being reborn, with the possibility of one new retail shop instead of a third club. 

Speaking of retail, the hip Bayside t-shirt, clothing and accessory company Rogues Gallery is opening a store on the same block, at 41 Wharf St., on Feb. 1. That space was last occupied by 2 Note, a perfumery that’s since retrenched and moved operations to Brackett Street, in Portland’s West End. 


January 17, 2008

From journalism to advocacy: Marian McCue. (photo/courtesy MCLU)
From journalism to advocacy: Marian McCue. (photo/courtesy MCLU)

Former Forecaster editor Marian McCue has joined the Maine Civil Liberties Union as its communications specialist, the organization announced this week. McCue (this reporter’s former boss at the Forecaster) was editor of the community weekly for 16 years and owned it until 2003, when she sold it to the publishers of the Lewiston Sun Journal.

“I’ve always really believed in this organization,” said McCue. “To be working on the things we’re working on is interesting to me.”


January 1, 2008

State Sen. Ethan Strimling at Gooch's Beach in Kennebunk this morning after taking a dip for charity. (photo/courtesy Strimling)

How to get free press in The Bollard
1. Acquire Bollard t-shirt. [Browse styles here [link removed]. Bollardhead shirts also apply!]
2. Announce you are running for Congress in Maine’s 1st District.
3. Jump into the ocean off the coast of Maine in January wearing Bollard t-shirt. 
4. Have photo taken of this achievement and sent to editor@thebollard.com. (Include name if excessively blue, Green, Republican or otherwise unidentifiable.)