Gossip items from March through September 2008
By Chris Busby. except as noted
September 29, 2008
Political lesson #1
If you’re running for the school board, don’t misspell common words on your campaign signs. Anna Trevorrow, one of two candidates running for an at-large seat on the Portland School Committee, has learned that lesson the hard way. Her bright yellow signs, painted to look like a school bus, read “Anna Trevorrow for a better tommorrow.”
Whoops! Better make that “tomorrow.”
Trevorrow said today that she is aware of the mistake and is getting a new stencil to repaint the signs soon.
Asked if she thinks the slip will cost her votes, she said no. “I just think people will find it a little humorous,” she said.
Given the mess the school board’s been in these past couple years, that may be optimistic.
One other tip for Trevorrow: try not to place your school bus signs right next to telephone poles such that it looks like the bus is about to crash.
Political lesson #2
If you’re running for Portland City Council on a pro-artist platform, don’t put a big political sign in the middle of a piece of public art.
Tina Smith, one of three candidates for an at-large council seat this fall, learned that lesson today. Smith was unavailable for comment (cell phone issues), but her campaign manager, Anna Korsen, said the big green sign planted in the public art installation on Fore Street will be removed as soon as she can find a volunteer strong enough to help her pull it up. Korsen said a citizen called to complain about it earlier today.
The installation, Tracing the Fore, has been controversial in its own right. It’s full of weeds and littered with dog shit, and the special grass (fescue) has not grown to obscure its jagged steel plates, as was supposedly the plan. City crews weed-whacked the artwork at least twice this past summer, which apparently hasn’t helped.
City Clerk Linda Cohen said there’s no law against placing political signs inside the public artwork. Council candidate Dory Waxman has two signs on either end of the installation, but not in sections where the plates are visible.
Speaking of public art…
A new mural is nearing completion on the north-facing side of the new parking garage at the corner of Fore and India streets.
City planner Bill Needleman said the mural project arose because the garage was built close to the property occupied by Micucci’s, necessitating construction of a fire-rated wall on that side of the garage. The mural was deemed a cost-effective way to make the wall meet that construction standard and aesthetic design guidelines for the area.
Painting contractor Peering Painting, a Falmouth firm, is doing the work. The mural is based on a historic panorama made from three photographs taken in the 1890s from what is now Fort Allen Park, on the Eastern Promenade, said Needleman.
Needleman also provided an update on the lot between the garage and India Street. The city approved construction of a five-story building on the site quite some time ago. Plans submitted by Riverwalk LLC, the original developer of the garage, call for retail on the first floor, topped with four floors of office space.
Riverwalk’s principals have been busying fighting each other in court this year, and the ongoing turmoil in financial markets isn’t making it easier to realize a project of this size. Needleman said city officials remain hopeful that financial conditions will improve and Riverwalk will be able to secure a tenant to make the project possible.
Another one bites the dust
Yet another music club has failed in the Warren Avenue space previously occupied by Austin’s Boot & Buckle Saloon. Club One Eighty-Eight closed earlier this month. Owner Andrew Cole did not return a call seeking comment.
Austin’s closed in May 2007 after two years in business. Its successor, Goodfellas Bar & Nightclub, had the use of its large, fenced-in patio severely curtailed by city officials that summer after neighbors across the street complained about noise [see “Good times curtailed at Goodfellas,” Aug. 22, 2007, in Briefs]. The venue’s name was subsequently changed to Club One Eighty-Eight (its street number on Warren Ave.), but that apparently wasn’t enough to keep the business alive.
August 6, 2008
Publisher and chamber head in (undisclosed) relationship
The publisher of the Forecaster group of weekly community newspapers and the head of the regional chamber of commerce are involved in a serious romantic relationship. Despite the potential for conflicts of interest, the paper’s editor and publisher say they cannot imagine any circumstance that would warrant disclosure of that relationship.
Well, consider it disclosed.
Forecaster publisher Karen Rajotte said she’s been dating Godfrey Wood, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber, for “probably a couple years now.” Rajotte, 48, is divorced and lives in Falmouth. Wood, a widower, declined to reveal his age or town of residence, telling The Bollard, “I’m not going to get into personal information.” He appears to be in his 60s. Rajotte said the two do not live together.
Forecaster editor Mo Mehlsak said Rajotte’s relationship has “no bearing on the decisions we make in terms of story coverage…. Karen does not participate in the day-to-day decision-making regarding the news product.”
This reporter worked for The Forecaster from the fall of 2003 to early 2005, during which time Rajotte did not, to my knowledge, have direct input on news coverage, though she was involved in the creation of special sections containing “soft news” feature stories on subjects like home improvement and gardening.
The chamber lobbies city and state officials on a host of issues reported on byThe Forecaster, and also has a political action committee set up to contribute money to candidates for public office. The chamber is financed primarily by member dues, and its ability to attract and retain members depends in part on the perception of the chamber as an important or influential organization. News coverage of the chamber and Wood’s opinions adds to that perception.
Kelly McBride, ethics group leader of The Poynter Institute, a journalism school in Florida, said publishers generally have “more leeway” than editors or reporters in terms of when disclosure is warranted. Publishers commonly have business, political or personal connections outside their papers that an editor or reporter would not have, she said.
“It’s the editor’s job to craft a newsroom that serves the community, not the publisher’s interest,” McBride said. “Disclosure is usually a good idea when people might ask questions or have doubts” concerning a publisher’s relationship and its potential to affect news coverage.
Of course, if readers don’t know there’s a potential conflict, there’s no basis to question whether the paper’s coverage is unbiased.
A recent story in the Forecaster‘s Portland edition provides a good example of a case in which readers might question the paper’s news judgment in light of Wood’s relationship to its publisher. The July 31 article was about the Portland Waterfront Preservation Coalition, a new group formed to look into ways the city’s waterfront zoning could be changed to accommodate more non-marine development.
The chamber is not part of the group and had not, as the article notes, “made an official statement” about the coalition or its goals. But of the two people quoted in the article, one was developer Bob Baldacci, a member of the coalition, and the other was Wood, who was quoted extensively saying he essentially agrees with the coalition’s view that more non-marine development is warranted. No city officials or members of the Waterfront Alliance, a well-established group of pier owners and waterfront workers that’s been active on this issue for decades, appeared in the story.
Granted, The Forecaster routinely publishes one-sided “news” of questionable ethics — every week, it prints the personal information (name, age and address) of people who get arrested, but never bothers to follow up and report whether those people are innocent or guilty of the crimes to which the paper has publicly linked them. So what else would you expect?
July 28, 2008
Media Mike headed to the Sunshine State?
Former Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood may be on the move again. After three years heading the police department in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, Chitwood has sent his resume to Fort Myers, Florida, where city officials are looking for a new police chief, according to the Delaware County Daily Times.
The Times reported that Chitwood, 64, is not unhappy in his current post, just testing the waters. “It’s just a case of looking to see what options are out there,” the chief told the paper. Chitwood’s son, Mike Chitwood Jr., is the top cop in Daytona Beach.
The paper noted that the job posting for the Fort Myers position says the ideal candidate should have “exceptional interpersonal skills, a talent for communications at all levels” and “be outgoing and visible with employees and the community.”
“With Chitwood, communication and visibility have never been an issue,” wroteTimes reporter Tim Logue. “From the moment he arrived in Upper Darby he has been the most quotable cop in the county with his name appearing in nearly 700 Daily Times stories and news briefs.”
Media Mike made a splash last month when he volunteered to be tasered on television. It’s not clear who the lucky fellow was who got to administer the shock that made the chief shout an expletive and fall to the ground.
July 16, 2008
Donoghue engaged to be married
An East End guy and a West End girl have fallen in love. Portland City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, 29, who represents the eastern half of the peninsula and lives on Munjoy Hill, is engaged to marry Krista Mitschele, 35, a social worker who lives in the West End. The couple plan to tie the knot next summer, perhaps on the Fourth of July, the day he popped the question this year.
The couple declined to provide a photo of themselves for publication.
June 21, 2008
Pizzaria/lounge to open in old Granny’s space, Enterprise moves, and more
A pizzaria with booze and live music is expected to open soon in the Fore Street space long occupied by Granny’s Burritos. Joe’s New York Pizza is not, as you might expect, associated with Joe Soley, who owns the building. It’s a small, but rapidly growing chain with locations in New Hampshire and (of all places) Las Vegas.
Owner and founder Joe Kelly said the Portland location will offer beer, wine and liquor, and will serve slices until late at night every night of the week. There’ll be DJs and acoustic and electric music, but no dancing (Kelly got an entertainment-without-dance license at the City Council’s June 16 meeting.)
Granny’s, now on Congress Street, has a new neighbor. Enterprise Records has relocated across the street, next to Blue, after 16 years at a similarly sized space by the State Theatre. That space will be an art gallery showcasing the work of painter Jim Williams and photographer Jeff Swanson. Both have studios in the State Theatre building – Williams’ is called Mainely Labs, in reference to his primary subject matter, Labrador Retrievers. Williams said the as-yet-unnamed gallery will likely open in September.
A couple doors down, another gallery has joined Aucocisco and 9 Hands Gallery on the block. Holly Ready Gallery features the work of land- and seascape painter Holly Ready. The space her new gallery occupies was long home to Columbia Barber Shop, which closed this spring.
June 16, 2008
Councilor becomes cabbie
The next time you hail a cab after a night of revelry in the Old Port, don’t be surprised if Portland City Councilor Kevin Donoghue is at the wheel. Donoghue, 29, recently got a taxi license, and plans to begin working as a cabbie driving for ASAP this week.
“I’m looking for some extra money, and I’d like to work at night,” said Donoghue, who also has a part-time job with Mitchell Geographics, a mapping company in Portland. “It looks like interesting work that’s compatible with my schedule.”
Donoghue is chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee. Given his new job, he said he’ll be recusing himself from votes on taxi-related matters, like tonight’s Council vote on an ordinance that would increase fares from 25 cents to 30 cents for each tenth of a mile traveled, and bump up the waiting charge from 30 cents to 40 cents per minute.
The increases are being sought due to rising gas prices. According to city documents, fares were last increased in September of 2004.
Jones Landing owner rips Council
Jones Landing owner Robin Clark ripped the Portland City Council a new collective anus Monday night over its handling of a licensing issue related to her Peaks Island business.
Clark faced city scrutiny over concerns raised by the Portland Harbor Commission about boaters docked just beyond Jones Landing’s boat landing during its Reggae Sunday events. The boaters have apparently been drinking heavily while listening to the music, and maritime authorities are worried about intoxicated people operating vessels after the event ends.
During a meeting prior to Monday’s Council meeting, Clark, Portland police officials and the Harbor Commission reached an agreement by which Clark will take steps to dissuade boaters from floating and boozing at her landing. The police and commission members said they were satisfied with the arrangement, but Clark was decidedly unsatisfied with the city’s handling of the issue.
“You tagged my license and you strong-armed me,” Clark told councilors from the podium. She said city officials had been “very unfriendly and very uncooperative,” and complained that she was first made aware of the issue when a reporter called her about it this spring.
Councilors did not offer any apologies, but thanked Clark several times for her cooperation and unanimously granted her license renewal request with no further comment.
Portland police spokesman Vern Malloch said the department recommended Clark’s liquor license be renewed. He said there had been only one fight call at the business during the most recent review period.
While that’s probably true, the weekly Reggae Sunday events are not as problem-free as the cops and councilors would have you believe.
Casco Bay Lines now pays for two police officers to ride the ferries to and from Peaks on Sunday afternoons – a show of force necessary to help quell fights and other misbehavior by drunken reggae fans attending Reggae Sunday. (The quasi-public ferry service – which employs this reporter’s wife and Councilor Nick Mavodones – previously paid for one officer.) Jones Landing’s customers do cause problems that require police calls, but those calls are attributed to Casco Bay Lines or the Maine State Pier, where passengers disembark after the weekly bacchanal.
It’s unclear exactly why city officials were mum about the actual impact Reggae Sunday has, but after the tongue-lashing they got on Monday, we can only guess they were loathe to get another.
April 29, 2008
Another chance to revive The Tree; new deal for Keystone space
Brothers Jimmy and Billy O’Brien, former proprietors of The Big Easy, got city approval for liquor and entertainment licenses last night to open O’Brien’s Bar and Grill in the Danforth Street building formerly occupied by Sisters. The spot was made famous many years ago as home of The Treehouse Café (The Tree), a live music venue where a host of notable musicians once performed.
The O’Brien twins are taking over from Joe and Jill Cooper, a couple from Cumberland who had previously tried to open the space as a private function room with music shows open to the public a couple times a month. Those plans stalled as other priorities took precedence, Joe Cooper told The Bollard in late 2006.
The O’Briens plan to operate the establishment seven days a week, with live music two night a week. The food will be pub fare.
Billy O’Brien said the bar and grill may open as soon as this summer or as late as next spring, depending on the amount of work necessary to get the long-vacant building back in shape.
Several neighbors had raised concerns about noise, parking and other issues associated with bars when the Coopers got their license. A couple neighbors echoed those concerns last night, but Billy O’Brien pledged to take steps to mitigate any potential problems and maintain a constructive dialogue with neighbors. The council approved the license requests unanimously.
City councilors were also unanimous in support of granting liquor and entertainment licenses for Port City Music Hall/The Front Lounge, a new live music venue, bar and eatery slated to occupy the portion of the former Keystone Theater that fronts Congress Street. The Stadium, a sports bar, occupies the back half of the same building.
On March 4, The Bollard reported that Space Gallery co-founder Todd Bernard was leading efforts to realize this project. [See “Space co-founder to start big music venue,” in Gossip, below.] However, the proprietor has now been identified as Rob Evon, of Portland. Bernard said there had been discussion between his group and Evon of operating the venue together, but the two parties’ visions for the space could not be reconciled. Bernard and his partners are still looking for a suitable space to launch a music venue.
Evon plans to bring local and regional and national touring acts to Port City Music Hall. The Front Lounge will occupy a smaller part of the same space and operate like a pub, but the barrier between the lounge and the approximately 600-person capacity concert hall can be removed during big shows.
In documents submitted to the city, Evon described the mix of music as “rock, roots, reggae, jazz and hip-hop,” and said the target demographic will be people ages 21 to 35.
Evon has operated Champion Sound Works, a live concert audio and video recording company, for the past seven years. He said equipment set up on the floor above the venue will allow for live audio recording of shows there.
April 18, 2008
The Scotia Prince: Where is she now?
For 24 years, the Scotia Prince was part of Portland’s fabric, her transits of the harbor to and from Nova Scotia serving as a giant clock: if you saw the Scotia Prince pulling out of the International Marine Terminal, lights ablaze, you knew it was about eight o’clock. For passengers, the 14-hour trip across the Gulf of Maine was like a transatlantic passage in miniature, a taste of bygone days when cruise liners were about transportation, rather than the all-you-can-eat waffle station.
The Prince left Portland in 2005, following a dispute with the city over mold contamination and other maintenance issues at the city-owned International Marine Terminal. Last fall, an arbitrator ordered the city to pay Scotia Prince Cruises $1.2 million to settle the dispute – a financial hit that has worsened Portland’s already stressed budget situation this year. (Granted, it could have been much, much worse: the ferry company initially sought nearly $165 million in damages.)
Bermuda-based Scotia Prince Cruises sold the ship to a holding company in April 2007, and now the 12,000-ton vessel is for sale again. She’s been tied up in the French port of Toulon since last October, after a season ferrying passengers between Almeria, Spain and Nador, Morocco. Niels-Erik Lund, president of International Shipping Partners, the Miami-based management company that is brokering the sale, would not disclose the asking price, but said, “we have had a number of serious negotiations.”
Since leaving Portland, the 36-year-old ship has been taking odd jobs – the marine equivalent of temping. From September 2005 to March 2006, she was chartered to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in New Orleans, where she served as a floating apartment block for hundreds of relief workers and residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina. She then crossed the Atlantic and spent a month on the Genoa-to-Tangier run before being detained by Italian authorities for numerous safety violations.
After undergoing the required repairs in Genoa, the Prince spent the summer and fall of 2006 under charter to Algerie Ferries, ferrying passengers and vehicles between the Algerian port city of Oran and ports in Spain and France. In April of last year, Scotia Prince Cruises sold her to the Clipper Group, a Bahamian holding company, which contracted ISP to manage the vessel.
Interested buyers can visit the following Web page for details: www.isp-usa.com/fleet/scotiaprince/scotiaprince.html
— Colin Woodard
April 9, 2008
Strimling: No thanks, Selwyn
State Senator Ethan Strimling’s Congressional campaign said it has returned a $250 online contribution from S. Donald Sussman, the hedge fund honcho whose company has given rival Chellie Pingree nearly $60,000. [See “Following the money in the 1st District Congressional race,” March 20, 2008, in News.]
After The Bollard broke news of Pingree’s windfall from Sussman’s Paloma Partners fund, the Strimling camp said it sent out an e-mail to supporters criticizing Pingree for accepting that block of cash. “Just hours” later, the Strimling camp said in a press release, a $250 contribution arrived via the Internet from Selwyn Sussman. A campaign worker flagged the contribution as suspicious, and after a Google search revealed that Selwyn Sussman is S. Donald Sussman, the money was returned.
“This is nothing more than attempted dirty politics by the Pingree camp,” the Strimling camp said in its press release. It added that a search of Federal Election Commission records turned up no other instances of Sussman contributing under his little-used first name.
Had the Strimling team unwittingly accepted Sussman’s contribution, the theory goes, his criticism of Pingree’s take from Paloma would be deflated.
In a statement released by Pingree communications director Willy Ritch, the campaign said, “neither she nor anyone in her campaign has any knowledge of or has been involved with directing contributions to any of her opponents.”
Sussman did not return a call seeking comment.
April 4, 2008
Granny’s meets Billy’s
Granny’s Burritos is coming back.
Chris Godin, proprietor of the popular Old Port eatery that closed its doors on Fore Street last December, is partnering with Uncle Billy’s Resto-Bar chef and owner Jonathan St. Laurent to reopen in Uncle Billy’s Congress Street location later this month.
St. Laurent said he will continue the catering side of his business (see unclebillysbbqmaine.com) and may offer some Uncle Billy’s dishes at the new Granny’s, but burritos will be the focus.
Uncle Billy’s relocated to Portland over a year ago after several years in Yarmouth. St. Laurent said family medical bills, coupled with the sluggish economy, made it tough to keep the Resto-Bar going. After this weekend, Uncle Billy’s will close for a week or more of renovation work, then reopen as Granny’s.
Godin said he’s excited to back in the burrito biz. Granny’s fans will undoubtedly rejoice (though barbeque aficionados are bound to be a bit bummed). Godin quoted a comment written on a sign outside the old Granny’s: “Your creations are genius, your traditions are clear, your reemergence is IMPERATIVE.”
One more time for the world
This just in: Portland indie-rock kings Cult Maze will be playing one last show in addition to tonight’s gig at Geno’s, previously believed to be their last (see item below). The free, 18-plus show will take place this Sunday night, at Space Gallery, at 7 p.m. The band will be recording a live album that evening (including several new songs) and also capturing the show on video.
March 17, 2008
CLARIFICATION: The following statement was received on March 17 from Cult Maze drummer Andrew Barron: “As of April 4th, Cult Maze will be going on indefinite hiatus. The last few years have been a lot of fun, but also really exhausting, and we need a break to evaluate where we stand.While hanging it up is not out of the question, we’re simply not at a point where we can make that public. You’ll get your Pulitzer off us yet.”
Cult Maze calls it quits
The local indie-rock band Cult Maze, widely considered one of the finest practitioners of the form to emerge from Portland, are disbanding, according to guitarist Josh Loring. The group’s last gig will be on April 4, at Geno’s, with fellow local indie-rockers Phantom Buffalo.
Loring said the four bandmates will pursue various side projects in the wake of Cult Maze’s demise, like his own project, Brenda, a drum-and-guitar duo. Guitarist, singer and songwriter Jay Lobley has been playing in a new outfit called Metal Feathers with his brother, Derek, Diamond Sharp frontman Jason Rogers, and drummer Althea Pajak [see The Online Underground, Feb. 3, 2008, for more on this group].
March 4, 2008
Space co-founder to start big music venue
Space Gallery co-founder Todd Bernard has left the non-profit arts organization to open a sizeable music venue a couple blocks down Congress Street, in the front half of the former Keystone Theater. Bernard said he hopes to begin construction this summer and open the as-yet-unnamed venue in the fall.
Bernard and buddy Jon Courtney started Space six years ago. Courtney curates films for Space, and is staying on board. The gallery has hired local musician and writer Ian Paige (White Light) as its new events programmer.
The spacious former Keystone space has the potential to host shows by the type of nationally touring rock and roots acts that previously played the State Theatre. The State has been shuttered for the past two years, since a nasty legal dispute between owner Stone Coast Properties and tenant/promoter Chris Morgan. There’s been no indication when or whether the historic theater will reopen.
Bernard’s new venue will share the building with The Stadium, which occupies the half fronting on Free Street. In the summer of 2006, Stadium owner Mike Harris announced plans to move his sports bar into the Congress Street half and open a Hooters in his current space. You know what happened to that…