Casco Bay Weekly
The library resurrects the most popular dead paper in Portland
by Chris Busby
You’re reading this story in this paper because, on a cold February day in 1987, a guy named Gary Santaniello drove down Route 302 from New Hampshire to Portland, fell in love with the city he’d heard so much about, and realized there was no publication in town to tell him about the cool things happening around here.
Santaniello remembers sitting at the bar of The Oyster Club, a restaurant at the corner of Market and Middle streets, and asking the bartender if Portland had something like Worcester Magazine or the Boston Phoenix, alternative newsweeklies the then-30-year-old Connecticut native used to read. Portland did not.
“I knew nothing about starting a publication,” Santaniello said when we sat down to talk last month at The Local Buzz, a coffee shop in Cape Elizabeth, “but that’s where the idea came from.”
Santaniello had done some sports writing the summer before, and had considered getting back into journalism, but was basically adrift when he moved to Portland a month or two later. As fate had it, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, a national trade group, held its annual convention in Portland that summer, and Anna Ginn, publisher of the statewide newsweekly Maine Times, was there. She introduced Santaniello to a news photographer and writer named Monte Paulsen, and Casco Bay Weekly was conceived.
“Pretty much right away we realized, ‘Hey, we’re kinda both thinking about the same thing,’ so in a way we both just kind of combined resources,” said Santaniello, who became the paper’s founding publisher.
The two moved into an apartment on Clark Street, in Portland’s West End. They borrowed money from family and friends, and Paulsen, the founding editor — who also brought his Macintosh computer to the venture — used his connections to pull together a skeleton staff that worked in the apartment’s front rooms. The pantry was the darkroom, and half-tone photos were developed in the bathroom, though that became problematic at times, for obvious reasons. The legal implications of running such a business in a residential neighborhood also weighed on the pair. “We were always in fear of somebody knocking on the door and saying, ‘Hi, the Press Herald asked me to check on your zoning,’” Santaniello said.
The first issue of Casco Bay Weekly hit the streets on May 26, 1988. As future “deputy assistant chief sub-editor” Al Diamon wrote in CBW’s tenth-anniversary issue, that first edition “featured a story on ticket sales for a Grateful Dead concert at Oxford Plains Speedway, a ‘Talk’ with the guy who opened and closed the Million Dollar Bridge and a surprisingly cynical article about how to get involved in politics.” Diamon also noted that the fledging free weekly offered “lifetime subscriptions (good for the duration of either yours or the paper’s, whichever ended first) for only $99.
“Unfortunately,” wrote Diamon, “no one took us up on what would prove, over time, to have been an excellent deal.”
In the spirit of groundbreaking alt-weeklies like The Village Voice and Boston Phoenix, Casco Bay Weekly devoted a lot of pages in each issue to arts coverage — reviews, entertainment listings, an events calendar. News-wise, it found fresh angles on stories covered by the mainstream press (almost invariably approaching them from a liberal political perspective) and probed into subjects the established media wouldn’t deign to touch (like gay rights).
Some early examples Diamon cited in his 10-year retrospective include Paulsen’s July 7, 1988 article on Regional Waste Systems. Most folks, reporters included, don’t think much about what happens to their trash after the haulers take it away. But by digging into RWS’ operations and finances, Paulsen raised troubling questions about the effect incineration has on efforts to increase recycling, as well as RWS’ long-term fiscal prospects — a subject CBW would return to almost a decade later, when reporter Laura Conaway’s work prompted an investigation into RWS by the Portland City Council. “It’s almost a shadow government,” Portland Mayor John McDonough remarked at the time.
In a Dec. 1, 1988 cover story headlined “The urge to hate,” Paulsen wrote about Portland skinheads, exposing “an undercurrent of racism and intolerance in the city that most Portlanders wish had never been mentioned,” Diamon wrote.
But it was a Jan. 12, 1989 story by Paulsen titled “Sherman Street’s secret slumlords” that really put CBW on readers’ radar. With assistance from the Parkside Neighborhood Association, Paulsen uncovered the identities of unscrupulous investors, including a well-heeled Portland attorney, who were buying up apartment buildings in Parkside and then neglecting to maintain them, a practice that greatly contributed to the densely populated neighborhood’s reputation as a dangerous part of town.
As Diamon noted in 1998, CBW’s investigative journalism inspired the City Council to pass an ordinance that made it harder for landlords to hide their identities on legal documents, and prompted further digging that led to bankruptcies and legal action. Parkside resident and former state legislator Herb Adams told me the scandal effectively forced one city councilor (a former mayor) with ties to the slumlords to quit city government. And almost two decades later, Paulsen’s work inspired this publication to start a regular feature called That’s My Dump!.
Hannah Holmes, now an accomplished author of popular natural-history books, joined CBW’s staff as a reporter in the summer of 1988. This must have helped take some of the pressure off Paulsen to produce news copy every week, but the early CBW occasionally paid for canned content to fill its pages, like a syndicated story about suntanning by Calvin Trillin, and a piece Santaniello fondly recalled, purchased from the indie news-wire service AlterNet, about “why people yawn.” (The answer was not — it’s tempting to quip — the Portland Press Herald, which was a much stronger news-gathering organization in those days with a much bigger reporting staff than it has now.)
CBW also distinguished itself early on with fine feature writing — witty, insightful and not-infrequently risqué coverage of the arts and local culture. Santaniello has since worked as an adjunct professor at Iona College, in New Rochelle, N.Y., teaching magazine writing and publishing. He said he often shows his students a piece that appeared in the June 16, 1988 issue of CBW by Althea Kaye, a writer from South Harpswell who penned the weekly Eats column, titled “The sensual artichoke.”
“The artichoke begins its relationship flirtatiously closed, like an interesting woman: slightly prickly, prim and private,” Kaye wrote. “Then, like a seasoned courtesan, it willingly allows itself to be rid of its outer coverings, layer by layer, until finally, it exposes its raison d’etre — its succulent, convex heart.” Kaye goes on to write about the artichoke’s reputation in Renaissance Europe as an aphrodisiac, and to describe how two former lovers’ approach to eating the plant mirrored their prowess (or lack thereof) in bed: “Show me a man eating an artichoke and I’ll tell you what kind of lover he is.”
That’s not a sentence you’d ever read in the daily paper.
CBW soon accrued a loyal readership. The blue-collar fishing town of Portland was finding its feet as an arts and cultural hub. By the late ’80s, the Old Port was already well into its transformation from a place to get a bloody nose to a place to get a good Bloody Mary. Gritty McDuff’s was brewing beer there, and further down Fore Street Three Dollar Dewey’s was hipping locals to the world beyond Budweiser. Off the peninsula, the Great Lost Bear was doing the same, and Raoul’s Roadside Attraction was attracting bands that broke the mold (and the furniture), as were downtown clubs like The Tree Café and Geno’s.
“We started with 12,000 to 15,000 copies, and got up to 20 [thousand] pretty quick, within a year,” Santaniello said, “because we saw the demand, and it gave us an excuse to raise [advertising] rates a little bit.”
However, the demands of producing the weekly also began to fray Santaniello and Paulsen’s friendship. Unfortunately, I was not able to reach Paulsen for this history. (A profile on LinkedIn indicates he’s been working in Vancouver as a home energy consultant, but he did not respond to a message sent via that social-media site, and e-mail addresses for him provided by former colleagues went nowhere.) But Santaniello readily owns his responsibility for the friction, some of which was due to his inexperience as a publisher.
“I never got the ad rates right,” he said. “Our rates were always too low. When I went to renew people, even when it went up two or three percent, it was, ‘Oh, man, you guys are chargin’ more.’
“‘You’re paying seven dollars for a calendar ad! It’s going from seven to eight-fifty!’” Santaniello continued, recalling his reaction. “‘I don’t have the money to eat at Amato’s!’”
The young publication could easily have exploded, like a star that grows too hot too fast, but for the personal investment of its staff. “They were like counselors,” Santaniello recalled. “They were always trying to get Monte and I on the same page .… The great thing was, everyone felt they had a vested interest, and everyone was there for the right reason. They had their own little piece of Casco Bay Weekly, and I think that’s why everyone tried so hard — they really believed in it. I think that’s what pissed them off: ‘You guys are screwing this thing up! You’re screwing up my paper!’”
Two years into the enterprise, CBW was still barely scraping by. “We were forced into the situation where we didn’t have access to the kind of money we really needed,” Santaniello said. “Every nickel counted. Fortunately it didn’t show up in the paper itself. We never cut back circulation or the size of the issues, I don’t think. It was just, from a business standpoint, we could never get ahead of the curve.”
Enter Dodge Morgan, a multi-millionaire who got rich selling radar detectors in the ’70s and got famous in 1986 for being the first American to circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat alone, without stopping for rest or supplies. It took him just over 150 days, annihilating the previous record by well over four months.
Morgan had purchased the Maine Times five years earlier, and now he had his eyes on CBW, which had a stronger presence in Maine’s largest city than the statewide weekly did. Santaniello and Paulsen were in a bind. “I didn’t want to own it, or I knew I couldn’t own it without [Paulsen],” Santaniello said, and Paulsen “couldn’t buy me out.”
In June of 1990, Morgan bought them both out. Paulsen stayed on as editor and became publisher, as well. Santaniello was just out. “I remember I was in there, we signed it, shook hands, and I got in my car,” Santaniello said. “One of my refuges was Raoul’s …. I remember I just went out there, had a couple Rolling Rocks, and cried. I think I was gone within days. It was just too hard to be there and not be plugged in.”
Santaniello went back to Connecticut, then moved to Dallas, where he earned a Master of Business Administration (“finally,” he chuckled) and got a job for a magazine company. These days, in addition to teaching, he works as a freelance writer for publications including The New York Times and Golf Digest. He and Paulsen patched things up and kept in touch, and he watched with pride, from afar, as the paper he co-founded grew and thrived throughout the ’90s.
“Dodge didn’t buy the Maine Times to make money, so at least it was going in the hands of a guy who wasn’t going to change it,” Santaniello said. “The vision never changed. All he did was give it the capital it needed to go where Monte and I had hoped it would go. So he did a great job with it.”
Morgan’s money gave CBW financial stability, but management at the paper was anything but stable. In contrast to its more staid sister paper, where Ginn served as publisher for over a decade, CBW had five different people in that role before the ’90s were over. Turnover in the newsroom was high, and occasionally highly dramatic. For example, in his overview of CBW’s first 10 years, Diamon reported that news editor Andy Newman “abruptly” departed “after getting punched out by Paulsen.
“Adult supervision,” Diamon joked, “may be required.” Whether it ever arrived is debatable, but the strength of CBW’s editorial output in the ’90s is not a matter of dispute. The paper continued to kick ass and take names under the leadership of editors like Wayne Curtis, who succeeded Paulsen in early 1993 after the founding editor left for a job as an investigative reporter in Detroit; Sarah Goodyear, who followed Curtis in 1995 and eventually took on publishing duties, as well; and Conaway, Goodyear’s partner, who formally joined the ranks as a reporter in 1996 and assumed the editorship in 1998, just in time to hire yours truly as a part-time listing editor that summer.
CBW had long since left the apartment on Clark Street by then. It occupied ground-floor office space on Congress Street, where the Salt Institute for Documentary Field Studies now resides. I had just earned a graduate degree in environmental education — a fact that, combined with my sandals, brought no shortage of good-natured derision from my new colleagues. (My official title was “listings and plant care editor.”)
While finishing that degree in Boston, I’d done some temp work for the Boston Phoenix that involved such tasks as calling all the gay-friendly nightclubs in New England to confirm the days and times of their “tea dances” (I’m still not really sure what that is). The atmosphere in the Phoenix newsroom reflected the attitude of the people on the street: pissed off and stuck up. I remain grateful to the Phoenix for giving me the opportunity that ultimately helped me land at CBW, but must point out how different the cultures of the two soon-to-be competing publications were.
CBW’s newsroom was stressful sometimes, especially on deadline day (Tuesday), but the undercurrent of jaded unhappiness I sensed from fellow workers at the Phoenix was absent from the atmosphere at CBW in ’98. The classified department, comprised of sisters Dona and Joline Hachey, sounded like a laugh track running on an endless loop. The newsroom had a cast of characters to rival the Mary Tyler Moore Show: reporter Allen Dammann, whose dry, self-deprecating wit kept us in stitches; reporter and gay-issues columnist Connie Pacillo, whose sharp tongue and sassy attitude did the same; and my mentor in this business, Al Diamon, whose grumpiness never fully concealed the gleeful bomb-thrower, dog lover and defender of the downtrodden beneath the beard. Add to this mix the irregular cast of walk-on freelance contributors whose unpredictable swings through the newsroom door continually provided fresh material.
Sadly, those glory days were all too brief. In late May of 1999, Morgan unexpectedly announced a change in the paper’s ownership structure by which he would retain just over 30 percent of the paper, then-publisher Julie Watson would get 27 percent, and his ex-wife, Lael Morgan, would own a quarter of CBW. The remaining 17 percent would be divided between full-time staff members. Furthermore, Lael Morgan, who’d recently arrived from Alaska, was installed as the publication’s managing editor.
Although Dodge Morgan had apparently been planning the changes for two months prior to their announcement, they came as a shock to the newsroom. To make matters even more unsettling, they were unveiled around the same time the Phoenix announced its intention to enter the Portland market with what was then its fourth alt-weekly.
A mini-power struggle ensued when Diamon, having learned that the “book value” of CBW was estimated to be only $80,000, included that figure in a draft of a news article for CBW about the ownership changes. Watson leaked the draft to Dodge Morgan, who called the morning of deadline day and tried to pressure Diamon into taking the figure out of his story.
Good luck with that. Diamon and Conaway, two of the most headstrong journalists in the state, flatly refused, though Diamon agreed to include Morgan’s objection in the piece. Conaway’s attempt to ensure the figure showed up in the paper the next day, coupled with her editorial calling bullshit on the whole affair, cost her her job the following morning.
In the wake of all this turmoil, Lael Morgan’s presence was like a dark cloud hanging over the newsroom. The distance between Maine and Alaska is a good analogy to the gap between her journalistic sensibility and that which had guided CBW prior to her arrival. The impossible task of bridging that gap fell to new editor David Tyler, whose brief tenure ended in the spring of 2001 after he ran two controversial comics by Martin Shields (progenitor of our Bollardhead serial) in the face of vociferous public outcry that the ’toons, “Chef Al’s Fowl,” were misogynist.
I succeeded Tyler as editor that spring, but ultimately had no better luck reconciling the Morgans’ demands with the independent spirit of the newsroom. In February of 2002, the Morgans demanded I cut the editorial budget by nearly 40 percent, from $215,000 to $135,000. The only way to reach that figure would be to fire someone, and Lael made little attempt to hide her preference that that someone be Diamon.
Again, good luck with that. Diamon had been part of CBW for over a decade by that point. He possessed the paper’s institutional knowledge and was the person most responsible for maintaining CBW’s journalistic integrity, among many other contributions he brought to the company. Regardless, it didn’t matter who I chose to fire — had I given anyone the ax, the entire editorial department was prepared to walk. Lael Morgan had suggested CBW use syndicated content from sources like AlterNet to replace the work of a staff reporter. After Paulsen and his successors had worked so hard to overcome the need for canned content, that wasn’t gonna happen on our watch, either.
I outlined a plan to pare over 50 grand from the budget, mostly by cutting freelance expenses, like photography, but Dodge Morgan was not the type of guy to negotiate with the likes of me. He fired me, Al, and both reporters in early March. Elizabeth Peavey and several other longtime contributors quit in solidarity.
I did my best to remain professional through the ordeal that day, but I suspect Lael Morgan may have a second sphincter as a result of the outburst Crash Barry, then one of our reporters, unleashed in the conference room. Like Santaniello after Morgan pushed him out, I retreated that evening to a favorite watering hole, Gritty’s, where, after my colleagues left, my tears splashed on the bar.
The Morgans had planned for the consequences of our removal, having secretly assembled a B-team to take over editorial duties. That crew lurched along for another nine months or so before Dodge Morgan, claiming mounting losses, shuttered CBW the week before Thanksgiving. “I don’t want to get in the Guinness Book of World Records for money buried in a small-market weekly newspaper,” he told the Press Herald.
In early 2003, Morgan sold the paper’s stock to eXit Capital Group, a subsidiary of an educational foundation run by a guy named Roy Allen, who moved here from my hometown, Rochester, N.Y. Allen claimed he intended to use the weekly as some sort of teaching tool for aspiring journalists, but practiced no actual journalism as owner. He neglected to even hire an editor, opting instead to pay a “director of operations” to paste press releases into the pages. By 2004, this sad shadow of CBW was in shambles, along with several other local ventures of Allen’s Endeavor Foundation. Hounded by creditors and burned clients, I’m told that Allen essentially fled the state.
Some observers have suggested that the Portland Phoenix was responsible for CBW’s demise. I disagree. Though the chain-weekly’s entry into the market took a slice from the limited pie of print-advertising dollars — Morgan later claimed CBW’s revenues dropped about 20 percent as a result — Morgan had enough money and moxie to outlast the competition. The vast oceans of this planet and their fearsome storms couldn’t intimidate Dodge Morgan, who passed away in 2010 at age 78. What’s the Phoenix compared to that?
Though the Boston Phoenix was among Santaniello’s inspirations to launch CBW, it pains him that one of its spin-offs is now the only alt-weekly in town. “That killed me that the Phoenix remained and CBW didn’t,” he said. “I hate that — hate that.”
CBW was born of a genuine inspiration to serve the Portland community, to satisfy a perceived need for an alternative to the mainstream press. The Portland Phoenix was hatched in a spirit of greed, to boost circulation figures in a bid to attract more national advertisers to the chain. That strategy may have worked for awhile, but has since cost the Phoenix dearly. The chain closed its flagship Boston weekly last year, blaming the recession and industry-wide shifts in ad spending (including the near-total disappearance of classified-ad revenue, which has migrated online).
CBW is gone, but is hardly forgotten. According to Abraham Schechter, special collections librarian and archivist at the Portland Public Library, people have been coming into the Portland Room almost every day since CBW died, seeking stories in the yellowing back issues kept there. The public’s continued interest in the paper prompted the library to embark on a huge project to have every page of CBW scanned by hand and uploaded to the Internet for easier reference.
That was well over two years ago, and the project is finally complete. The library is hosting an event on Friday, June 6, at 5:30 p.m., in Rines Auditorium, the celebrate the paper and announce the project’s completion to the public. All the back issues of CBW can now be searched, viewed and downloaded online via the Digital Commons collection at digitalcommons.portlandlibrary.com. I’ve been working with the library to arrange a reunion of as many past CBW employees and contributors as we can gather there on that evening. (If I haven’t reached you yet, please consider this your invitation!)
CBW is “the most popular dead newspaper in town,” Schechter once told me. I’ve endeavored to keep its spirit alive in this “alt-monthly,” which was born in 2005 on Cushman Street, right around the corner from the West End apartment where Santaniello and Paulsen started CBW. But reading through the back issues of my old alt-weekly, I realize The Bollard is also but a shadow of its pioneering predecessor. I’m not eating at Amato’s either these days, but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
I’m deeply grateful for all the sweat, tears and — at least in Andy Newman’s case — blood that Santaniello, Paulsen and every one of their colleagues and successors put into Casco Bay Weekly from 1988 to 2002, Dodge Morgan included. And I’m grateful to the library for dedicating the resources necessary to keep CBW alive for generations to come.
CBW’s Proudest Moments
For his May 14, 1998 retrospective on CBW’s first decade, Al Diamon scoured 10 years’ worth of weekly issues in search of the paper’s “proudest moments” of journalistic excellence. In the interests of space and sanity, I’ll mention a few of those here, but otherwise refer you to that issue for stories published during that period.
• Among the holes in the mainstream media’s coverage of Portland that CBW sought to fill was the establishment media’s reporting on its own mistakes and shortcomings. An early example of this appeared in the Aug. 2, 1990 issue, when Andy Newman reported the fact that Evening Express reporter Bob Niss had been arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. Niss’ editors were aware of the incident, but allowed him to continue working for the paper, covering the cops and even writing a story about domestic violence. (He was later found guilty and given jail time.) CBW covered the Press Herald’s labor woes later that decade, and called it out for its coverage of minorities (“Tales of two accidents,” Aug. 24, 2000) and its hypocrisy on gay-rights issues — most notably Connie Pacillo’s September 3, 1998 column about the Sunday Telegram’s policy not to publish gay couples’ civil-union announcements, despite the sexual orientation of then-editor Jeannine Guttman, who had her own civil-union ceremony in Vermont. (See also: “Paper Tiger,” Pacillo’s Feb. 3, 2000 cover story on the Blethen family’s broken promises.)
• In the Oct. 8, 1992 issue, Bob Young, Garry Beausoleil and Monte Paulsen collaborated on an in-depth investigation of L.L. Bean heiress Linda Bean, then a candidate for Congress, and her ties to extreme right-wing causes. It was titled “Citizen Bean.” Had back issues of CBW been easily accessible online four years ago, I would have chosen a different heading for the November 2010 Bollard story on Bean that Craig Idlebrook wrote for this paper: “Citizen Bean.”
• The Feb. 3, 1994 issue contained the first of Bob Young’s two-part series on problems with Maine’s juvenile-justice system (“Teenage wasteland” and “Eating our young”). Efforts to alienate and incarcerate youth figured prominently in future news coverage, from an anti-loitering proposal and curfews cooked up by Old Port merchants (see Eva Writt’s Sept. 9, 1999 Teenage Liberation Cookbook” column on that subject, as well as her April 15, 1999 column on Police Chief Mike Chitwood’s effort to close the Fine Arts performance space on Congress Street) to parents’ frustration with the Maine Youth Center’s policies and practices (“Locked out,” by Allen Dammann; April 26, 2001).
• In the June 15, 1995 issue, Crash Barry — then writing under the nom de plume Christopher Barry — spent a week undercover panhandling on Portland’s streets for the story “Hey Buddy, can you spare some change?” In his ’98 retrospective, Diamon called Barry’s portrait of homeless man Bobby Reynolds, who suffers from physical and mental disabilities (the result of being hit by a drunk driver and left for dead in 1979), “perhaps the bleakest profile ever published in CBW.” When Barry returned to the paper five years later, he knocked out a series of undercover stories people are still buzzing about, including: “Take this job and shovel it” (March 15, 2001), an investigation of the day-labor industry; “How much is that coffin in the window?” (April 12, 2001), insights into the funeral industry; “Warning: Do not read this story while eating” (May 17, 2001), about life as a professional cleaner; “Want flies with that?” (Sept. 27, 2001), about his stint working for McDonald’s; and “Onan the lonely” (March 7, 2002), about the sex scenes in the back rooms of Portland porn shops.
But the most powerful of these investigations by far was Barry’s June 14, 2001 cover story, “Drunken nights,” about life inside the Milestone Foundation’s shelter for intoxicated homeless men. Reynolds (here referred to as “Philly”) figured in this story, as well. And, astoundingly, he’s still staggering along Portland’s streets 13 years later, God love him. (A book of Barry’s collected undercover work is expected to be published later this year.) On a related note, reporter Sharon Bass’ Oct. 23, 1997 article on fire and safety violations at the India Street facility (“Dysfunctional shelter”) prompted city and state investigations that led to improvements and a complete management overhaul there.
• Two stories in particular from Elizabeth Peavey’s ’90s output for CBW keep coming up in conversations today: “Notes from Underground” (Jan. 25, 1996), in which she explores the fabled tunnels and chambers beneath the streets downtown, and “Where to go” (Dec. 1, 1994), a review of bar bathrooms conducted with accomplice Al Diamon. Fans should really just type her name into the Digital Commons search engine, block off a week or two, and start reading.
• In the Jan. 22, 1998 issue, Laura Conaway exposed behind-the-scenes plans by developers and city officials to build a hotel and convention center on the eastern waterfront (“Harboring secrets”). “The downside of [public debate] is that 10 years could go by, and nothing would happen, and all you’d have is a big parking lot,” City Manager Bob Ganley said at the time. Eight years later, The Bollard exposed similar back-door efforts to develop this valuable area (“Ex-mayor, Gov’s brother push waterfront hotel project”). And, for better or worse, Ganley was right — much of the eastern waterfront is still a big parking lot today.
• In the Jan. 7, 1999 issue, longtime freelance columnist Annie Seikonia gave us 14 reasons “Why I Hate Starbucks” (e.g., No. 6: “Starbucks’ hip, recycled napkins bear the following drivel: ‘I feel the sun/on my face/let me touch it/growing.’”) Seikonia’s Congress Street Minutes column, with its intermittently bolded words, was like a proto-blog, and her anti-Starbucks piece presaged years of anti-franchise sentiment that followed (including, unfortunately, the smashing of the windows at Starbucks’ second location, in the Old Port).
• In the wake of the May 4, 1999 city-election scandal, in which five councilors voted to give at-large candidate Ethan Strimling a narrow victory over incumbent Jack Dawson by awarding him ballots marked for an unnamed write-in candidate, CBW went to town. In a June 17, 1999 editorial (“Throw them out”) and column (“How long has this been going on?”), Diamon rallied for the removal of three of the Strimling Five from public office (Tom Kane, Nathan Smith and Jim Cloutier; the other two offenders, Karen Geraghty and Charlie Harlow, were exempt from recall action). The Strim dropped his bid just before councilors were informed of a 1994 court decision that would have called the Five’s actions into serious question, and the recall drive sputtered and died. Next time you hear Strimling, now a political pundit for the Press Herald and other local media, railing against nefarious government deeds, remember this story and laugh.
• The June 17, 1999 issue also contained an article by reporter Steve Hargreaves about Old Port kingpin Joe Soley’s effort to reopen his iconic Fore Street restaurant, The Seamen’s Club (“Soley under fire”). “Problems for Old Port mega-landlord Joe Soley are multiplying like roaches in one of his Fore Street apartments,” it began. Soley’s battles with city officials, tenants and reality itself were so frequent that CBW dedicated a regular feature to his exploits, “Soley watch,” beginning in the Sept. 28, 1995 issue. When I ran into Soley at the post office last month, I asked him if he remembered CBW. “Faintly,” he said. “That was a pretty crazy paper,” he added, “they had a lot of crazy stuff in there.” He said he much prefers The Bollard. Thanks, Joe!
• In the July 22, 1999 edition, reporter Kimberly Jean Smith wrote about perceptions that the new Portland Public Market was unwelcoming to the working masses (“For yuppies only?”). This turned out to be just the tip of what became an iceberg of coverage about the market’s bad management and image problems, including my Nov. 8, 2001 cover story (“Life after Ted”) that asked whether the market’s fortunes would improve after embattled director Ted Spitzer resigned. We’ve known the answer to that question for awhile.
• CBW’s coverage of the failings and foibles of imperious Portland School Superintendent Mary Jane McCalmon culminated in a Feb. 10, 2000 cover story by Diamon unambiguously titled “She’s gotta go!” Diamon detailed 10 reasons why the Super should get the ax, including an effort to sneak big raises for top administrators into the school budget and failure to report allegations of sexual and physical abuse. McCalmon’s defenders, like future City Councilor Dory Waxman (see her letter to the editor in the March 2, 2000 issue), cried foul and even backed a boycott of CBW advertisers and distribution locations. Two months later, guess who decided to quit (hint: not Diamon). Diamon took on another high-profile figure, Chief Chitwood, in his July 6, 2000 cover story about the repercussions of Media Mike’s infamous outspokenness (“Mike Chitwood’s Big Mouth”). The piece didn’t compel Chitwood to quit, but he did quit talking to us.
• The May 10, 2001 issue contained an article by Greg Williams (“Abandoning ship”) about the Scotia Prince’s imposition of pay cuts and longer workdays on its largely migrant/immigrant workforce — an aspect of the cruise industry we ought not to forget now that ferry service between Portland and Nova Scotia has resumed.
• Lastly, though there’s much I’ve missed, I’ve got to give a shout-out to Allen Dammann’s great Talk interviews. Here’s a snippet from his Jan. 27, 2000 conversation with fire-eater Mark Ferris…
You eat fire. What the hell’s wrong with you?
Absolutely nothing. Just a different part of a personality, that’s all.
Have you heard fire in dangerous?
I love fire…
Frankenstein said, ‘Fire — bad.’ Do you hate Frankenstein?
No, I love Frankenstein…
And, of course, Allen’s May 4, 2000 talk with pro wrestler Amanda Storm, a.k.a. The Blak Widow, a.k.a. Stormbringer…
Why are you looking at me like that? Do you want to beat me up or something?
No, I want to sodomize you.
That’s part of your routine? You sodomize people?
What do you mean ‘routine’? That’s part of my hobby. You’re kind of tall and skinny, and I think you’d look good in women’s clothes, so I’d like to dress you up like a woman and sodomize you.
So why don’t you call yourself the Sodomizer?
Because that’s not my name. It’s not like I have a character or something. It’s what I like to do with my time.