Monday, May 14, 2007

Stand to the Left

I really can't figure out Edgar Allen Beem. (And if you don't know who that is or you're not from the Portland area, I'm sorry. This post is barely going to have entertainment value for you.)

The guy is clearly a liberal (though perhaps not a progressive). Yet he persists in knocking down the Maine Greens every chance he gets. And while I agree that they've certainly had their share of characters and missteps (and characters who make missteps), he's doing it to take cuts at a couple of guys who don't fit the mold.

David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue got themselves elected to the Portland City Council by busting tail, connecting with voters, and promising movement on a whole slate of issues. And they've done a damn good job of delivering. It can't be easy. The city council has nine (9) seats, and they're just a couple of guys who are barely 30 years old, and have about $5 between them.

Yet for some reason, they seem to be about the only Councillors with any interest in preserving public process or with helping the city get the best deal out of its own resources. Take, for example, the Portland State Pier development deal. This excellent interview with John Anton (local workforce housing financier) lays out a lot of the problems with the process.

The big problem is that the Pre-DavidandKevin City Council sent out a Request for Proposals (RFP) after basically being goaded into the idea by Ocean Properities (one of the two companies in the running). OP's access to the council comes via tight Democratic connections to Governor Baldacci (through his brother, an OP bigshot) and through the Democratic party to the office of Councillor Cloutier.

After the proposals were submitted, OP realized that its competitor had done a better job conceptually (even though OP had known about the project for a longer time). In response, OP has submitted two further revisions. Now the council is debating the merits of a shifting bid. Unsurprisingly, Kevin Donoghue wants to put on the brakes and establish a legitimate process for soliciting and then judging the bids.

Watch this video (link on the right). Kevin's words here really sum up his position and his and David's basic approach to city government:
I am worried about the direction of this...We have a responsibility to the public and the public has no idea what's going on. ...a rudiment of that public process should be that we should stick to the rules that a deadline was set...
Cloutier clearly took offense to Donoghue and Marshall's insistence on a process that would muck up the sweetheart deal he's set up for Ocean Properties. I can transcribe his words, but I can't do justice to his temper when he said
You don't have the right to say to anyone...this is how you're going to evaluate this to come to a decision.
Or his smiling condescension when he said
...some of our new members weren't even on the council when we actually issued it, so they don't have the benefit of that background, and it is kind of confusing and hard to follow...
You really need to watch it for yourself. If you're really interested in the background of the process, also check out the Bollard's archives.

So, citizens of Portland can be thankful that they have at least two vigilant and independent voices looking out for them. Unfortunately and for some reason, they've come into columnist Beem's sights. I took him to task once already, in a column that got picked up by Beem's publication, the Portland Forecaster. But he's at it again, and again, I can't really figure it out.

This week, he made it his business to dredge up all the crap the Green Independent Party has laid down in order to lay it at Kevin Donoghue's feet with a warning: "Better keep your nose clean."

Now don't get me wrong. There's been some absolutely absurdist behavior by a couple of Greens on the school committee lately.
The arrest last month of Green Party and Portland School Committee member Benjamin Meiklejohn for driving after suspension is just the latest in long run of bad publicity for the Maine Greens. Meiklejohn was apparently being a Good Samaritan by driving a drunken friend home when he got pulled over for having a taillight out. Kudos for that.

Turns out, however, that unknown to him, Meiklejohn’s license had been suspended for failure to pay a speeding ticket. Plausible and understandable. Could happen to anyone. But then Meiklejohn started making wild accusations about a politically motivated bail commissioner making him stay in jail an hour or two too long. Then, when the arrest of an elected official naturally brought some scrutiny of his character and it was reported that Meiklejohn’s Web site featured a link to the alt-porn site, he charged that writers and editors at The Forecaster were “media prudes.”
Meiklejohn’s arrest, of course, followed the December arrest of his fellow Green Party and Portland School Committee member Jason Toothaker for skipping out on a taxi fare after a night of drinking. Toothaker, who was found hiding under the deck of a home, sobered up and had the good sense to resign from the School Committee in January, having embarrassed himself, the committee and the Green Party.

True and true. And ol' Zen Ben doesn't strike me as a particularly realistic evangelist for alternative living. But Beem just can't resist piling it on. He picks up the fact that local whack-job Dorothy Lafortune hijacked the Green Party nomination in Biddeford, and he digs back to a 1999 DUI conviction for Pat LaMarche, and an acquittal (that is to say, not a conviction) to raise the smell of rot.

The trouble with that kind of approach is that it cuts both ways. Observe:

Just last fall, Democrat Ellen Alcorn, was ticketed for speeding in a school zone – an admission that was laughed off as a harmless mistake. Except that she was the Chair of the School Committee at the time. Still looking out for kids, Ellen? Speaking of driving, Mayor Mavodones recently admitted to a conviction for driving after suspension. Luckily, he doesn't have a MySpace page. Finally, Democratic State Senator Bruce Bryant was recently convicted of OUI after getting drunk on a break in the middle of the legislative session.

Patrick Colwell, while head of the Maine Democratic Party, laundered campaign contributions for Rhode Islander Matt Brown's campaign. He was cleared, not because what he did was right, but because there wasn't enough evidence to convict him. If the appearance of impropriety is enough for Beem to indict Ben Chipman, certainly there's room in the Beem jailhouse for Colwell.

And let's not forget Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Tom Connolly, in whose judgment it was a smart idea to dress up like Osama Bin Laden and wave a toy gun at people. That added up to an arrest for criminal threatening.

By Beem's logic, the Maine Democratic Party is probably one arrest away from folding the tent.

Ridiculous, of course. The Dems, and these Dems, are alive and well and doing good work.

But why even bother? If the Greens are so ridiculous, why sling the mud? They're clearly ready to self-destruct as a party, right?

Well, no. In fact, the Maine Green Independent Party is getting stronger. Thanks, in large part, to the efforts of Portland's two youngest city Councillors. And Beem tips his hand at the very end, when we finally see what all his muck-raking is coming to: Kevin Donoghue better keep his nose clean.

Beem dug up every piece of garbage he could find about the Maine Greens only to hold it over the head of one of our most effective City Councillors. I find that very interesting.

The Maine Green Independent Party has nearly 30,000 registered members, and it's growing. It is the most vital Green Party of any state in the country and there's a reason for that: If you want to be a progressive in Maine, you've got to go Green. This is especially true in Portland, where the Democratic Party has locked up the city for so long that they're suffering the malaise to which all single-party systems eventually succumb: With no motive to remain sharp, they've inevitably become dull.

But Beem is right in pegging Kevin Donoghue as a harbinger of things to come. He and his council-mate David Marshall have proven to be serious, process-oriented administrator's of the people's business. Do not be deceived by Marshall's and Donoghue's youth. There is a right way and a wrong way to run a government and those guys do it the right way. Their work on the City Council has displayed a level of maturity and a deep respect for the public interest – and the public's intelligence – that should be a wake-up call to some of their longer-serving co-Councilors.

With 25% more Green voters this year than last and a full slate of candidates due for this November, the Green Party in Maine is vital and getting stronger. If Beem is truly looking for a Party in Danger, well, nobody's talking about the real Elephant in the room. Yet.


Benjamin Meiklejohn said...

Don't let Beem get you down. I don't no of any real backlash from the whole driving infraction deal... if anything, most people I've talked to about it think that I've earned more support, for being subject to sensationalist media attention.

Regardless, the School Committee continues to need pragmatic realism, and experience, especially when dealing with its finances.

Benjamin Meiklejohn said...

I have been cleared of wrongdoing! Case dismissed!