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Mayor’s Corner: What political legacy did The Cutler Files leave on Maine?

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

“The Cutler Files,” a website created by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rosa Scarcelli’s husband and her political advisor, marked a new low in Maine campaigns. Is this the future of Maine politics?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have been and continue to be a staunch Democrat, although I have deviated on a few occasions and voted for a Republican and an Independent candidate. It this latest gubernatorial election, I supported former Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe in the primary election, having worked with him in my capacity as the Associate Director of the Maine Community Policing Institute at the University of Maine at Augusta.

At the time of the Democratic Party campaign, both Democrats Rowe and Rosa Scarcelli visited me. Libby Mitchell and Pat McGowan both called me to meet; I was honest with them, telling them I was supporting Rowe.

Also visiting me was Eliot Cutler. I told him as well that during the primary I was supporting Rowe. He was fine with that, as was Scarcelli. The difference with Cutler was that he asked if Rowe didn’t make it, could I support an Independent. I told him I could. He then asked if he could see me on June 9 if Steve Rowe didn’t make it. As it turned out, Rowe didn’t make it, and Cutler visited me as he had said.

I had a number of questions for him, and I found that he was correct on the issues that I questioned him on. In him, I could truly see a governor we in the State of Maine could be proud of and would be viewed with great credibility nationally and internationally. I then chose to endorse Eliot Cutler for Governor of Maine.

Not only did I endorse him, but members of my family also saw him in a similar light as I did. So my wife, son and I volunteered to work on his campaign. We put up signs throughout the city, went door to door passing out fliers and spoke to friends in support of his candidacy.

It was hard not to see how the now-obsolete website targeting independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler was a cowardly act of anonymous slander. It is even more difficult to believe the site’s authors, Thom Rhoads (Scarcelli’s husband) and Dennis Bailey (Scarcelli’s campaign advisor), who desperately tried to remain anonymous, had good intentions, as they have argued.

I had first known Bailey as reporter for the Lewiston Sun–Journal many years ago when I was a member of the Lewiston Police Department; and Rosa Scarcelli was a seemingly nice young woman who visited me in my office.

The website’s content was so egregious and clearly authored by individuals with an axe to grind that Bailey and Rhoads could never get the press interested. But that doesn’t mean voters looking for guidance on who to elect as their next governor were not influenced to some extent.

Most of the claims were ridiculous, like the suggestion that Mr. Cutler was unfit to govern Maine because he had voted absentee (I voted absentee while in Vietnam); others were nasty and personal and relied on innuendo, not facts, to smear Cutler’s reputation.

What I find most reprehensible is that site’s creators lied about their identity to Mainers in the final weeks of the election. Prompted by speculation that The Cutler Files was the work of Rhoads and Bailey, Scarcelli’s political and personal family member, the press asked both men if they were involved—they said they were not. Voters should have known that this political assault was coming from the insiders of a former Democratic campaign.

In comparison to the partisanship and fear mongering gripping American politics today, The Cutler Files might not seem particularly noteworthy. But Mainers have long placed a high premium on honesty and ideas over easy-to-score attacks. This site was more of an insult to our political process than it was to Mr. Cutler.

Now the question is that of the legacy of The Cutler Files: Is it just a stain on Maine’s history or a sign of what’s to come? It truly is a stain, and I hope that it isn’t a sign of what’s to come.

I have run in four political campaigns for office with help from my family and friends. I won three of them for mayor and lost one to a good man, Rep. Michael Lajoie, in my run for state representative. My campaigns have always remained positive, focusing on what I had to offer for the office I sought and not at attacking my opponent. I firmly believe that this is what voters should consider in making their decisions as to which candidate to vote for.

Maine voters have consistently rewarded honesty and decency from their candidates and elected officials. We measure candidates not by their party label, but by their values and ideas. Attack campaigns do serious damage to an open and honest discourse by inserting baseless claims and personal attacks. At a time when more Maine people are out of work than any time in recent history, we cannot afford campaigns laden with smear. We need campaigns that focus on pressing issues facing our families and communities.

I am confident that if the political process continues to diverge from the issues, we are going to turn more people away from the voting booth.

What we glean from attack ads usually tells us more about the creators than the target, which seems to be the case in this instance. Investigation notes released by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices paint a picture of obsession with Mr. Cutler by the site’s creators, who were gearing up to run against him if Ms.Scarcelli won the Democratic nomination.

For Scarcelli’s part, she “denounced” the site in a prepared statement after the ethics commission completed its investigation. With all the lies Mainers were fed, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not anymore.

The outrage over Rhoads (Scarcelli’s husband) and Bailey’s work suggests voters sent a message to those who might engage in these sorts of attacks. We can only hope this was a one-time event and just a sad piece of Maine’s history.

I supported Mr. Cutler early on because of his tremendous experience, excellent plans and a great vision for Maine.  He had bold ideas, but was unwilling to compromise his values to achieve easy gains. Early in the campaign, Mr. Cutler talked about the types of attacks, however traditional, that often arise close to elections. Despite this warning, none of us could have imagined what transpired in Maine’s 2010 race. Despite being the target of an unprecedented political assault, Mr. Cutler kept his promise to run a positive and honest campaign.

Let this chapter in Maine’s politics serve as a reminder that our political process has been one of an open, honest and respectful discourse. We cannot allow spoilers to hijack elections and honest debate.

See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.

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