Jared Golden’s Gambit

Playing it too close to the edge?

“Never will vote for you for anything. Maine Democrats need a better candidate.” Facebook post from Jenny Boivin of Jay, Maine.

SOMESVILLE, March 1, 2021 – “One of two.” That would be Jared Golden’s new tagline.

He was one of two “Democrats” to vote against his party on the signature $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to overhaul policing.

No doubt Golden figured that the bills would pass the House, which they did, thus making his decisions moot. But this kind of political calculus is a risky one, particularly on such a high profile piece of legislation, even for someone in a district which Donald Trump won twice.

The anger from the left was swift and with great fury. Golden’s Facebook page lit up with more than 1,000 comments, many, like the one above, saying they will not vote for him in 2020. (Chellie Pingree, the predictable holder of the First Congressional District seat, gets only a dozen or so comments on her FB posts).

That put Golden on the same page as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, rabid Trump defender Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia who, in February, hung a sign that read “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. Trust The Science!” across the hall from another congresswoman who has a transgender child.  

Golden even borrowed some of the Republican arguments in his defense of his vote. https://golden.house.gov/media/press-releases/golden-statement-vote-against-19-trillion-legislative-package

Lynn Michaud: “Personally, I feel like I’ll vote Republican against you next time as you’re basically voting there way anyway. Disappointing.”

Lee Bilodeau of Oakland, Maine: “I will never vote for you again. You might as well change to a Republican because you do not honor Democratic values or agenda. I cant wait to see you primaried.”

Brad Riley: I know you think you did the right thing but this was not the correct vote. You made republicans that vote for your opponents happy and made your voters angry. Independents too. All I’ll say is good luck and hope people forget about this consequential vote. We don’t have another 6 months to write a bill you’d support. The time to act was now. And you didn’t.

https://www.facebook.com/RepGolden

The comments on the Bangor Daily News article were similar – with strident views from both sides. https://bangordailynews.com/2021/02/26/national-politics/with-house-voting-on-relief-bill-dems-mull-wage-plan-rescue/

“Golden got his start at (Susan) Collins’ feet and may be positioning himself to fill her shoes. Not necessarily as a Democrat. I am thankful to have him giving the Democrats the House majority. And I appreciate his concern for middle and low income Mainers, especially underpaid and laid off working class people – who this bill is focused on helping. So his NO vote seems more pigheaded contrarian than well thought out. I wonder what the polling is in CD2. The majority of Americans of all political affiliations support the comprehensive bill. And as one person told me ‘We live in The County, but we’re not all idiots.'”

For Democrats to withhold support, however, “would be a big mistake,” said Daniel M. Shea, professor of government at Colby College. “He’s not my cup of tea, but his vote on House leadership is important.”

Golden is facing a notoriously volatile mid-term election where he will not have the benefit of a strong showing by progressives in a presidential contest. He took the 2020 election by 6 points which was much less than all the polling suggested. Moreover, he ran against a Republican candidate who could not campaign in person during the pandemic in the vast second district.

CandidatePartyVotesPct.
Jared Golden*WinnerDemocrat197,97453.0%
Dale CraftsRepublican175,22846.9
Write-ins33<0.1
Total reported373,235

Maine’s Second is a winnable district by the GOP’s calculation, and Golden is fortifying himself against the onslaught of National Republican money next year by walking a line closely resembling a Republican on many big issues.

But could he go too far?

If a sizable number of Democrats withhold their votes and the Republicans vote in force as they always do, is he misplaying his hand?

If he goes too far to the right, is he vulnerable to a primary?

Colby’s Shea thinks a primary would be dangerous for Golden because that’s where the progressives in Maine can overwhelm.

Shea also wondered about Golden’s statewide ambitions as a result of his right-leaning decisions. Golden’s name was floated as a possible replacement for U.S. Sen. Angus King when King was rumored to be a cabinet consideration.

Golden also bucked the enormous popularity of the American Rescue Plan, which, according to polls, has an astonishing support of 76 percent of Americans, including a significant percentage of Republicans, especially mayors and governors who need to balance budgets ravaged by the pandemic. https://billmoyers.com/story/the-public-loves-the-american-rescue-plan/

Chellie Pingree said the plan will deliver direct relief to Mainers struggling with pandemic hardships; expand vaccine distribution; help schools operate safely; and deliver a $1.037 billion to Maine and $648 million to Maine’s municipal governments. 

“With high unemployment and interest rates at zero, economists have made it clear that we cannot afford to go small with this stimulus package.

In Maine, more than 700 people have died from this deadly virus, a quarter of residents are behind on their rent, an estimated 215,000 are grappling with food insecurity, and more than 100,000 lost their jobs at some point in 2020. 

‘The Most Beautiful Hotel in the World’ begins its journey; what does that forebode for the Quietside?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is claremont-aerial-768x508.jpg

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, March 6, 2021 – There was no equivocation in its conceit.

The new owner of the Claremont Hotel, https://theclaremonthotel.com/, called it simply “the most beautiful hotel in the world” – not just the most beautiful one in Maine, the Northeast or the United States.

With that promise, guests will pay a hefty premium for this lofty privilege. Indeed, the Claremont will be among the most expensive hotels on MDI, and in all of New England.

QSJ compared the summer 2021 rates at the Claremont and the Harborside Hotel in Bar Harbor for the same type of water view room, and they priced almost exactly the same – $548 a night for Harborside and $545 for the Claremont – for the same two week days in July. A water view room at the Asticou Inn, which bookends the Claremont as the two historic inns on MDi offering the same accoutrement, priced at $340 a night.

Two years ago, QSJ stayed at the Claremont for $85 a night in a queen room with no water view.

The jaw-dropping rates have some locals scratching their heads and wondering how this will play out. In addition to the Claremont, Hotelier Tim Harrington acquired two other local inns last fall, – the Inn at Southwest from owner Sandy Johnson and the Clark Point Inn from Jennifer Grant and Mark Nicknair.

Inn at Southwest sold last fall to new Claremont Hotel owner
Clark Point Inn now houses staff working at the Claremont

He is using them first to house staff working at the Claremont. But over time, will he execute a “cluster” strategy which made him so successful in Kennebunk? The Walsh family and the Witham family used the economy of scale of clusters to dominate the lodging business in Bar Harbor.

Harrington built and ran nine hotels and six restaurants in the Kennebunk area over two decades and sold the group to a private equity firm just before the pandemic raged. His efforts were not always greeted with alacrity.

A local band in Kennebunk called the Sock Puppets lampooned Harrington in 2013 with a song, “Diamond Tim Harpoon”: “There came into town one day a stranger/And he waved his plump and pampered hands around/‘Everything you have, good folks, I’ll buy it/I’ll tear everything you built on down.’” https://www.facebook.com/sockpuppetskennebunkport/videos/10201567700250119

QSJ left several messages for Harrington at the Claremont and is still waiting for a reply.

Five years ago, Rob Sneddon of DownEast magazine wrote, in an article entitled, Whose Town Is It Anyway? “Many business owners and residents welcome the transformation — and the affluent clientele it is attracting — but some people fear the Kennebunks are becoming a too planned and too precious Disney version of Maine.” https://downeast.com/features/kennebunks-whose-town-is-it-anyway/

“All of our marketing and all of our PR is built around the destination of the Kennebunks,” Harrington was quoted as saying. “We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Tim Harrington (Nicole Wolf Photo)

“Others, however, see not a rising tide but a tsunami, fearing a wave of high-end development will overrun the old, distinct neighborhoods and leave in its wake a smoothed-over, 92-square-mile plain of tourist bait,” Sneddon reported. “Consider some of the reactions when Harrington converted an old house on Western Avenue, in the heart of Kennebunk’s Lower Village, into a boutique hotel.”

Kennebunkport resident Susan Graham wrote on her blog, Overheard at the Post Office, “The new structure, modestly labeled ‘The Grand’ but more accurately described as ‘The Super-Colossal,’ is over-scaled, too high, and too large in volume. It towers above everything around it.”

Gallery image of this property

Harrington rejected such criticism. “We’re proud of what we’ve done,” he told Sneddon. “We have a good reputation for doing things kind of in keeping with the culture and the look of a historic New England fishing village.”

No doubt the retailers and restaurants in SWH will benefit from an inflow of wealthy tourists willing to frequent fly their credit cards, but the Quietside has worked hard over the years not to be Bar Harbor, which allowed the Walshes to turn an entire waterfront street, West Street, into a Disney clone.

Harrington has done major renovations to the Claremont with modern electrical systems and beautifully designed rooms and spaces. He’s adding an infinity pool and promises new restaurants and bars suitable for One Percenters. The inn is scheduled to re-open Memorial Day weekend.

Why should taxpayers fund Seal Harbor’s ‘volunteer’ payroll? Town selectman wants to know

Historic photo on https://www.sealharborvis.org/

MOUNT DESERT, March 4, 2021 – Alex Stephens got an unexpected cold shower this week.

What he thought would be a pro forma appearance to answer questions about the $50,000 annual grant for the Seal Harbor Village Improvement Society, of which he is president, took a surprising turn at the select board meeting.

“I continue to be confused about why in particular this property on Mount Desert is contracted out for care from another organization,” said Geoff Wood, the newest Select member.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me to fund a village improvement society that’s paying health benefits to somebody who’s taking care of property that belongs to the town,” said Wood.

“I don’t want to disparage your society at all. You do excellent work and I’m sure you use the money wisely … but it doesn’t make sense to me,” Wood told Stephens.

Unlike societies in Somesville, Northeast Harbor and Pretty Marsh, the Seal Harbor VIS actually has employees and pays health benefits for its foreman. And unlike the others, Seal Harbor VIS maintains significant town property, including a park, and parking lot.

The Seal Harbor Village Improvement Society was founded in 1900. In 1919, John D. Rockefeller Jr. purchased the Glen Cove Inn with its five acres of land, tore it down and donated the land to the town. Beatrix Farrand, the first woman named to the American Association of Landscape Architects, worked with the VIS to create a sweeping lawn – framed by shade trees – that afforded panoramic views of the harbor, along with eight miles of trails, a pristine beach and the Village Green.

Citizen-driven historical preservation, village improvement, libraries, conservation. make up a significant share of economic activity and public services without which the island municipalities would be challenged to replicate.

They are like mini NGOs in our midst. Owing to the fact that many of these organizations predate the forming of town governments, they have an outsized role as independent organizations.

The manner with which these organizations are supported is unlike the prevailing model in the rest of the country. In Fairfield County, Connecticut, for instance, public libraries are supported by taxpayers with some minority funding from private donors. On MDI, it’s just the opposite.

Other members of the select board defended the 100-year-plus practice of a private organization raking the beach at 5 a.m., tending to the monuments, maintaining the comfort stations for the public, and reasoned that this is actually a better outcome than if the town were to perform the task.

Public Works director Tony Smith has said that the work done by the VIS is cost effective compared to the town doing the work.

“He has said that,” Wood agreed. But he said, “Doesn’t change the question” of whether it’s sound policy to have taxpayers fund private employment and benefits. Wood said in an interview later that this was a question “that’s bothered me for some time.”

Member Martha Dudman said, “It’s one of those traditions that’s been part of the town for a long time … these village improvement societies do wonderful work and in the case of Seal Harbor their job is immense … the way it’s set up works for us and works for them.”

“Having been done the way we’ve always done it is not, in my mind, a justification for continuing to do it … if the town can’t take care of it I would want to know why,” Wood said.

Alex Stephens said the $50,000 town grant is about 35 percent of the VIS’s budget. The remaining comes from fund-raising.

But Wood questioned, “I don’t know why the village improvement funding request for Seal Harbor far exceeds any of the others … it’s the only one which has payroll and insurance benefits for employees that are not town employees.”

In his presentation, Stephens wrote, “A number of years ago, my predecessor, Paul Fremont-Smith, sought to better compensate Larry Taylor, who has worked for the VIS for 30 years. In addition to helping fund a retirement account for him, Paul also added health insurance for both Larry and his wife. The annual cost for the insurance has now risen to $33,640 and added substantially to our budget. This has posed challenges as we work to ensure that all of our employees, including our very capable and invaluable treasurer/secretary Deb Brown, are fairly compensated. While we have sought to meet the rising costs by more aggressive fund raising, it is simply not enough. As such, we have looked to cut some costs where we can. In 2019, we began the transition to using Constant Contact email notifications in order to cut down on printing, mailing and postage costs (roughly $3000 a year).

“Whenever I pass the beach and the Green and see it in full use, I am reminded of the reasons why the VIS is so essential.  With the weather in Maine being as fickle as ever, having Larry and the VIS watching over the lands, beach and monuments means a lot to our residents and visitors.”

Both Pretty Marsh and Somesville are organizations of the hearty Northern New England ilk, staffed by local volunteers. Somesville is particularly visible to anyone driving through and seeing the lovely flowers on either side of Rt. 102. Somesville VIS is seeking $3,000 and Northeast Harbor $5,000 for this year. Pretty Marsh, which rarely seeks town support, is asking for a one-time $9,500 grant to repair its historic schoolhouse.

As the hearing came to a close, warrant committee member Donna Reis, who lives in Pretty Marsh, asked how many volunteers are in Seal Harbor VIS?

“We have a board with 26 members,” came the reply.

“And they go out and clean the beach?”

“No. they don’t clean the beach. Larry does that.” (Larry Taylor is the chief staff employee)

“so there’s no volunteers who actually do the work?”

THE PUZZLE

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