There is always gossip in politics and each story represents a potential headline. Whether that headline gets reported or not, is an entirely different story.
An interesting story broke yesterday from Chris Busby about Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling:
Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling has separated from his wife, Mary Beeaker, whom he married in 2004, and is now in a relationship with Stephanie Clifford, his former campaign manager. Strimling acknowledged these facts to me on Feb. 23, but does not intend to issue an official statement or make further comment on the matter. He and Beeaker had no children.
Clifford, who is also married, lives in Cape Elizabeth and has school-age children. Mayor Strimling has been staying at the Hyatt Place Portland hotel, in the Old Port, off and on for the past several weeks. He said he intends to rent an apartment on Congress Street and move into it soon.
This is interesting for a number of reasons. The first and foremost, why isn’t the media asking questions yet?
Busby notes that “at this point, of any hard evidence that Mayor Strimling’s professional relationship with Clifford became a romantic relationship prior to the vote last November, but the timing certainly stinks.” From what is available for information, the facts are not clear whether there was an extramarital affair or if the timing is the only story in itself.
Is it fair to seek these facts relating to Mayor Strimling? There is a significant difference between mudslinging against a private individual and a public politician. When voters turn out and elect a politician, the public trust has become invested in the principles and character of the politician.
This is why the left has been all over Republican politicians for sharing memes on Facebook. Bloggers and reporters alike were all over Representative John Picchiotti and Senator Mike Willette for memes shared on Facebook, which depicted content that some disagreed with. The implication here is that their character was not becoming of a Maine legislator.
For this reason, questions need to be asked of Mayor Strimling, who is the newly elected Mayor of the biggest city in the state.
But they aren’t.
Let’s propose a hypothetical question: If Governor Paul LePage had left Ann just after his election and got together with a married campaign official, would the Maine media remain quiet? Would Democratic Party officials remain silent?
The Democratic Party would have the press release out by sunrise and this story would be on the front page of every news site from here to San Francisco.
Propose the same scenario of Representative Picchiotti, Senator Willette, or any other Republican legislator who has been targeted over Facebook drama, and you’ll have the same result.
Why the silence here?
The greater question may be why does this even matter? Isn’t this just mudslinging? Character assassination?
First of all, the relationship has already raised suspicion that Strimling was romantically involved with his campaign manager last year, and hid that fact from his wife and the public until after the election, out of concern the revelation would sink his campaign. That would constitute a gross misrepresentation of character and a breach of trust that voters deserve to know about. I know of two local politicians, both female, who supported Strimling’s mayoral bid and are now outraged by his conduct.
But why go public? Shouldn’t this be brought directly to the Portland Mayor and allow him to respond? Busby has an answer in his article:
Are we to believe that nothing happened between them during the months of intense campaigning prior to Election Day, when the pair were working closely together, and suppose, instead, that it was only after the election, when Mayor Strimling would have little or no need of Clifford’s services — and while he was assuming the huge responsibilities of his new job — that they fell in love and decided to commit to a relationship that’s broken up both their homes? Strimling declined to comment on the record regarding when the relationship began.
Where on Earth is the Maine media? Where are all the moral warriors on the left?
The problem may be beyond just Mayor Strimling’s personal moral character, however. According to Busby, it may extend to business dealings as well:
There’s also the fact that Clifford is a partner and president of Baldacci Communications, a public relations and lobbying firm. One of her two co-partners is Bob Baldacci, the former governor’s brother and a real estate developer who previously led a high-profile effort to redevelop the publicly owned Maine State Pier. The firm’s lengthy client list includes Cate Street Capital, Central Maine Power, the National Resources Council of Maine, and numerous political figures of the past and present. Baldacci Communications continues to do work for Strimling, but the mayor said their role is now limited to filing campaign finance reports.
Strimling recently raised the issue of revisiting development of the Maine State Pier. Up till now, his discussions about this inside or outside City Hall have taken place without the participants’ knowledge that Strimling has a romantic relationship with the business partner of one of the prime movers behind the previous effort to privatize this public asset. Strimling seemingly would have allowed that to remain the case had The Bollard not made the relationship public.
My last area of concern involves the Hyatt Place hotel, which is owned by local developer Tim Soley. Soley has numerous commercial properties in town and is in the midst of a debate over legal noise levels in the Old Port that has significant financial implications for the Hyatt. The rooms there aren’t cheap, and it wouldn’t be affordable to live there for an extended period of time on the mayor’s salary. (One wonders why Strimling would decide to stay in an expensive new hotel, where rates easily approach $1,000 per week, rather than seeking less expensive options.)
If Soley has offered Strimling a discount of any sort for his accommodations during this difficult personal time, that would constitute a big favor that, at the very least, the public should know about. But Strimling told me he is not receiving any kind of discount for his stay at the Hyatt which, in any event, will soon end.
There are a lot of questions and a lot of potential implications. It is a story that needs to be reported, with questions that require answers.
Undoubtedly, if this was a Republican public official who had a post-election affair with a campaign manager, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We would be reading Portland Press Herald quotes regarding the story in the Huffington Post.
Mayor Strimling’s personal life is his personal life, but it appears there could be more at stake than just his relationships. If there is something improper, it needs to be exposed. If there is nothing improper, then it’s time to clear this story up and move on.