Rosa Scarcelli: Businesswoman hones outsider image

Posted May 06, 2010, at 8:13 p.m.
Rosa Scarcelli, candidate for governor 2010
Rosa Scarcelli, candidate for governor 2010

HERMON, Maine — It was 8:45 a.m. on a Monday and the wait staff at Dysart’s Truck Stop was busy tending to a late-breakfast crowd of locals, truckers and other interstate travelers.

And so was Rosa Scarcelli.

“Hello, I’m Rosa Scarcelli and I’m running for governor,” she said, reaching her hand across plates of half-eaten pancakes and mugs of steaming coffee.

“I’m a Democrat and I’m a business owner, and I have a very different perspective than the people I’m running against. I’m not from Augusta.”

Scarcelli is the clear outsider among the four Democrats hoping to win their party’s nomination on June 8.

While the other three candidates — Pat McGowan, Steve Rowe and Libby Mitchell — each have decades of experience in state government or politics, Scarcelli has never held an elected office.

Her parents were well-connected in Maine’s Democratic circles in the 1970s and 1980s, yet Scarcelli has only recently become heavily involved in party politics. At 40, she is also the youngest of the Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls.

“On the Democratic ticket, it’s straightforward,” Scarcelli told another Dysart’s patron. “You have three career politicians and then you have me.”

It’s a message that Scarcelli hopes will resonate with Maine Democrats this June amid the chorus of voter frustration nationally with Congress and the general state of the American political system.

Her carefully orchestrated campaign portrays Scarcelli as one of Maine’s young, female business leaders. The owner and CEO of the affordable housing provider Stanford Management, Scarcelli leads a company with 115 employees and about $250 million worth of properties.

During debates and campaign stops, she pledges to bring new ideas and new energy to state government. She calls for additional efficiency and transparency — including posting all government spending online — and talks about the need to cut the regulatory tape and high energy costs that she says are stifling job creation in Maine.

On the issue of education, the mother of three says she will encourage school consolidation through incentives, not penalties, and says Maine needs to bring its student-to-teacher ratio and special education costs in line with national averages. But she also supports charter schools and tying teacher pay to performance.

Name: Rosa Scarcelli

Age: 40. Born Dec. 13, 1969.

Education: Attended University of Maine and graduated from Bowdoin College, where she was named a James Bowdoin scholar.

Career: Worked as page and intern for Sen. George Mitchell. In 1999, founded a real estate management company; six years later took over what is now Stanford Management, a provider of affordable housing.

Family: Lives in Portland with her husband, Thom Rhodes, and three children.

Quote: “Together we can move Maine forward.”

Funding: Private

Scarcelli struck a chord with Karen LaPlante, a Dysart’s diner who eagerly took a bumper sticker.

“She’s a woman, she’s a business owner and she’s a Democrat,” said LaPlante of Holden.

“When you get somebody in there other than a career politician, that is always a plus,” added Lester Shuman of Glenburn.

Scarcelli’s campaign strategy has both potential and risk, according to Brian Duff, assistant professor of political science at the University of New England.

There is a substantial anti-establishment mood among voters right now, Duff said. The question for Scarcelli is how much favor will that message win with the hard-core Democrats who typically show up for primaries — especially when it is coming from a candidate who has never held office before.

“That language is going to appeal to some people,” Duff said. “It is not going to appeal to as many people in the Democratic primary, and that is going to be her hurdle.”

Although Scarcelli is a newcomer to the public scene, she has been around Maine politics for much of her life.

Her father is a former university professor who was active in local politics and helped launch the Democrats’ annual St. Patrick’s Day pancake breakfast in Farmington. Her parents divorced at a young age.

But her mother, Pam Gleichman, was a successful developer of low income housing in Maine who donated heavily to Democratic causes.

Scarcelli served as the first Senate page for former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, and then later as his intern.

But Scarcelli decided to launch her first bid for public office after being inspired by the energy surrounding President Obama’s campaign, and unimpressed by what she said was a dearth of business-minded individuals in the Democratic field.

“These are all great people but none of them are offering new ideas or new solutions or new energy,” Scarcelli said while seated in the office of Stanford Management, located along the Portland waterfront.

“It’s time for my generation to step up. It’s our kids that are at stake here.”

Scarcelli heads a company with a portfolio of more than 2,000 housing units in dozens of properties in Maine, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Mississippi. The firm’s tenants are primarily senior citizens, disabled persons and lower-income families.

She got her start in business as a 16-year-old running a retail clothing store in Bar Harbor. But her career in housing management began at age 22 when she went to work for her mother’s firm after graduating from Bowdoin College. By 1995, Scarcelli was development director at the company.

She left Stanford Management in 1999 while pregnant with her second child but promptly started her own company, DE Property Management LLC. Scarcelli returned to Stanford in 2005 and worked to turn around the company, which was losing money and was no longer managed by the family. She purchased Stanford two years later.

The company, which added 30 new properties last year, now houses more than 3,000 people, including residents in more than 35 Maine communities.

“We went through all of the challenges that small businesses go through and we managed it,” she said.

Stanford’s links to Gleichman, Scarcelli’s mother, have drawn some scrutiny, however.

Gleichman had gained wealth and respect over several decades for her success as a low-income housing developer.

But she repeatedly ran into financial trouble with regulators, including being sued for nonpayment by the Maine State Housing Administration. Some properties with other companies Gleichman co-owned were also foreclosed upon.

The Scarcelli campaign points out that under her ownership since 2007, Stanford Management has grown considerably and is now one of the largest woman-owned businesses in the state. As for Gleichman’s role in the campaign, Scarcelli said there is nothing to talk about because her mother, who lives in Chicago, is not in-volved and does not contribute.

Her father, meanwhile, lives around the corner from Scarcelli and is actively involved in both the campaign and her family’s daily life.

As a privately financed candidate, Scarcelli had raised slightly less than $300,000 as of late April, or about $100,000 less than Rowe. Mitchell and McGowan, who opted to apply for public financing, received $400,000 in “clean elections” funds plus the private “seed money” candidates were allowed to raise initially.

But with her pro-business and anti-political establishment campaign theme, Scarcelli is hoping to recruit more than a few unenrolled voters and Republican crossovers to win the Democratic primary.

At Dysart’s, Scarcelli was working hard to make Bruce Keene of South Portland one of those steals.

After making a joke that good looks alone won’t win his vote, Keene talked for some time with Scarcelli about various issues and the other candidates on both sides. Keene, a Republican, seemed impressed after running into the candidate at Dysart’s and at Becky’s Diner in Portland on a different day.

“I’m trying to be an informed voter,” said Keene, who was headed north for some fishing. “I’m flexible. I’m willing to change.”

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