BANGOR, Maine — One of the six candidates for City Council invited to speak at a “meet-and-greet” event at Husson University on Sunday has told the organizer he will not participate because incumbents weren’t invited.
“I must respectfully decline your invitation for the Oct. 2nd meet and greet,” Joseph Baldacci said Saturday in an email to Pauline Civiello that he copied to Bangor media outlets. “I learned for the first time, in today’s Bangor Daily News, you have chosen to exclude two candidates from this public forum. That is something I cannot and will not ever support or participate in.
“The Bangor I believe in is one where we as citizens and neighbors all work together for the good of Bangor,” Baldacci, an attorney with an office in Bangor, continued. “The Bangor I believe in is one where people from all different walks of life and experiences can come together equally and make Bangor a better place for ourselves and our children. The Bangor I believe in is one where no one is excluded and where everyone is included from the important work of moving Bangor moving forward.”
Baldacci also said that if Civiello organized another event and invited all candidates, he would participate.
There are eight candidates running for the three open council seats. All six of the candidates invited to participate in the event, which includes a panel discussion, are challengers, including Baldacci. Incumbents Rick Bronson and David Nealley were not invited.
“The reason I did it this way — it’s not a debate — is it’s a chance to ask the challengers only, the six new people who I don’t know other than Joe Baldacci,” said event organizer Pauline Civiello of Bangor. “That’s why it was set that way.”
The challengers are Baldacci, Scott Davis, James Gallant, Frances Loring, Megan Shorette and Ben Sprague.
“I think it’s silly that the two incumbents were not invited and I don’t hold it against anyone for not participating,” Sprague said Sunday morning in a statement emailed to the Bangor Daily News, “That said, I gave my word to Pauline Civiello that I would attend.”
The three open seats on the council include those now held by Bronson and Nealley as well as the one occupied by Gerry Palmer, who has elected not to seek re-election on Nov. 8.
To say that Bronson and Nealley are not happy about being excluded from participating as panelists would be an understatement.
“I would say it’s disrespectful to the amount of time and energy we’ve put forward on behalf of the city of Bangor, but on a more base level, it’s just simply discourteous,” said Nealley. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. It doesn’t pass the smell test for one thing. My own public statement is this wasn’t random. It was premeditated.
“It is really very obvious to Councilor Bronson and myself that it’s intentional that we weren’t invited.”
Civiello said both councilors are welcome to attend as members of the audience.
“They certainly can come if they’d like to sit in the audience and see what they [the challengers] have to say, and they’re welcome to ask questions,” said Civiello. “But this isn’t a debate, so the audience members can ask questions, but not get in a debate.”
Bangor city solicitor Norm Heitmann said he’s not an expert on election law, but is unaware of any law or regulation being violated by the exclusion of the incumbents.
“I think it’s unfortunate when public events are scheduled that don’t include everyone running for office,” said City Councilor Cary Weston, whose seat is not up for re-election. “I think you have a responsibility to allow all candidates to equally communicate to the public and even an incumbent is included as a newcomer when it comes to the election process.”
Civiello is renting Husson’s Dyke Center for Family Business from 2 to 4 p.m. for the meet-and-greet, where the public will have the opportunity to mingle and talk to candidates after a discussion, which may include topics such as the proposed pay-as-you-throw, single-stream recycling/trash disposal system; fireworks legislation and taxes.
Even if Nealley and Bronson are invited to attend in the next two days, they are unlikely to attend.
“They can have their event if that’s what they want to do,” said Bronson. “I have been a door crasher at events in the past, but I’m not going to crash this one.”
“It’s quite obvious we’re not welcome,” said Nealley. “Do I show up to functions I wasn’t invited to? I usually don’t.”
Civiello says she has no ax to grind and is simply trying to learn more about five candidates she knows nothing about. She said she did a similar thing for two Maine House of Representatives candidates last year.
“Bill Osmer and Jim Parker were District 18 primary candidates and I invited them to speak at my house,” she said. “It was just my husband, myself, a neighbor and someone else we didn’t know, and both men stayed two hours answering our questions.”
Sunday’s event is free and open to the public.