BANGOR, Maine — The day after a 10-minute verbal spat erupted between Mayor Cary Weston and Councilor Charlie Longo at Monday night’s City Council meeting, Weston apologized for the tense exchange.
“I had a human moment. I made a mistake,” Weston said late Tuesday afternoon. “We spend a lot of time in close quarters together and I was growing frustrated with the conversation. I reacted in a way that I should not have and the choice of words I used was unfortunate.
“I’m sorry to Councilor Longo, the council, and the people who witnessed it. It’s not what they should see or expect from the mayor or the council.”
The strident words resulted from Longo’s confusion over the proposed addition of three members to the Bangor City Council’s Dorothea Dix advisory committee. His four-minute discourse on the proposal turned into a dispute with Weston that prompted Longo to walk out of Monday night’s meeting.
“Councilor Weston and I have exchanged emails,” Longo said Tuesday afternoon. “We both realize the people’s work is too important to forget about and we need to keep that in perspective.”
The heated words between the two councilors came after Longo asked why the proposal for three more members — all of whom will be current or former patients of the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor — was being made known to him for the first time at a full council meeting.
“I’m just wondering why it’s not on our agenda tonight, having never been discussed at a government operations committee meeting or anything at all,” Longo said on a video recording of the meeting reviewed by the Bangor Daily News. “If this happens, I would unfortunately have to vote against it because — I don’t know if this was a backroom deal or something like that. I’m not saying that either — I’m just wondering why it’s on our agenda. Maybe someone could answer that.”
Weston pointed out that the matter was on the council’s revised agenda.
“If you spent less time talking and more time listening during official business, you would understand most of the things that are happening,” Weston said to Longo.
City Manager Cathy Conlow then explained that city staff members met with the two councilors — Joe Baldacci and Nelson Durgin — who are the official council representatives on the committee and they decided to recommend that patients be added to the 13-member committee quickly. Time is of the essence, Conlow and some councilors said, because the Legislature may be a month or less away from holding talks on a proposal to close the facility, leaving Maine with just one public psychiatric facility — the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.
Councilor James Gallant said neither his nor Longo’s agenda packets included the revised agenda items. Both Weston and Councilor Pat Blanchette said Tuesday that the councilors discovered soon after the meeting that the packets actually did contain all the revisions, but some were attached in a different order.
After Weston made his sharp comment to Longo at Monday night’s meeting, he called on Longo to speak, and he did.
“Sure, I might have gotten elected in 2010 and sure I might’ve been, or might be, 23 presently, but for the chair of the Bangor City Council — and I don’t care if you’re chair or not — to address me in that manner is disrespectful and unbecoming of your office,” Longo told Weston. “Don’t you ever do that again and I demand an apology for your actions. It was very distasteful and it better not happen again.”
Longo added that Weston had insulted him as well as anyone who voted for him. He repeated his demand for an apology.
Weston then recognized Councilor Ben Sprague after saying: “Very good. Thank you, Councilor Longo.”
Longo bristled and repeated his demand. Weston said, “I heard you. Councilor Sprague.”
Longo repeated his demand twice more before Weston responded, “Councilor Longo, enough.”
“I’m not your son, OK! I ask for an apology,” Longo said. After Sprague said that this was a conversation that they should probably have “off hours,” Longo gathered up his materials, stood up and left the meeting. He did not return.
“I said I was sorry to the other councilors and city staff who were there because I shouldn’t have left,” Longo said Tuesday afternoon.
It wasn’t the first time a councilor has stormed out of the City Council chambers.
“I think Buddy Gass did it several times,” said Blanchette, who has been a Bangor councilor for a total of 18 years since 1989. “There will be disagreements, but you have to keep things behind closed doors and we need to remember we’re there to do the people’s business. I’m sorry the people of Bangor had to see that last night, but we will get through this and do the people’s business.”
Weston and Longo sparred last month over a potential conflict of interest brought up by Longo regarding the donation by Weston’s Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications business of software to the city for use with the city’s new website.
Both said Monday night’s spat won’t affect their ability to work together in the future.
“Oh, absolutely not,” Longo said. “Professionally we owe it to the people of Bangor to patch things up.”
“I think this 100 percent has nothing to do with any previous incidents or arguments,” said Weston.
“Their relationship is completely and totally up to them,” Blanchette said. “I just hope the council backs off and doesn’t pick sides in this. Those two need to sit down and settle this out. They’re both grown men.”
After Longo left the meeting Monday night, the council voted 8-0 in favor of expanding the Dix committee to 16 members.