JACKMAN, Maine — The Jackman Select Board voted unanimously on Tuesday morning to fire the town manager, whose support of racial segregation and condemnation of Islam put the town in what most locals saw as an unflattering light.
Town manager Tom Kawczynski was dismissed four days after the Bangor Daily News reported that he is the founder and leader of New Albion, a pro-white organization that actively opposes people “from different cultures” coming to northern New England.
The roughly 45 Jackman residents who crowded into their town hall early Tuesday greeted Kawczynski’s ouster as welcome news. One woman let out a small cheer.
“Jackman is great again,” said James Waycott, 43, who recently became a full-time town resident after having long spent summers there.
Kawczynski’s views on race, culture and religion brought intense scrutiny to this small community near the Canadian border, with local, state and national organizations declaring they make him unfit to serve as a town official.
In exchange for $30,000 in severance pay, Kawczynski signed an agreement not to sue the town. Officially, his was a “no cause” dismissal.
After the meeting, the 37-year-old Kawczynski was unrepentant. He said he signed the contract simply to take the national spotlight off Jackman and said depictions of his views in the news media have been inaccurate.
“I reject categorically the suggestion that I am a racist, a bigot, a Nazi or any of the other foul names which have been attributed to me or my wife,” Kawczynski said. “I lost a job today, but I have gained a cause. And I am not going to stop this fight.”
He did not answer questions nor say whether he intends to stay in Jackman. He moved to the town from New Hampshire in June to take the job as town manager.
Kawczynski told the BDN last week that he wants to preserve this region’s white majority and to keep out Muslims but that his group welcomes people of all backgrounds, as long as their culture is “rooted in Western civilization.”
As of Friday evening, posts on the New Albion website referred to Islam as “barbarism” and suggested that America would be better off if people of different races “voluntarily separate.” These statements appear to have been removed.
Announcement of Kawczynski’s firing followed an hourlong, closed-door meeting of the four selectmen, the town lawyer and Kawczynski. As locals awaited the board’s decision, many of them expressed hope that Kawczynski would be fired and that the town could begin to repair its reputation.
Connie Guay, 69, said she traveled to India two years ago for a Muslim friend’s wedding.
“When they hear this news [of Kawczynski’s views], they’re not going to want to come to Jackman to visit me,” Guay said. “This town is a beautiful tourist town. We invite everyone. There was never any discrimination.”
Along with many locals, the decision to fire Kawczynski was welcomed by a number of state and national groups that promote diversity.
“We’re big supporters of the First Amendment. And everyone has the right to their own religious and political views, even if they’re bigoted, but you really don’t have the right to impose those views through some kind of public office,” Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Washington, D.C-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said after Kawczynski’s firing.
Larry Mead, president of the Maine Town, City and County Management Association and town manager of Old Orchard Beach, praised the “swiftness” and unanimity of the Jackman board’s decision.
Kawczynski, whose annual salary was about $49,000, had been on probationary employment status, Jackman officials said.
Since November, the Arizona native has been been running a website and Facebook page for New Albion, which promotes “traditional Western values emphasizing the positive aspects of our European heritage” in northern New England and Maritime Canada.
“I hate no race and I love all people, but I do love white people,” Kawczynski said Tuesday. “And I love white people as white people.”
Town attorney Warren Shay said that the local government does not challenge Kawczynski’s right to hold controversial views. The town paid him $30,000 to “settle the matter and get it done today,” Shay said.
Kawczynski, who had worked for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire, was hired by Jackman amid the rise of the so-called alt-right and a resurgence around the country of white nationalist movements that have felt buoyed by the Trump’s election. Kawczynski came to Jackman at a moment of crisis for the remote, Somerset County community.
Last summer, Jackman, which has a population of 862 as of the most recent census and is more than 50 miles from the nearest hospital, was at risk of losing around-the-clock emergency medical care.
As this threat loomed, Kawczynski was hired as manager from among 14 applicants after multiple interviews and a background check, according to a news release from the town. “The hiring process included the Board as well as six citizens who went to great lengths in reviewing each application,” the release said.
Shay said the town did a good job vetting candidates but that “some people just fly under the radar.” The selectmen learned about Kawczynski’s views from news reports last week and will review the social media accounts of future job applicants, he said.
Glenn Levesque, who owns the Bishops Motel, said that Kawczynski’s work had been “instrumental” in helping the town keep 24-hour urgent care. But, the 56-year-old said, the ambulance service is still at risk and the former manager’s divisive personal views made it impossible for him to be an effective advocate for Jackman.
“I think people will understand that he’s not the town and our needs haven’t changed,” Levesque said.
With Kawczynski out of office, Selectman Alan Duplessis’ focus is on improving Jackman’s public image.
Before leaving the town hall Tuesday, he pointed to a plaque on the wall from Bogalusa, Louisiana, thanking Jackman for sending lumber to help rebuild a school after Hurricane Katrina.
“That’s the real Jackman,” Duplessis said.
BDN writer Alex Acquisto contributed to this report.
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