Editor’s note: This report includes an attempt at a joke that is racist. The BDN is including it to give readers full context.
LEWISTON, Maine — Shane Bouchard resigned as mayor of Maine’s second-largest city on Friday amid an investigation by Lewiston police and the attorney general’s office after allegations from a woman who said she gave him emails from his opponent’s 2017 campaign.
Bouchard resigned in a hasty City Hall news conference on Friday amid a scandal that began Tuesday when Heather Berube — who alleged an affair with the former mayor that he has denied to the Sun Journal — made allegations against him at a City Council meeting.
Those allegations included election shenanigans and an unverified claim of “human trafficking.” It’s unclear what’s being investigated by Lewiston police and Attorney General Aaron Frey’s office. Frey spokesman Marc Malon confirmed the joint investigation into unspecified allegations against Bouchard on Friday, and the probe was first reported by the Sun Journal.
In recent days, Berube has publicized screenshots of text messages with Bouchard, including one in which he shares a racist joke that he has admitted to, asking her what “you call 2 old black people sitting on your front lawn.” The punchline was “antique farm equipment.”
He announced his resignation to reporters on Friday, a step that installed Kristen Cloutier, the council president and a Democratic state representative, as mayor.
Bouchard said he has “made many mistakes” while also being a victim of “very damaging rumors.” He blamed “a political culture where the media does not discriminate between facts and rumors” and said he couldn’t fight the allegations effectively from the mayor’s seat.
“I strongly believe that fight will be better fought as a private citizen,” Bouchard said. “I have made this decision with deep consideration as to what is also best for my business and family.”
The 2017 mayoral race between Bouchard, who owns a landscaping company, and progressive activist Ben Chin morphed into a proxy battle between Maine Republicans and Democrats. Former Gov. Paul LePage endorsed Bouchard and the parties did organizing work in the city.
One of the key events in the race was when an anonymously operated website published emails from Chin’s campaign, including one in which he called certain voters “racists.” It was later revealed that Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party, operated the website, though Maine ethics regulator declined to investigate the party’s ties to it in 2018.
Savage maintained that the site was operated independently of his work at the party, but Berube has said she leaked the emails to Bouchard, which he admitted to Maine Public. However, Bouchard and Savage have said the former mayor wasn’t the source of the published emails.
Bouchard’s racist text hearkens back to racial tension that has long existed in Lewiston. The city’s face has been changed by the thousands of immigrants — most of them from Somalia — who have come to the area since the turn of the century. LePage twice won the former Democratic stronghold where he was born.
During his campaign, Bouchard took a more conciliatory tone than Robert Macdonald, his conservative predecessor, who said in 2012 that immigrants should “leave your culture at the door.” In 2002, then-Mayor Larry Raymond was also criticized for an open letter to immigrants saying the city was “maxed-out financially, physically and emotionally” by the influx.