Thank you

Thanks to all for the kind words and hard work! Starting today, our next job must be to protect MaineCare, secure the social safety net, seek justice for all, and bridge the $756 million budget gap. For Maine’s sake, we are all in this together.

East Bayside in the spotlight

Nice to see some recognition for this neighborhood’s many good qualities. Check out today’s Press Herald story.

Still need to register or vote absentee?

From the Portland City Clerk’s office:

The Portland City Clerk’s office will be open Thursday, Nov. 1 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. for absentee voting and voter registration for Tuesday’s election. Thursday is the last day for voters to apply for an absentee ballot. Absentee ballots can be returned to the City Clerk’s office between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Friday and Monday, and until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Residents can register to vote in person at the City Clerk’s office before Nov. 6. On Election Day, residents must register at their polling place. All local polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6. For more detailed information about where or how to vote, contact the City Clerk’s office at 874-8677.

Heating Season is Here: Know Your Rights

Maine’s winter heating season has officially started, following a record number of CMP electric shutoffs for consumers who could not keep up with bills.

“Consumers better know their rights,” said former state Rep. Herb Adams, the longest-serving member of the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee.

“Just before temperatures drop, the number of disconnects shot up,” said Adams. “Winter rules are different, and provide consumer protections longer, with help available sooner.”

The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC), in its annual report, said Central Maine Power disconnected service to 29,554 Maine homes in 2011, a sharp increase of 60 percent over 2010.

CMP cites the national economy for the increase. “But CMP privatized their bill collection efforts, and beefed-up collection methods meant more shutoffs, even in the middle of a summer heat wave, endangering the health of elderly people and infants,” said Adams. “Winter gives consumers a chance to regroup under new rules and new protections.”

Under Maine law, gas and electric service cannot be cut off during the peak winter heating season, which runs from Oct. 15 to April 15. Additionally, PUC rules bar utilities from shutting off any customer between Nov. 15 and April 15 without explicit permission from the commission’s Consumer Protection Division.

Rules also require a full information packet explaining consumers’ rights and options be mailed or delivered to homes which have lost heat or light service since last April 15.

Letters from the utility company, phone calls and in-person attempts at contact are all required before a winter disconnection can take place, said Adams.

Consumers can contact the PUC’s Consumer Assistance Division toll-free at 1-800-452-4699 to work out a payment schedule and get free help to find ways to meet the bills.

These include:

  • A year-round Low Income Assistance Program (LIAP) that provides utility bill discounts or credits to challenged families.
  • An “Energy Crisis Intervention Program” for eligible families who get disconnection notices but still cannot negotiate or honor an existing payment plan.
  • Emergency assistance from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services when a disconnection is imminent.
  • Eligible customers on oxygen pumps and ventilators at least 8 hours a day may qualify for a utility credit to cover the cost of electricity for life-saving equipment.

“Customers should contact their utility first – in Portland, CMP or Northern Utilities – and if not satisfied, call the PUC’s Consumer Assistance Division,” said Adams.

As a legislator, Adams sponsored the original laws that created many of the above consumer protections. “In a district that includes some of Portland’s most challenged and low-income neighborhoods, a little help can go a long way toward keeping families stable during the darkest months of the year,” he said. “These winter rules are good for all of Maine.”


Farewell, Steve

Steve Huston

(Press Herald photo by John Patriquin)

Yesterday I was honored to deliver the eulogy for Steve Huston, a strong advocate for and from Portland’s homeless community. Steve had his demons, and though he fought them bravely, he was not always able to keep them at bay. But he also had a great deal of energy and passion which he devoted to seeking justice for the poorest and most troubled people of Portland. In that, he was an inspiration and a source of hope for many.

It was a moving event with a large crowd, held at the Preble Street Resource Center, where he was a former resident. Many people wore tie-dyed T-shirts in honor of Steve’s favorite attire.

I hope he was able to see what an impact he had made on so many lives. Even more, I hope that the people of Portland carry forward his message of justice and compassion for those most in need — not least in their decisions about how to vote in a few weeks.

Campaign and vane

Who would fire a gun at a church? Well, according to Portland legend, an inventor’s rifle may have left a dent in the First Parish weathervane — and restoration teams are now looking into whether there’s any evidence for the legend. I got a chance to look at the vane up close while out campaigning this week, and the Portland Daily Sun has the story.

Portland as an arts mecca

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow was a creative Portlander long before there was an arts district!

Big Business gets TIFs, so why not Arts Districts? The creative economy has saved Downtown Portland, and brought life back to many a Main Street in Maine towns where our traditional local economy is under stress or has vanished. You don’t have to flee to the mall to fill storefronts with talent, creativity, and art. The creative economy has its eye on tomorrow!

On that note, I was pleased to see that Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation recognized the Portland Creative Economy TIF (Tax Increment Financing district) as Maine’s sole contribution to its “Bright Ideas” list for innovative government programs.

The TIF, which establishes the Arts District downtown and allows the city to finance arts programs with revenues to be generated from the district, was not my idea, but I was proud to sponsor it in the Legislature after Justin Alfond — then with the League of Young Voters, now state senator for Portland — suggested it to me in 2008.

Of course, Portland’s many amazing creative people do not need an Ivy League school to tell them they’re doing great work! But it’s good to be recognized in any case — especially as the Ash Center is part of the Kennedy School of Government, where I studied in the State Executives Program.



Shout-out to state workers

I’m grateful for every endorsement, but I was particularly proud to receive one from the MSEA, Maine State Employees Association (SEIU Local 1989). I’ve known many state employees and found them to be dedicated people, many of whom choose to work for the state rather than pursue higher pay elsewhere because they care about serving the people of Maine. I’m grateful for the work they do and hope to have the honor of serving them and all working families in the Legislature once more.

Helping Helen Hunt

I talk with Helen Hunt on an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?”

It is customary for candidates to make a point of their celebrity connections, so here’s mine: Last spring I got to help actress Helen Hunt trace her Portland roots for an episode of the NBC show “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Her great-great-grandfather, George Hunt, owned a supply store and was a major sugar importer and exporter of wood, which led him to become a very successful businessman since he was able to sell his sugar to create rum. His wife Augusta was a leader in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the show featured an interesting exploration of the problems that led to the temperance movement and its connection to empowering women to seek the vote.

It’s not every day that the work of a local historian includes encounters with Hollywood actresses! This was a fun opportunity to explore an interesting episode in Portland’s past.

It wasn’t Miss Hunt’s first trip to Maine — she spent time in the Augusta area in 2004 for the filming of “Empire Falls,” based on the book by retired Colby professor Richard Russo.

Malaga Island: A bittersweet centennial

A photo from Malaga Island in 1882.

AUDIO: Excerpt from Herb Adams speech to descendants of Malaga Islanders, September 2010.

It went almost unnoticed in in the hectic legislative session of April 2010, but a bill I sponsored, formally apologizing to the people of Malaga Island and their descendants, remains one of my proudest achievements.

Malaga is now a beautiful, uninhabited place. 100 years ago this year, it was the scene of a grave injustice. In the very early 20th century, Malaga was home to a colony of very poor people, most of mixed race, struggling to make a living on an inhospitable scrap of land off the coasts of Phippsburg and Harpswell. Driven by the unsavory racial attitudes of the time and the advent of wealthy vacationers on the Maine coast, Gov. Frederick Plaisted in 1912 “cleaned up” Malaga, moving some of its residents to the Maine Home for the Feeble-Minded and giving the rest a month to pack up and leave. State workers burned down the islanders’ homes and removed the graves from their tiny cemetery.

It’s a disgraceful story, yet one that must be acknowledged if we are to truly honor the struggles of Mainers of color, and move toward a society like the one Martin Luther King envisioned. Later that summer, I was proud to address a gathering that included many descendants of the original Malaga residents, to read them this resolution and to witness then-Gov. John Baldacci telling them “We’re sorry.” As Bill Nemitz described in the Press Herald, there were tears and hugs, and at long last there was healing.

As I said then, “Peace, at last to Malaga. May scientists explore its secrets. May students study its histories. May Mother Nature reclaim her own. And may the old ghosts find peace at last.”

2010 resolution apologizing to people of Malaga Island

The 2010 resolution I sponsored, apologizing to the people of Malaga Island and their descendants. (Click for larger version)

Web site by Pat Washburn, Eunice Pomfret Media.