Le Maire Est La Femme
Gender and the Fall From Grace
Bonita Belanger, Mayor of Biddeford
Published with permission by:
December 12, 2002
In December of 1991, Bonita Pothier Belanger closed her office door for the final time. A dynamic, creative mayor, credited with numerous changes and programs that permanently altered the city of Biddeford, she had been defeated in her bid for a second term by Councilman Roger Normand, a man who had found recognition within a vocal opposition that had engulfed Belanger’s term in office. Despite harsh criticism and pledges to eradicate her programs and innovations, her technical and political successes remain in place, ten years after the electorate shunned her style and substance and convincingly removed her from office. In retrospect, one must wonder how a woman of so much talent and intelligence could have lost to a man who offered no visionary ideas and no realistic practical solutions to the many problems that faced the city at that time. How did her gender and its presentation within a Franco-American community lead to the defeat of a mayor who, upon election, had offered the city so much?
In the Spring of 1989, Democrat Michael P. Cantara, in his final year as mayor, decided to seek the office of District Attorney. His term had been a great success, and a second term was conceded to be his for the asking. Franco, articulate, and personable, he conveyed a positive image in opposition to the stereotypical, mill town caricature that Mainers often recollect when thinking of Biddeford and its politicians. In August, Cantara, and a group of old friends, including Bonita Belanger, gathered for a dinner that was not as it seemed. It was an elaborate ploy not only to inform Belanger that Cantara was not going to seek reelection, but also to convince her that she would be the ideal successor. Though her husband was enthusiastic, Belanger was “incredulous, as it was nothing that I had ever considered.” Months earlier, she had made the decision to focus on her children, as she felt that she had been involved with “too much for too long” and believed that she needed the time to “grow inward.”
Urged to consider the possibilities, Belanger spent the upcoming days deliberating. For two weeks, Cantara was a regular visitor at the Belanger home, often dropping by for dinner or for a quick chat on the positives of being mayor. Pressured, Belanger felt trapped, believing that the idea was a losing proposition for Cantara and his supporters, as “you are backing someone who can’t win in this community, because I am a woman.” With motherhood being her most important vocation, she worried about not having adequate time to devote to the city. Cantara assured her that it was no more than a part-time position, something that, after a few beleaguered months in office, Belanger often chided her advising friend.
With Cantara’s reassurances and her family’s blessings, Belanger agreed to seek the office of mayor, and a meeting was held with potential supporters. As most attendees were not privy to Belanger’s decision, initial discussion centered on finding a replacement for Cantara. After numerous attempts to sway the mayor to reconsider, the bombshell was dropped. Bonnie Belanger would be the candidate, and Cantara was endorsing her. The group was stunned. Wilfred Pombriant, a wily, 35 year veteran of Biddeford politics, perplexedly and suddenly blurted, “A woman? Biddeford is not ready for a woman mayor! Who is this Bonnie Belanger?” Unknown to Pombriant, the chuckling Belanger was sitting right next to him. A woman had never been elected mayor of Biddeford, and, as an old French-Canadian, patriarchal community, such a possibility loomed as a potential disaster to many within the room. Belanger would have to overcome an ingrained, sexist attitude in order to insure election.
The Franco community of Biddeford in 1989 still resonated with patriarchal fervor, especially among the older inhabitants. Two women had previously sought election for mayor, and both had been defeated. In 1971, with no alternative to run against insurgent Democrat Gilbert Boucher in the primary election, the Democratic Committee asked Annette Ouellette to seek the position. Considering it to be her civic duty, Ouellette agreed, eventually losing to Boucher by a 2-1 margin. Claire Malasnik who ran for the position in 1975 against Lucien “Babe” Dutremble, had even utilized her Franco name of Cordeau to bolster her attraction to French voters. After her defeat, Al Freeman, a celebrant at her opponent’s victory party said, “The city is not ready for a lady.” The comment typified the thinking of many, as it was a remnant of an old French tradition that had crossed the Canadian border into the mill towns of New England. The male controlled family life, while the dutiful female remained “subordinate and submissive to the father,” or husband. For hundreds of years, “French-Canadian women were revered for their role as mother, (while being) denounced as intellectual and logical inferiors to their men.... In French-Canadian society, women were seen as chattel that were to bear the burden of motherhood and family.” This thinking was generationally linked to the earliest French women, who were brought to New France as the wives and legal property of male settlers. Such patriarchal beliefs had diminished over time, but the cultural bias reverberated beneath the surface. By 1989, through assimilation and the erosion of ‘la survivance’, the Franco determination to maintain cultural identity, adherence to traditional familial roles had waned, though it was still present among the older voters of the city. Thus, Belanger’s attempt to gain election clashed with a long-standing tradition within the Biddeford community. Mayors, as city leaders, were viewed as masculine! Leadership was the man’s domain! Gender issues would consistently undercut her ability to lead as mayor during the next two years.
Within a few weeks, former mayor Robert Farley and local activist Jo Anne Twomey also announced their candidacies in the upcoming Democratic Primary. Having two women compete for the position was unusual, but Twomey’s entry initiated the emergence of a new type of politics within the city. Twomey had secured notoriety as an outspoken critic of the MERC waste to energy plant in downtown Biddeford. Voicing her opposition, she had engineered candlelight vigils and protests to publicize the plant’s alleged dangers. Her candidacy originated the infusion of guerilla theater into the local political landscape, and its corresponding development of a symbiotic relationship with an eager local press.
Belanger adopted a very traditional method of seeking mayoral election by securing a slate of candidates who would run various positions, and she eventually accumulated over $6000 in campaign contributions from her family, friends, and the business community. On September 26, in a Mayoral debate, the differences between the candidates were accentuated. While Bob Farley spoke of his past accomplishments as a legislator and mayor, JoAnne Twomey, in a contrived attempt to tap into the ethnic vote, greeted the audience in French and jabbed at the city’s failures in downtown revitalization. It was, however, Belanger’s closing comments that captured the spirit and the energy of the candidate and her moment. She said:
...There are those who have asked is Biddeford ready for a female mayor? Let me answer. Biddeford has a history of women who have worked long and hard in its mills and industries, the same women who cared for large families and volunteered countless hours to our schools and churches. This community, along with others in this state, elected Margaret Chase Smith as Senator and Olympia Snowe.... We have seen the appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor as Supreme Court Justice. Margaret Thatcher has led Great Britain for 10 years. And recently, one of the world’s most conservative countries, Pakistan, elected Benazir Bhutto as its prime minister. What is the common denominator here? Intelligence, hard work, a commitment to a better future. This has nothing to do with gender. This has everything to do with leadership.
Belanger had simply and effectively made gender an issue in the campaign. She confronted it boldly and directly. It was her vision that Biddeford could transcend the thousands of women who had spent so many years working in the mills. Now a woman had an opportunity to lead the city of former weavers, bobbers, and spinners.
After the distribution of 4000 leaflets and introductions to hundreds of people, the Belanger organization, on primary day, awaited the results from the city’s new voting machines. The numbers dispersed all doubts. At the victory celebration, an excited Belanger, surrounded by family, said: “I never expected a full sweep of the wards. I felt very strongly that it was going to be a close race.” Though her two opponents together polled more votes than Belanger, her ticket proved unbeatable; her primary victory was a mandate. Bob Farley conceded at 10:30 that evening. Despite newspaper endorsement, Twomey, in tears, admitted defeat, saying, “I feel I did well. I just feel that the poor people lost tonight.” Twomey’s comment tapped into the visible and invisible differences between the mill town, working class of Biddeford, and those who, through formal education, had entered the professional ranks. Belanger, the daughter of a postal worker, had, in Twomey’s logic, become disconnected from her Franco roots, because of her college degree, her business successes, and her dominant intellect, personality, and physical appearance. During the upcoming two years, through constant media repetition and amplification, that flawed caricature would grow and resonate among Biddeford voters.
In the general election on November 7, Belanger defeated Republican Albert Lefebvre. The Journal Tribune had endorsed her, stating that her “devotion to the city and her breadth of experience put her in an excellent position to understand the city’s sometimes conflicting needs.” Emphasizing her election as the city’s first female mayor, as well as being the first Franco-American President of the Chamber of Commerce, the paper also noted her drive, her spirit, and her sense of destiny. In a 35% voter turnout, she again swept all seven wards. It was a resounding victory.
Belanger’s role as a Franco mayor, mother, and wife would pervade every aspect of her new public life. During the campaign, she had heard “from ward clerks that some people voted against her because she was a woman.” Shockingly, even women voted against her because of their belief that women belonged in the home, not in the mayor’s chair. Belanger, however, considered her sex as an advantage in the political arena. She argued that she would engage problems differently than men, as women “attend to details and are more compassionate and tolerant, have high expectations and expect people to tow the line.” An educated, intelligent woman, she failed to grasp the threatening reality of the complex gender issues within the city. She did not consider the ramifications of a woman who might appear to be too forceful, too strong, or too autocratic in handling the numerous crises that would grip her administration, thus contradicting the Franco, safe, passive role of Biddeford women. In some city circles, Belanger may have appeared to be even too feminine, too womanly. While men resented towing her line, women resented a woman who challenged that which they had never dared to do, breaking the shackles of cultural repression.
During Annette Ouellette’s campaign, sexism, too, was prevalent. One man bluntly told her that “I have enough of my wife telling me what to do at home, without a woman telling me what to do from City Hall,” while another incredulously asked, “What does a woman know about culverts?” The Biddeford Democratic Party in 1971 was a male bastion of power, and the idea of a woman compromising male traditional authority was controversial. By1989, the residual sexism within the community similarly could not be underestimated. Michael P. Cantara argues that current mayor, Donna Dion, has had an easier time dealing with issues of gender, because Belanger had broken that ground. He believes that “sexism in Biddeford was the unspoken, 300 pound gorilla that Belanger constantly wore on her back.” In his view, “an inflexible male was viewed as a strong leader, but a strong, first woman mayor was seen as a bitch.” Within the city’s political world, Belanger’s election turned gender roles upside down. Many people did not know how to deal with a woman who imposed stiff demands upon city workers and who envisioned sweeping changes within the scope of government. They had grudgingly learned to accept female councilors, but refused to accept a female as a mayoral authority figure. They simply couldn’t understand why she couldn’t simply leave things well enough alone.
Belanger (now Pothier) today agrees with Cantara’s assessment. She said, “No one expected that I would be propelled onto a stage where I would pummel the old boy network, and that a woman would not be just a mere puppet or a spokesperson in the political arena.” While campaigning, she did not hear sexist comments, nor did she fully understand the city’s sexist landscape. Recently rereading old clippings from those years, she discovered that she was consistently framed, in photos and in print, while sitting in a rocking chair, wearing a skirt, wearing a scarf, drinking coffee, all stereotypical images that “imparted a sense of a mothering, smoothing, calming environment.” Women were viewed in traditional, mothering roles. Pothier believes that she
jeopardized the status quo. Not only did I come out forcefully in what had traditionally been a male arena, but men view that as an enticement to the women who surrounded them, and I think that was very unsettling. There was a sense that women were not content in the role that had been relegated to them, and I put out something different. This was way too threatening. It wasn’t just threatening to the status quo politically, it was threatening to the traditional role of family and motherhood and women: the traditional Franco-American ideal, the submissive female.
Donna Dion, the current mayor of Biddeford, says that there has always been the general idea that the leader of the community should be male. The man of the house was king. When she first ran for office in 1993, some people were adamant that she could not do the job because of her sex, as “I was suppose to be in a suit, a man in power.” The mind set was that as a female, “I would be a hysterical woman, emotional, and off the wall, as it fits the stereotype.” Though such stereotypes have diminished, Dion still hears occasional chauvinistic references. Among city councilors, today, she suggests, are men who are convinced that they are more politically astute than she. Believing inherently that they are more competent than a woman, they will often conduct policy without her knowledge or approval. These councilors simply “oppose women who make decisions.” They believe that they, as males, “are more knowledgeable, more capable, and more able to wheel and deal.” The remnants of patriarchy still cling to the Biddeford political world. Dion has more than once been reprimanded, in reference to her election and to the term of Bonita Belanger, by men who say, “See, we did that once, but we corrected it and got rid of her.” Belanger was the prototype; for some, she was a target.
As mayor, Belanger was soon confronted with gender confusion within City Hall itself. During her first weeks, a secretary informed her that a woman, on the phone, wished to speak to the mayor. Identifying herself, Belanger greeted the woman who retorted, “No, no, no, I want to speak to the mayor. You are not the mayor, because the mayor is suppose to be a man!” Similarly, when Belanger phoned the Fire Chief, his secretary dutifully wrote down the caller’s name, but never immediately notified the chief of the call, as she had been ordered to do. Belanger had not identified herself as being the mayor. When the chief later received the message, he reprimanded his secretary for her failure to notify him of the mayor’s call. She replied, “No, that can’t be true. It was a woman who called!” The office was still perceived to be a male dominion, despite the election of a woman.
Because of her forceful vision, Belanger evolved into a threatening individual to many male politicians, but women too became offended by her confident demeanor. In March 1990, a woman, in a public letter wrote, “As a resident of Biddeford and a professional woman, I feel that I must voice my opinion concerning the negative impression our mayor is giving of women in the workplace.” Resenting Belanger’s children at play in City Hall, she felt that the mayor should hire a babysitter when she was at the office. She was also appalled by Belanger’s wearing of “designer jeans” to a city meeting. The mayor is “a perfect example of what women should not do if they want to achieve equality and be respected by men in professional jobs. If Mayor Belanger really does not know what to wear or how to behave as a professional woman, there are many good books and magazines available on the subject.” Others too remember hearing similar comments. Edward Maxson recalls people complaining of Belanger’s children being babysat by city workers, while she entertained in her office! While campaigning, the mayor had often stated that her children would be part of her office. They attended meetings and were a visible extension of her personality. She assumed that women would accept that aspect of her femininity. Instead, she was resented for her duality of roles. Many women who had spent their best years, staying at home with their children, were angered by the realization that she, and hence them, could do it all. Their bitterness seemingly colored their views of Bonnie Belanger.
Even in non-Franco cultures, feminists consider the ideal role of men and women to be identical, while other women continue to respond in a socially acceptable fashion. Traditional women view themselves as being inherently different from men and therefore “agree with the traditional sex stereotypes and define the ideal man and the ideal woman in these terms. It appears that they have to a greater extent integrated the values, roles and expectations associated with their sex.” To adopt the feminist perspective would demand great change, and many women do not perceive themselves possessing the ability or skills to perform in a male setting. Instead of creating risk, they remain in those traditional areas in which they know that they can perform. Belanger, though she would not have defined herself as a feminist, clearly exemplified feminist beliefs, while many women within the Franco culture manifested the restricted tendencies of those who were trapped in tradition, and in some cases, fear. The backlash from women that Belanger felt seemingly had its roots in transitional gender identity and the collapse of cultural stereotypes. Belanger’s success threatened the status quo.
Mark Johnston, mayor of Saco during Belanger’s term, recently said that he had once told Belanger that her biggest problem as mayor was that “you wear a skirt. I’m suppose to be assertive! You have that bitch factor.” Being male, he could politically do anything. Johnston, a single parent, regularly brought his children to the office. He banned public access television coverage, and even denied public comment at council meetings, yet he was never attacked for his actions. Instead, he was viewed as a strong, forceful leader, exemplifying a male role. Belanger, according to Johnston, repeatedly was defined by her gender and was routinely attacked for doing exactly what he had done across the river. She was routinely criticized for asserting control of her meetings, banging her gavel too loudly, and limiting public comment. Johnston, or any male leader, could get away with what she could never do, because it was expected.  Richard Rhames argues that anyone who says that “sexism did not take place is a liar. We do have a patriarchy. Former mayor James Grattelo was more far high-handed and is a swamp rat, but people love him.” Being male allowed Grattelo greater latitude. Gender defined authoritarian, mayoral control. Assertive, forceful women were not embraced. in the Biddeford Franco setting.
Belanger was even ironically heckled while marching in the La Kermesse parade, a yearly French-Canadian festival devoted to family values. Bringing her three young children with her sparked outrage. She was attacked by both men and women, and was eviscerated by comments such as “Stay at home with your kids”, and “Get back to the kitchen where you belong.” Willie Pombriant, her auditor, later told her that more women than men were denouncing her conduct and public actions, a comment that stunned her. That observation was reinforced by the experiences of Annette Ouellette, who felt that when she ran for office, “women were not for women,” that it was a man’s world. Today, the attitude of those years still astound Belanger, recalled how she “was skewered for having my kids around and skewered for being too forceful.” While John Kennedy could create a warm perception by utilizing photo sessions of his children playing in his office, similar photos of Belanger’s children sparked disgust. Trapped in the Franco stereotype, it was impossible for her to satisfy the demands of her career, the challenges of motherhood, and the expectations of the electorate. She was criticized for being aggressive; attacked for “dressing too fancy, or putting on airs.” The community refused to allow her to concurrently be a mother, a wife, a mayor, and a businesswoman.
Belanger’s political and business success, in part, doomed her to criticism from older Franco-Americans. In the early 20th Century, Alfred Bonneau, editor of the popular local Franco newspaper La Justice, expressed the view that
Women should not vote at all. She should leave that area to men. Man is king and women should recognize that fact. I wish that some rich man would start a school to teach women to be good wives and mothers...Wives must work it is true..., but they must work in the home. Being a housewife is a very important profession. Besides, the homemaker is doing God’s work.
La Justice consistently echoed French-Canadian values. Many, if not most, of the people who voted for Belanger in 1989 were raised in families in which the male was the dominant figure. The traditional role of the woman remained within the home, where she fulfilled the important role of selfless mother and family manager. Bonneau’s views may have diminished, but had not disappeared. Belanger’s mother, Laurette Laflamme Pothier, states that she had been taught that the woman’s job to take care of the family. Having quit school at age 14 to go to work, an action that was not unusual prior to World War II, Pothier said that the education of women was considered to be a waste of time and money. She and her husband Charles recall arguments with relatives, who criticized their decision to send their daughters to college. Though the number of her first cousins exceeds fifty, Bonnie Pothier notes that only two, both males, have college degrees. According to Laurette, women were perceived as not being as tough as men; that they are not capable of taking the pressure. She added that many women in Biddeford were jealous of her daughter’s accomplishments, because she was intelligent and attractive. The French-Canadians “do not stand together. They don’t support each other and are envious if someone makes it! It’s part of their make-up as a culture.” When many voters went to the polls in 1989, they did so with the same background as Laurette Pothier. A major difference, however, was that Pothier was a voracious reader and attentive to the news, thus defying another old Biddeford tradition of being proud of not having read a book or a newspaper.
The lines of familial authority, as entrenched by early Franco immigrants, had been generationally instilled in many Biddeford households. Male roles were visible, autocratic, and linked to positions of power. Strangely, JoAnne Twomey did not seem anchored to such gender rigidity, but, in terms of her femininity, Twomey was not viewed as threatening, nor was she viewed as motherly or sensitive. Possessing a high school degree, not stylish in fashion, Twomey, a loud, bawdy woman, found acceptance within the working class. Well-attired, feminine, and dynamic, Belanger could not find that social niche, nor did she find it particularly attractive. Though family was important, she still craved intellectual challenge and professional advancement. Her success, her education, and her confidence catapulted her beyond the typical female expectations of Biddeford. Not doubting her capacities, she did not believe that she should be confined to roles associated with her sex, but instead identified with roles associated with their potential. Her individualism conflicted with the acceptable values of the French community, as it not only challenged the Franco tendency to be jealous of the success of others, but also threatened the accepted role of the subordinate female. In Biddeford, and other Franco cities, it is not uncommon for an individual, who is jealous of the success of another, to undermine that person by defamation and verbal attack. Belanger, because of her business and political successes, would be chastised by such comments as “She is proud. She forgets who put her there.” Others would ask “Why shouldn’t I have what she has?”. Not only did Belanger’s defiance of traditional gender behavior within a Franco community challenge the culturally accepted role, but her intelligence and independence propelled her socially forward, creating resentment and jealousy within some segments of the city. The cultural recourse was to tear her down through innuendo, slander, and rumor.
On December 5, 1989, Bonnie Pothier Belanger was sworn in as the first female mayor of Biddeford, Maine. After being administered the oath of office, the 33rd mayor of the city, in her inaugural address, stated that “It is gratifying to note that the question I raised in my closing remarks at the (mayoral) debate–‘Is Biddeford ready for a female mayor?’ has been so positively answered.” Prophetically, she added, “I realize that by virtue of being elected to office, one can become the object of public scrutiny. Elected officials can, and at times should be criticized.” Had she known what would occur during the next two years, one wonders if she would have been so enthusiastic to invite public scrutiny. That night, the city’s high school was damaged by an arsonist. Things would not get better.
Belanger’s vision of a better Biddeford soon confronted the grime of public ash from the MERC plant. Gender was an issue even in the world of waste disposal, as the mayor’s handling of the plant drew the condemnation of JoAnn Twomey, who in a letter to the editor on January 17, sarcastically referred to the mayor as the “Hostess with the Mostess” and effectively derided the mayor’s alleged ignorance regarding the facility. Twomey suggested that Belanger was simply a lap dog, following the whims of outside communities who were negotiating a new contract with the MERC owners. She believed that it was time to “get tough, not get the coffee,” a reference to Belanger’s polite practice of providing snacks and beverages for those meeting for discussions in her office. Ironically, Twomey, who would later characterize Belanger as dictatorial, implied that her possession of female stereotypical traits was mayoral weakness! Despite the criticism, Belanger viewed the plant pragmatically. Though she disliked the presence of the downtown facility, she discovered no viable alternatives and was therefore determined to develop a contract that was in the best interests of the city, environmentally and financially.
Strangely, the print media never suggested that Twomey’s words were those of a sore loser. Instead, the brazen outlandishness of her accusations enabled the press to anoint her as a citizen-activist. In her eyes, however, it was she who deserved the mayorship, not Bonnie Belanger. In the Franco tradition, jealousy dictated her actions, and there was nothing that she would not do to insure political victory. During one council meeting, Twomey baldly and publicly lied about information that had been presented at a workshop that the mayor had attended. Belanger, who views Twomey as the most dishonest person that she has ever met, was incredulous. She could not imagine anyone being able to lie so unashamedly. When Mark Johnston heard her story, he told her, “You are so naive. Of course she lies. She lies because it works.” For Twomey, political success translated into a “no holds barred” mentality. Though he does not believe that Twomey hated Belanger, Johnston admits that there was considerable jealousy. He views it as a gender issue. Defeated women “hate their female victors. Men simply move on, but women have cat fights.” Eric Wicklund, a former Journal Tribune reporter, disagrees, believing that the bitterness was more ingrained in Twomey’s connection with the anti-establishment world and Belanger’s connection to the status quo. City Clerk Clairma Matherne suggests that Twomey hated the former mayor because of the MERC issues. Nonetheless, Twomey’s negative actions towards Belanger seemingly far exceeded that which would be normally directed towards a mere political disagreement. Even today, in private, State Representative Twomey, uses obscene gestures and words to rail against Belanger. Her defeat initiated a vicious onslaught, that has not abated.
Twomey’s substantial letter writing campaign and the media’s fascination with her words and actions proved to be volatile fodder for citizens who eschewed change, as well as a considerable foe for a mayor who viewed the city as an entity that needed significant modifications. Modern media can be a fortuitous tool or an impregnable barrier to innovative government. A mayor who does not play by the rules of the news business is at political risk in any effort to effect modernization within the context of her administration. More ominously, in a Franco setting, the media’s portrayal of a female mayor can negatively affect the perception of her by her constituents. The press expected that Belanger would cooperate with their needs, but that status was not always fulfilled, increasing her vulnerability in terms of negative press. 
According to Michael Cantara, Belanger was unable to hide her disdain for the press, nor did she see the value of a good relationship. In some ways, this was a result of her political naivete and her business experience. Good government was simply a pragmatic matter of the identification and solution of problems. She did not realize that the press possessed different standards for measuring the workings of the public and private sectors. There existed no political rationale for her to cater to or work with the press, as she believed that her political actions would be justly reviewed and approved. As a reporter, Eric Wicklund today says that he worked very well with her, but that “she did not understand how to manipulate the press. She was very candid and did not use political double-talk. You knew that what she told you was always true, but she did not know how to work the system.” Honesty was a core trait with Belanger, and she never attempted to artificially manufacture stories or events for her own political gain. She was, at times, too honest and too blunt.
The significance of the issues that she faced during her administration proved even more problematic because, though she worked on principle, she did so without a political place to call home. She belonged to none of the old Franco political cliques. Being a Democratic mayor was irrelevant to her, and she did not foresee the political impact of her actions. Thus, as the press and critics began their relentless hounding, there was no one who would politically buffer her from the attacks. Importantly, there existed within the Franco political community, the tendency to destroy the political success of others, through spite or revenge. According to Josaphat T. Benoit, a former New Hampshire mayor, Francos are inclined to hold political grudges, wage verbal warfare against opponents, and allow their emotions to trump reason. This tendency, coupled with other traditional Franco attitudes, have been identified as possible reasons for the inability of Francos in New England to be able to consistently elect one of their own in statewide political offices. In Biddeford, where Democratic factions regularly battled for power within the party, verbal warfare often raged between the various camps. Twomey, however, escalated the war, utilizing the press as the delivery system for her contrived words and actions. Using demagoguery, she was, according to Robert Dodge, “a political terrorist who lobbed political grenades.” In 1990 and 1991, her target became Bonnie Belanger.
Belanger deeply believed that the press had an obligation to be fair and accurate in its reporting, but felt that during her term, local coverage was often inflammatory and out of context, thus doing a disservice to the residents who needed accuracy in order to understand the complexity of the city’s many pressing issues. Belanger admits to failing to recognize the power of the press in its ability to catalyze the public. Without media cooperation, her attempts of political innovation were jeopardized . While Twomey used the press to advance her agenda, Belanger increasingly became frustrated by the press’ inability to play according to the rules that she envisioned. Because of the radical changes that she would install, Belanger needed the press to accurately and forcefully convey her message.
The press became an obstacle to the innovations that Belanger sought to impose, not because of its overall lack of support for improvement, but because of its insistency to reduce issues to personality and political intrigue. Had Belanger been able to cultivate a better relationship with the press, she may have been able to mute the newspapers’ obsessive concern with the ongoing criticisms of her innovations by the public. Sam Zaitlin, a former mayor of Saco, believes that Twomey’s political techniques coincided with new developments within the Biddeford press itself. Zaitlin traces Twomey’s actions to the emergence of political guerilla theater in the 1960's, when protestors colluded with the emerging power of television. The 1968 Democratic Convention perfectly captured that relationship as demonstrators chanted “The Whole World is Watching” to eager cameramen who fed images to the hungry imaginations of voters everywhere. This pattern of deliberately staging events has accelerated and become a perfected skill by many politicians and activists. Twomey captured that success by utilizing techniques that were essentially new and untried in Biddeford politics. In a culture of passive femininity, Belanger could be easily trapped in a visual or auditory framing of authoritarianism, defiance, and arrogance, by sharply engineered manipulations of media events. In fact, Mark Johnston believes that Belanger would have been reelected mayor had she “pulled the plug on local public access,” just as he did. The inherent bias of the camera’s lens omits the effect of the entire proceeding and interpersonal dynamics. Viewers only see particular, selected happenings, and the captured image of a stern, angered Belanger would beam into living rooms to residents who were unaware of the raucous, disruptive behavior within the audience.
Zaitlin cites a Belanger press conference at Biddeford Pool, where the mayor launched the “Look Up Biddeford” campaign, the city’s attempt to offset the damaging negative publicity generated by the firings of the city clerk and personnel director, because of embezzlement and fraud. To enhance the city’s image, Belanger and business leaders created a program of advertising and public relations but the result was a disaster. As Belanger stoically read her remarks, an uninvited Twomey unashamedly and silently stood nearby, holding a sign that featured a belching MERC smokestack. Belanger was flabbergasted, not able to understand why anyone would stoop to sabotaging such a positive event. Mark Robinson, one of the architects of the campaign, blasted Twomey’s conduct. He wrote:
When JoAnn Twomey, uninvited, brought up her homemade sign to Biddeford Pool..., she personally torpedoed a genuine effort by private contributors to present positive images of the city to the rest of the state and the region. When Twomey showed up to say that it was a bad idea to say good things about Biddeford, a media frenzy ensued.... Reasonable individuals can deduce that JoAnn Twomey decided it was a bad idea to say good things about Biddeford the minute she found out Bonnie Belanger was the one who thought it might be a good idea to say good things about Biddeford... The question in my mind is how expensive will her personal vendetta ultimately prove to be?”
Twomey’s actions were inexcusable. She claimed that though she had been fighting to improve the city’s image for the past 3 years, Belanger’s program only attempted to hide the problems. In private, Belanger was furious, while publicly, she praised Twomey for “serving to make us look at a lot of different issues.” Though not being honest in her assessment of Twomey, Belanger could find no political solution to Twomey’s incessant public displays. The Journal Tribune, rather than viewing her as a malcontent, stated in an editorial that Twomey was not the problem. It instead blamed the city’s decision to place the waste to energy plant in the middle of downtown. Certainly, the placement was questionable, but Twomey’s target was as much Bonita Belanger as it was the MERC plant. For Belanger, the greatest disappointment was the Tribune’s decision to place, on the front page, a photo that captured both women at the event. It highlighted Twomey as a sentimental underdog, in her quest for political justice, and elevated her personality above the central issues of the publicity campaign. The picture also captured the wide chasm that separated the two women. Belanger, modern, stylish, and attractively feminine stood next to a plain, undistinguished woman. It was new Biddeford versus old, but the vision of the press conference had been upstaged by personality. To voters, the fashionable, aggressive mayor had seemingly distanced herself from the “memeres,” the mill workers and average housewives.
Twomey’s actions had crossed the border of propriety and “reaffirmed and cemented her identity as an activist.” Twomey’s canonization represented a dramatic shift in local politics. Previously, similar individuals would have been readily dismissed as cranks. Instead, her actions were legitimized by the press as political activism, a phrase that had never before existed in Biddeford politics. Twomey’s motives or even her knowledge of the facts were not considered important. Eric Wicklund was not appalled by Twomey’s actions, when he covered the Biddeford Pool fiasco. He said, “We had expected those things by that time. She always said what she wanted to say, and to hell with the consequences. She wanted a pulpit, while Bonnie always had the trappings of her office to worry about.” Reporters knew whom to call for an appropriate comment, and they accepted what they heard at face value. The words of JoAnne Twomey or the actions of MERC always guaranteed easy news. Belanger was more reluctant.
Twomey’s contribution to the destruction of Belanger’s mayoral term is indisputable, yet her personality is seemingly either revered or despised. A Twomey friend, Richard Rhames says that “she has the best political instincts of any politician that I know. She has a great sense of right and wrong and has a soft spot in her heart for majoritarian interests.” He believes that Twomey, being in touch with the poor and labor, was better on the issues than Belanger. Others disagree with Rhames’ assessment. Richard Potvin, a former councilor and former neighbor of Twomey, unabashedly calls her a “nut who lives in another world. And she’s a good liar, and that is why she gets elected.” Former Councilor Stephen Beaudette is more gracious, simply saying that Twomey is successful because “of the “perception” of her being a representative who was identified with looking out for the little guy. She has the appearance of great sincerity.” Nonetheless, Beaudette and Roch Angers, clearly remember her distracting, insulting behavior when she sat, with them, on the city council.
The modern media, in its writing of the news, possesses three inherent biases that frame its reporting: personalization, symbolization, and simplification. These biases determine what segments of what events will be presented to readers, and these presentations often determine the success or failures of programs and politicians because of the understanding of the reading audience. All three biases were utilized by the press in its coverage and analysis of Bonita Belanger, and their utilization sabotaged her innovations, as well as her political reputation. In addition, the framing of Belanger’s actions, within the context of the particular biases of the local newspapers, reverberated against traditional Franco values and stereotyping, as her actions and words, as framed by the press, created the illusion of a woman who defied long established values of conduct. By appearing too forceful, she alienated older Biddeford citizens, who viewed passivity as an admirable trait.
The MERC plant provided a major forum for the media’s personification of Bonita Belanger, and her subsequent image as a forceful female in Franco Biddeford. In February, all parties had agreed, in order to prevent the bankruptcy of the facility, to a $20.05 per ton increase for all contracted communities, a fee immediately branded by Twomey as an insult to the taxpayers. Emotions exploded during a council debate on the issue, as JoAnn Twomey boldly, and without permission, walked before the council and handed each member a cardboard bed, decorated with wrapping paper blankets. She said, “I say if you vote for this $20 increase, you’re going to bed with MERC.” Putting one on each desk, Twomey continued, as the mayor repeatedly banged her gavel ruling Twomey out of order. Twomey daringly countered, “So throw me out,” as she continued to distribute her presents. Stopping before the mayor, she presented Belanger a bigger bed, with white ruffles and fur, saying, “And because you’re pretty, I made you a pretty one.” With overt sexual overtones, jealousy, and sarcasm, Twomey’s actions were outrageous. Police were called to the meeting, but took no action. Though the mayor later stated that “it was a very inappropriate allegation and it’s personally insulting to me,” many citizens amazingly enjoyed the political drama and began to regularly watch the circus on cable television. By rejecting proper civil behavior, Twomey was able to utilize trench warfare to attack her political enemy. Rather than defend a woman in distress, Biddeford residents watched, laughed, and gossiped about Belanger’s fall from grace.
Because negotiations with the company had been complex, the press, assuming that the public would not understand the technical language of the contract, utilized a simplification bias, therefore omitting valuable information. Stories were superficially presented. Symbolically framing Twomey as an activist watchdog, protecting the community from corporate greed and political ignorance, the press elevated her crusade into a classic David versus Goliath confrontation against a large corporation. Personalization also dictated the reporting, as the personalities of the mayor and her nemesis became more important than the circumstances of the discussion. Twomey’s behavior did not trigger media condemnation, but instead garnered media approval because of its symbolic statement in an unsavory political world. In the Franco culture, such framing knocked Belanger off her podium, equalizing her among her jealous constituents.
Scandal shattered the political landscape when Police Commissioner Denis Letellier was accused of using his position to reduce charges against his son. More shockingly, on March 2, Luc Angers, who had served as city clerk for 14 years, was arrested for embezzling $7000 and admitted to the theft. Associated with the Dutremble political machine, his arrest not only triggered gossip and finger pointing, but also accentuated Belanger’s forceful personaltiy. Auditors attributed the theft to the city’s lax accounting practices and structure. In earlier audit reports, they had recommended the immediate hiring of a finance director and the institution of a double ledger system of bookkeeping, but previous administrations had not followed their advice. Such a revelation should have sparked outrage, but instead the public and the press focused on the personalities of the political fray. Belanger demanded an audit, as the problem of unchecked money was endemic in past practices. The mayor believed that the city had been operating with an archaic, financial system, and it was now her obligation to move the city into the 20th Century.
The pressure on Belanger was enormous. Veteran politicians grumbled that she was too heavy-handed. Others demanded immediate and public justice. The situation was magnified because of Angers’ politically well-connected family. In every dramatic incident of her administration, “she was seen as a woman first, and a mayor second. On television, residents grappled with a forceful female, rather than recognizing an effective leader.” Based on the evidence, Belanger demanded Angers’ resignation because “I felt I had an allegiance to the people of this city to do what was in the best interest for them. Angers refused and was charged by the mayor with misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, and neglect of duty.
Because of the public’s perception that the police commission had become an old boys network of favors and gossip, Belanger ordered that the 3 commissioners yield their keys to the police station, thus denying them casual access. She also demanded the resignation of Denis Letellier. One commissioner refused to surrender his keys, while another publicly insinuated that Belanger was not operating on her own but was the puppet of others. An angry Belanger replied, “I brought it up. If you want to publicly call me a liar, then feel free. I am not the one who overstepped the bounds here and created the problems....” Despite her strong stance in the face of alleged corruption, Belanger was making powerful enemies within the political establishment and fracturing the concept of passive womanhood. The commission office was a male bastion of power, and she was now emasculating those officials. Being a strong personality, “she took it to heart to fight the good old boy network of Biddeford, and it got her in a lot of trouble in the long run.” They and their friends would not forget or forgive the woman who took their power away. She had become for them, a repudiation of the Franco “mother figure” and had evolved into the “castrating bitch”, a male-based stereotypical labeling of a woman who threatened the patriarchal foundation within the city. Lines of authority in Franco homes were clearly established. Women, by tradition, were suppose to be caring, managers of the family, not active and dominant participants in a profession not of their station. The Franco response to female assertion of power was to demean, attack, and destroy visible examples of matriarchy. Belanger, by her actions, was crossing traditional gender lines. Unwittingly, despite admirable attempts to eliminate corruption, she emerged as a target. The old boy network of city hall did not like having an “assertive woman, standing up, looking them in the eye, and telling them what to do”.
During the La Kermesse festivities, the traditional celebration of French-Canadians, the commissioners engineered juvenile revenge. The mayor had volunteered to be featured in a dunk tank, as part of a local fund raising drive. Exhibiting typical enthusiasm and energy, she regaled the passers by to try to dunk her by throwing balls against a target. She was dunked 72 times during her one hour appearance, more than any other volunteer. Unknown to her, members of the commission paid Biddeford High School baseball players to dunk her. Typically, when confronted with the story, she laughed stating that at least it cost them money. In the next election, members of the police commission would support one of her opponents.
On May 9, the council voted to terminate Luc Angers. Mayor Belanger dramatically and forcefully presented the evidence to the council and was emotionally drained and teary by the closing gavel. The ordeal had taken its toll. Reflecting on her friendship with Angers, she said, “I think it’s an accumulation of emotions.... It was very difficult to bring the charges. But I did so because I felt very strongly that it was the right thing to do. But it doesn’t make it any easier.” Clearly, Belanger’s determination to pursue the criminal investigation and termination of City Hall employees created political enemies. She would never be forgiven by some members of Angers family and their allies. Belanger did not play by the rules. Some within city hall muttered that she should have swept it under the rug, as in the old days. She had no sense of political loyalty, no respect for political institutions. Rather than being a passive, caretaker mayor, Belanger instead chose to be a forceful, strong mayor. In Mark Johnston’s eyes, she “was the second term of Michael Cantara in terms of her generation and ideas. With her, no deals would ever be cut at the Wonderbar.” In past years and past scandals, male politicians who cleaned up City Hall were revered and praised. Few publicly praised Belanger. Inconceivably, she instead was blamed. Because of her sex, she was incapable as being perceived as a leader within particular segments of the community. Instead, she was viewed as domineering and abrasive.
The Angers firing was the most difficult event of the Belanger years. All other actions would be strictly objective decisions that were made on their merits. Where Luc was concerned, she confessed:
“you couldn’t disassociate emotionally. It was a family that was very well known. I had identified with him from having worked with him, having my kids with me and knowing his wish to have children. It was devastating. ... it never truly dawned on me, even when the police chief told me that I had no idea what could fall out from this, and that I had to be prepared, I never thought that would ultimately transpire could possibly transpire. Emotionally, I couldn’t connect with any members of the council, because of the way the process was being done. I worried about making sure the process was not tainted in any way. I couldn’t turn to anyone. We had to do what was right, as I saw it as right and wrong, and I didn’t know how to navigate through all of the grey areas.”
In the summer of 1990, the implementation of a city-wide revaluation, authorized during the Cantara Administration, initiated the beginnings of a “political perfect storm.” Belanger’s wearing of the mayoral hat during such a severe financial crisis, created a gender problem, as it forced her to assert herself, thereby exposing her vulnerability and femininity in the masculine world of leadership and power. Whereas Johnston could proudly view himself as “a little dictator,” Belanger’s attempts to rule triggered outrage. The revaluation and Belanger’s proposed sewer fee spurred fury from the Twomey faction, and demagogic rhetoric inflamed the community. At a six hour meeting before 500 people, citizens, angry with new property valuations and city corruption, were ready for a fire fight. Richard Pate said, “The bottom line is people are upset with revaluation. We are saying to our elected officials, our council, our school board, our school administrators, we want accountability. We want cuts made... We want relief.” The emotion of his words and the anger within the crowd muted a significant announcement by the mayor. She intended to put the city insurances out to bid. After meeting with an insurance analyst, Belanger was determined to stop the decades-old practice of awarding all coverage to one company (patronage) without a bidding process. Her investigation revealed redundant insurances, inadequate and superfluous coverage. The savings of the bidding process would be significant. No one noticed, including the media, who were more content with simplification and personalization. Facts no longer seemed to matter. Savings and innovation were lackadaisically dismissed. The situation was spinning out of control.
On August 7, 1990, the emotions and the tension exploded. JoAnne Twomey, who would not abide by the mayor’s rules of conduct, was arrested by police officers and taken from the chamber. After her arrest, Twomey stated that “I really feel like I’ve been hit by a truck today. I can’t believe I live in America and I can’t believe I was arrested and handcuffed just because I wanted to speak.” Because meetings had been becoming increasingly raucous, the mayor imposed new parliamentary rules at the beginning of the meeting. Within 30 minutes, Twomey was gaveled out of order. It was the city’s policy that council meetings were not public hearings, and that the public could not regularly interject into deliberations. Denied a chance to speak by the mayor, Twomey shot back, “That’s against my rights.” When officers arrived, the mayor requested that she be escorted from the chambers. She refused to leave and was forcibly removed and handcuffed.
The Journal Tribune called Belanger’s reaction,“an outrage” and claimed that Twomey’s arrest had been an attempt to participate constructively in council discussion. Though she had disrupted numerous meetings and refused to abide by any rules of decorum, the paper argued that as a “self appointed pest,” she should be treasured by good government, and that her arrest was an “affront to democracy.” Though reporters regularly witnessed her bizarre actions, the editors chose to again personalize the issues. Immediately, a petition drive was initiated by Howard Hanson, an unknown, local resident, to demand that the mayor apologize for her actions. Belanger refused and added that councilors and citizens had complained that she had been too lax in her running of the meetings, and “that wasn’t how things were done before.” A Twomey supporter, Sherry Toussaint, in a letter to the editor wrote
All citizens of Biddeford should be angry at their city’s blatant disregard for citizen’s right...thanks to the recent ‘Better Biddeford’ bonanza, we look worse than ever. Not only is our city the laughing stock of the state, but regrettably the future of women politicians in Biddeford dies with each laugh. The U.S. has taken great strides in providing equal opportunity for both sexes. Unfortunately, Biddeford will regress in this area, not because of discrimination, but because of this action by our first woman mayor. At first I was excited over the prospect of a woman mayor. Now, quite frankly, I’m disillusioned.
The comment, with its reference to gender, would have not been made had a male ordered Twomey ‘s eviction from the meeting. It also makes no note of Twomey’s gender, nor of her unfeminine behavior, instead focusing on the sex of Belanger. This may be due to Mark Johnston’s view that Twomey was not affected by gender issues because being simply an activist, she possessed no electoral responsibility, unlike being mayor. Belanger, by her assertiveness, had again crossed gender lines, reinforcing her contradiction of Franco, passive womanhood.
The city Council’s approval of the mayor’s sewer user fee, which had been endorsed by the Journal Tribune, ignited new controversy. Though the plan was logically sound and would encourage water conservation and prevent millions of dollars in federal fines, Roch Angers believes that Belanger’s visible determination to implement the system appeared too forceful, and her presentation upset those who still were not comfortable with a female mayor. Some residents refused to accept a woman dictating to them what needed to be done. Whereas a male could have demanded action, Belanger could not. Behind the podium, Belanger appeared too stern, too confident, thus clashing with Franco images of gender. The institution of the fee, coupled with an 8.5% increase in taxes, exacerbated a dangerous political situation. Despite criticism from the regular few, the mayor received support in the newspapers from citizens and friends. Michael Cantara wrote that she was a “a poised and articulate spokesperson for Biddeford,” and that “this city is being well served by the levelheaded, no-nonsense leadership provided by Mayor Belanger.” Similarly, Mary Beth Guignard, a local citizen, wrote that “This mayor and council have been faced with more serious and controversial issues than other councils have in over twenty years. It is time that the taxpayers of Biddeford take notice of their actions, and also to commend them for dealing with the issues instead of doing the safe political thing.” Though there were many supporters of Belanger during her term, in Biddeford, older people, well tied to Franco tradition, are the predominate voters. In alienating the older population by actions defying her gender, and by raising taxes, Belanger risked political rejection.
Belanger’s world ruptured when the assessor announced in late September that because she had failed to include MERC’s assessment in the city valuation, the approved tax rate was erroneously inflated. Tax bills could not be recalled. The result was a $660,000 surplus in tax revenue. The uproar was deafening. The Journal Tribune editorialized that the city had not only shot itself in the foot, but had “in its wisdom, procured an uzi to trim its toenails, set the weapon on spray and is now standing on its kneecaps.” The public demanded an approximate $60 rebate to individual taxpayers, but the underlying outcry remained against the Belanger Administration’s perceived elitism. Tempers mounted throughout the community, and JoAnn Twomey placed a large sign on her property that read, “Welcome to Biddeford, Home of the $663,240 Rip Off.” At a meeting to discuss available options a cauldron of animosity exploded. One resident exclaimed, “I don’t see why you’re toying with money that doesn’t belong to you.” As Mayor Belanger repeatedly used her gavel to quiet the outbursts of the audience, Twomey yelled (without permission), “We don’t trust you!” One councilor had to be restrained by another, as a resident insinuated that he was a dishonest and a crook. For the mayor, the meeting was a nightmare. She found the innuendo and accusations to be insulting and shameful. She would never again allow a meeting to fall into such chaos, all in the name of public participation. Sensitive to the way she was portrayed in the media, she told a reporter:
If the choice is being called a thief or a tyrant wielding a gavel to keep order, then the choice is to be called a tyrant. This is not the way to conduct city business. It is just undermining all the efforts we’ve made to move forward. I can’t allow it to happen again. I won’t allow it to happen.
The council was clearly intimidated, clearly battered. Ironically, the strongest person among the elected officials proved to be the first woman mayor of the city. Despite the attacks, despite the pressure, she steered an even course towards her goals for the city. Her iron will and her steel backbone, however, again created an image of a woman not satisfied with her expected role. She was too strong, too confrontational, too demanding. Wielding her gavel and maintaining order were actions of a male. Her gender triggered outrage within segments of the community and the outrage fueled the outbursts within the council chambers that would have not occurred had the mayor been male.
Citizens became further galvanized when the School Board, chaired by Belanger, voted to privatize the schools’ janitorial services. The janitorial staff consisted of many physically and mentally handicapped individuals, who feared that finding new jobs would prove difficult. Though the move was economic, residents who attended the meeting were clearly behind the janitors. Twomey, again establishing herself as the protector of the poor, wrote that despite the janitors’ dedication, city officials viewed them as non-professionals and not deserving of respect. Howard Hanson wrote that the meeting represented the execution of the city’s neighbors and friends. He added:
The men and women who packed the library were dressed mostly in work clothes, the uniform of their profession. On the other side of the table sat mostly the well-possessed, the professionals, who formed the decision-making board. One had to wonder why a mayor who had written a letter which supported a candidate for governor (Angus King), ‘because he was for the working man,’ had not made the effort to hardball the custodial contractor in negotiations to protect the futures of these ‘working men’. Yet we are not unfamiliar with the inconsistencies of Mayor Bonita Belanger. They are noted weekly and have become most sickening.
Some people, according to Michael Cantara, perceived Belanger’s actions as cold, a rejection of Franco femininity. She was seen as insensitive to the old way of politics. The decision to privatize the janitorial staff, and a subsequent decision to privatize the operations of the city’s treatment plant, contradicted a decades long practice of doing business. It undermined the traditional patronage system, where individuals, who had difficulty securing employment because of disabilities or other problems, found work within the city because of their standing within the Franco Democratic party. Because of Belanger’s refusal to play the patronage game, critics would repeatedly label her as being distant, anti-labor, and ultimately elitist. Hanson’s words echoed of class warfare, and their elements of populism accentuated the illusion of an aggressive female, disconnected from the working class. She was out of touch with their needs, wants, and everyday lives. News stories continued to focus on personality, dismissing the complexity of financial concerns, while championing progressive virtues and populistic rhetoric. Belanger was framed as being not motherly, not sensitive, and not empathetic. It was a caricature that daily colored the text of the local media.
Events that demanded the authority and prominence of a forceful Belanger within council chambers did not abate. Circumstances demanded that she remain strong. After months of negotiation, Mayors Belanger and Johnston announced that the Maine Energy Recovery Company had agreed to a new 17 year contract with the host cities. Hanson condescendingly wrote:
I would like the council to visit with those who live in the shadow of MERC and have had their health and quality of life affected, and ask them what they think of the proposed contract, or don’t they matter? Are people who live on Hooper, Pine, Maple, St. Mary’s, and Elm streets dispensable? Or for that matter are the
rest of us dispensable?
Two hundred people filled a City Theater meeting, with children and adults speaking of poisons that would kill them. The mayor, when asked if her policy was too dependent upon monetary concerns, said, with a mother’s sincerity, “I have three children myself, ages 6, 4, and 21 months. I’m just as concerned as anyone else here. I didn’t simply sit down with the MERC people to negotiate a contract. I took all the opportunities to learn.” Richard Rhames, an opponent of the facility, today says, “The 17 year contract was a turkey and not accepted broadly in the community. It was her zeal, as she took so much pride in her negotiations with the contract, that was the problem.” As with all other major issues, the press continued its predictable bias, simplifying or ignoring the contract language, and instead focusing on personalities and fear. Despite the rancor, the contract was approved, but the seeds of dissent were more firmly planted. Interestingly, the MERC battles did not damage the political career of Johnston, a man who had completely reversed his MERC position, but seriously wounded Bonnie Belanger. Johnston was defined as a strong mayor; Belanger was the bitch. Within the context of the same issue and within the bubble of the same pressures and controversy, Johnston was allowed to coerce, threaten, and assert himself, while Belanger’s attempts to duplicate such style antagonized Biddeford residents. The result begs the question, would a male mayor in Biddeford have engineered more political success in dealing with Jo Anne Twomey and MERC critics, or would he too have been enveloped by the incinerator’s flames? Was Johnston’s success a result of his gender, or his residence?
The state’s plan to develop a special waste landfill on the Arundel-Biddeford border created a new nightmare for Belanger, but ironically validated her talents. While Twomey advocated public demonstrations to enlist support against the proposed facility, Belanger refused, stating that “if what people are looking for is for me to make a banner and march on Augusta, that’s not my style. I’m not going to do it.” Belanger instead worked diligently, discussing issues and making points with the power brokers. She would not engage in street theater and demagoguery.
On May 9th, Belanger and MERC Operations Manager Floyd Gent traveled to Augusta to meet with Governor John McKernan and Waste Management Director Sherry Huber. Initially, the mayor’s public comments on the meetings were upbeat, saying “I really needed an opportunity to impress on him [McKernan] Biddeford’s unique position. Also the fact that having MERC here–what it has done to Biddeford’s own self-image and the perception of Biddeford from outside.” In reality, the Mayor was devastated by Huber and McKernan’s blase attitudes. The frustration exploded on May 17, when Belanger blasted state officials, saying, “...that it is unacceptable for Biddeford to be part of housing another piece of the southern Maine solid waste solution puzzle.” She said that Huber, McKernan and Kenneth Young were clueless in understanding Biddeford’s needs, and added: “Quite frankly, I felt like I was talking to three brick walls.” She also took a shot at local state legislators who maintained a safe distance from the hot potato, because of the political ramifications. Her comments, however, merely served to drive a deeper wedge between the old boy political network and her increasingly isolated administration.
Belanger skillfully coerced the Tri-County Executive Board to go on record as being against the siting of the landfill in Biddeford.. She recognized that unified opposition by the representatives of MERC’s customers would carry political weight. MERC officials stated that the plant did not need an ash landfill within 50 miles of the facility, and that the company did not want the landfill in Biddeford. When board members indicated their willingness to draft a letter in opposition to any landfill within the specified radius, Belanger pushed full throttle, saying “Biddeford stuck its neck out for all of you, and I’m expecting, more from you than just a letter indicating the fifty mile radius is unacceptable.” On a 5-2 vote, the mayor got what she wanted: no dump in Biddeford. The woman, who refused to carry banners or demonstrate in public, politically engineered a political victory. Mark Johnston believes that Belanger’s ability “to bring consensus at Tri-County was huge. People don’t realize how strong Tri-County was. They didn’t care about odor or noise. They just wanted to have their trash burned and wanted the incinerator to be able to do just that.” Her ability to articulate and the respect that she earned from other communities proved to be powerful tools in her war against the state. Amazingly, talents for which she was criticized in Biddeford proved appreciated and successful when dealing with non-Franco communities. Leaders from other cities and towns respected her judgement, intellect, and gender. In Biddeford, intellectual talents and gender, for many, were jealously viewed as undesirable and threatening , but in neighboring communities, being female was not perceived as a liability.
Despite the frustration and attacks, Bonita Belanger announced in July that she would be seeking a second term as Mayor. Her record was impressive. She had effectively restructured city government by hiring a finance director; instituting a double-entry accounting system; negotiating the 17 year MERC contract. On the table were the development of a community center, the hiring of a human resource director, and the hiring of a private concern to operate the treatment plant. Reacting to criticisms in her style, the mayor said, “I’ve been told I could soften my approach and be a little more subtle,” another indication of the gender wars that she had been fighting. Saco Mayor Mark Johnston was enthusiastic about her announcement, indicating that the two had “worked very well together on some tough issues, and I think the two cities are far better for it. Many of the problems she faced were already there and somebody had to take the reins. She went in there and broke up the ‘old boy’ network and really showed a few people what could be done.” As in the case of Mikhail Gorbachev, her talents were more appreciated by those who lived on the outside. Similarly, like Gorbachev, “she was a reformist in local government and she saw the need before her constituents.” The old boy network was not so supportive.
Carl Sheltra and Roger Normand both announced their candidacies. Sheltra’s slate included many disenchanted men with connections to the scandals and events of the previous two years, while Normand’s ticket included Twomey and Hanson. Incredibly, Normand criticized Belanger’s all male slate, stating that it represented the old “all boys club” and was not sympathetic to female voters!” The comment was insulting, as his slate was not representative of women, but of old working class values. His statement completely neutered the femininity of Belanger, reducing her to neither male nor female status. The caricature was complete.
On October 4, the Journal Tribune officially endorsed Bonita Belanger for Mayor of Biddeford. The editorial said that she had
made waves, made mistakes and made enemies. She has also been a significant force for positive change in an old-line river front industrial city struggling upstream against the currents of recession, factionalism and minimal expectations for a better future. ...[She is] clearly willing and able to discuss issues with understanding and insight, clearly willing to justify decisions she’s made. ...Mayor Belanger can take a good deal of the credit for much of what is moving Biddeford in a positive direction at this point.... She has acted on the pressing need to professionalize city government. Belanger works exceptionally hard, she does not make empty or easy promises, she represents the city well and she clearly expects that government can be an instrument of solving problems and for making people’s live better. She expects a lot of herself, and , by example, she shows the city how to expect more of itself and of the future.
Others within the community also voiced support, praising her professionalism and extolling her removal of city hall corruption. Ron Neault said that the mayor was articulate and honest, and suggested that “maybe ones within the clique would have let things that were discovered slide”. Doris Brochu indicated to a reporter she was satisfied with the past two years, and said that Belanger had “done a good job, ‘for a woman–it’s usually a man’s job,” another reference to the dogging sexism that pervaded the Biddeford culture. Not surprisingly, the comment was uttered by a woman. Gender lines remained entrenched within the community. Annette Ouellette, in 1971, had noticed that “women were not for me! It’s a man’s world.” It certainly was.
When the polls closed at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct 7, Biddeford citizens elected a new mayor and effectively a new city council. In a stunning victory, Roger Normand had defeated Bonita Belanger. One Normand supporter danced on a table at Dan’s Café that night, singing a jingle from the Wizard of Oz, that the wicked witch was dead. Reflecting on her loss, Belanger said, “It’s been a tough two years. I stepped on a lot of toes. I am not a politician. I can’t tell people what they want to hear. I can only say what I feel.” Some said that she had been simply too honest, too blunt. Councilor Joe Leblond simply said, remembering little old ladies holding their sewer bills as they went to vote, “It’s pocketbook politics. People are pissed off.” He also blamed the media for never seeming to give the Belanger Administration a fair and accurate story. They had created a caricature of the real Belanger, a woman who remained sensitive, giving, and honest, and had turned her into an autocratic, aloof creature, the “castrating bitch” of Franco culture.
The winners were jubilant. Roger Berthiaume said, “Abolishing the sewer user fee will be my first motion. It’s time the council got together to treat the city with dignity and work out the city’s problems.” Carl Sheltra, though he did not win, was ecstatic. His main goal had been to banish the incumbents, and in that, he found success. The mayor had stepped on his legislator toes a bit too hard. Belanger, who found the politics of Roger Normand to be disconcerting and hollow, closed her chapter with the paternal system that had elected him. She said, “I cannot throw my support behind someone who does not have the qualifications... and whose decisions I don’t feel are in the best interests of the city.” For those who would watch the circus atmosphere of the Normand Administration in the upcoming months, such a comment would prove prophetic.
The election was stunning, a complete repudiation of all the positive things that had happened. The mayor was correct, however. Too many toes had been trampled. At the Sheltra campaign party were Babe and State Senator Dennis Dutremble, allies of Luc Angers; State Representative Charlie Plourde, attorney Eddie Caron, who had been denied the city solicitor’s position; Ron Caron and Craig Rancourt, attorneys for Angers; and former mayor Bob Farley. They were the old political network and they had allied themselves with Sheltra, another link to the old political past. At the Normand party, Howard Hanson, JoAnn Twomey and the many letter writers and critics who hounded the mayor on a near weekly basis were present. To Belanger, the election was an attempt to erase what had been considered turbulent times. Voting for “Normand was simply a reversion back to the status quo.”
Within a few days of the Belanger loss, the newspapers were uncharacteristically quiet. The letters to the editor fell short of their weekly complaints. As a mother, Belanger said that now, “I’ll be able to tuck my kids into bed again.” She was happy with the friendships that she had made, but she was disappointed at being unable to finish some of the things she had instituted. She had no regrets, nor should she. She had accomplished more in two years than any previous mayor in recent memory. She had exuded grace, intelligence, and perseverance. She demonstrated honesty, integrity and an internal mental toughness. She had cleared a path for her sex, being elected into a city with strong patriarchal leanings. She had been, quite simply, incredible.
Reflecting on the past, Pothier says she misses her interaction with school children. Belanger always tried to reach out, to touch others, to make a difference. Her philosophy is best exemplified by what she perceives to be her biggest failure, a revelation that tells more about the woman than it does about the political world. After the Gulf War, a woman called, asking for her appearance at a celebration, honoring a returning soldier. She agreed, but because of a conflicting meeting, she forgot the engagement. At 9:00 pm, the city hall phone rang and an enraged woman berated the mayor and demanded to know what could have been so important to have allowed her to miss the event. Today, still triggering tears, that moment represents something that could never be corrected; something that an apology could never make right. Her failure, in her eyes, was “inexcusable.” Pothier’s tears are testaments to the concern that she had for the people of Biddeford, those same people who rejected her so terribly at the polls. Mayor Belanger was, as Mark Johnston has said, the best person that Biddeford could have chosen to lead during that time period. She was perhaps too honest, too compassionate, too visionary to be a politician, but the city has reaped the fruits of her labor. All of her innovations remain in place, despite all of the criticism. She was magnificent.
A resident of Biddeford, Juliette Bellefeuille, possessed such insight, when, on December 6, 1991, after the dust of the election had settled, she wrote:
Biddeford was given an opportunity to move away from the legacy of ‘Papa Lausier’ when Mayor Belanger was elected two years ago and she accomplished much in that time but needed another term to finish.... But her talents were not appreciated and the city will regress into an era of negative, unprofessional, cronyism which held it back from becoming competitive and professional.... The city of Biddeford residents owe Mayor Belanger recognition for the many accomplishments and innovations she has instituted. Hopefully the new administration will carry on what has been started.
It didn’t, but the years that have passed have opened the eyes to many within the community, who now see the Belanger years, devoid of newspaper caricature or character assassination, as being a catalyst for Biddeford’s modernization. A descendant of French-Canadian women, who were sent to Quebec to be wives, mothers, and property; who crossed the border to work a lifetime in noisy, brick mills, she was an epiphany! She was the first! And, in many ways, she paid the price.
Patriarchy, by itself, did not destroy the political career of Bonita Pothier Belanger. Taxes, politics, and a parochial community also contributed. Though she broke the political gender barrier within Biddeford City Hall, the building remains chauvinistic, even to this day. Women are still disrespected by councilors, and there still remains remnants of the good old boy network of backslapping and secret deals. Last year, during Mayor Dion’s inaugural address, she held up, in her hands, a pair of steel balls. She said, “People are always telling me that I’m not forceful enough. They tell me they think a man could be more powerful.” Having heard such words in every election in which she had run, Dion symbolically attempted to do something about it. She was criticized for her actions, but her comment was clear. Double standards and a patriarchal attitude remain. Belanger’s election initiated the beginning of the end of sexism within the brick building of city government, but one wonders how long it will finally take to end sexism within the hearts of the voters. It certainly will not happen tomorrow.
“8% Cut to Budgets May Mean Layoffs.” Journal Tribune 12 July 1990: 1.
“Agency Eyes 14 County Spots for Potential Landfill.” Journal Tribune 15 February 1991: 1,12.
Aldrich, Gary. “Who Looks Out for Biddeford?.” Journal Tribune 7 March 1990: 13.
Angers, Roch. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine: 9 December 2002.
Beal, Tom. “Council Approves 2-Year Audit of Biddeford’s Account Book.” Journal Tribune 18 July 1990: 3.
Beaudette, Stephen. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation: 6 December 2002.
Beaudoin, Lionel. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation 7 December 2002.
Beaudoin, Theresa. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine. 8 December 2002.
“Belanger: A Strong Leader With a Firm Grasp of the Realities.” Journal Tribune 4 October 1991:10
Belanger, Bonita P.. “Best Way to Conduct the Mayor’s Race is With Debates, Not Accusations.” Journal Tribune 20 September 1991: 11.
Belanger, Bonita P.. “The Full Story of the MERC Tax Error.” Journal Tribune 3 October 1991: 8.
“Belanger, DeSemone: The Answer is Leadership.” Journal Tribune 4 November 1989: A1.
“Belanger Ready to Bow Out.” Journal Tribune 30 November 1991: A8.
“Belanger Sweeps Biddeford Primary.” Portland Press Herald 3 October 1990: np.
“Belanger Takes Case Against Dump to McKernan.” Journal Tribune 9 May 1991: 3
Bellefeuille, Juliette. “You Have to Invest in the Future if You Want The City to Progress.” Journal Tribune 6 December 1991: 6.
Bergeron, Claire. ‘Mayor Belanger is Ahead of her Time.” Journal Tribune 12 April 1990: 13.
Berg, Tom and Caldwell, Emily. “Clerk Charged with Embezzling,” Journal Tribune 2 March 1990: 1,12.
Berg, Tom. “Audit Finds Financial Shortfall Less Than Expected.” Journal Tribune 4 December 1990: 1,10.
Berg, Tom. “Belanger Says Politics Motivated Tip.” Journal Tribune 5 December 1989: 1, 12.
Berg, Tom. “Biddeford Urged to Hire Attorney in Dump Battle.” Journal Tribune 17 September 1991: 1.
Berg, Tom. “Biddeford, Saco to Get Breaks in Waste Disposal.” Journal Tribune 21 February 1990: 16.
Berg, Tom. “City Hall Stunned as Angers Resigns,” Journal Tribune 3 March 1990: 1.
Berg, Tom. “Council to Consider Legal Help for Dump Fight.” Journal Tribune 16 September 1991: 3.
Berg, Tom. “Dump Foes Claim City Has To Act.” Journal Tribune 27 April 1991: A1, 10.
Berg, Tom. “Is It Real, or Is It Biddeford.” Journal Tribune 11 September 1990: 1.
Berg, Tom. “Mayor: City ‘Deficiencies’ Found.” Journal Tribune 9 November 1990: 1, 12.
Berg, Tom. “Unionists Angered By Carr Hiring, Blast Belanger.” Journal Tribune 4 October 1991: 1,12.
Berg, Tom. “Vandals Wrack High School.” Journal Tribune 6 December 1989: 2,14.
Berthiaume, Ron. “Image, the Economy, the Environment: Evaluating MERC’s Impact.” Journal Tribune 28 April 1990: A7.
“Biddeford Citizens Must Get Involved.” Journal Tribune 9 October 1990: 9.
“Biddeford’s Half-A-Loaf Style of Keeping the Public Satisfied.” Journal Tribune 4 January 1991: 8.
Bowie, Elaine. The Deal With MERC Needs to be Called Off, Biddeford.” Journal Tribune 18 January 1991: 13.
“Brunet Pleads Guilty to Biddeford Insurance Fraud.” Journal Tribune 12 February 1991: 12.
Burnett, Lee, “Air Test Results are In: MERC Gets Clean Bill of Health,” Journal Tribune 2 March 1990: 1.
Caldwell, Emily and Valway, Michele. “Letellier Pleads Innocent; His Gaudette Story Questioned..” Journal Tribune 31 October 1990: 1,10.
Caldwell, Emily. “Belanger: We Won’t Allow Dump.” Journal Tribune 18 May 1991: A1, 10.
Caldwell, Emily. “For Some Voters, Monday’s Choices are Baffling.” Journal Tribune 5 October 1991: A12.
Caldwell, Emily. “Lack of Checks, Balances, Common.” Journal Tribune 2 April 1990: 1.
Cantara, Michael P.. “Biddeford Citizens Do Have a Voice.” Journal Tribune 28 August 1990: 9.
Cantara, Michael P.. Interview by Alan Casavant. Portland, Maine: 6 November 2002
Caron, Edward. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine: 10 December 2002.
Casavant, Alan. “An Answer to the Council’s Critics.” Journal Tribune 3 October 1991: 8.
“Citizen Participation: Was This Arrest Really Necessary?.” Journal Tribune 11 August1990: A6.
“Council Approves Public Meeting for Complaints.” Journal Tribune 3 October 1990: 3
“Council Sets $14 Tax Rate.” Journal Tribune 6 September 1990: 1.
“Councilors May Face Class Action Suit.” Journal Tribune 18 October 1990: 12.
Cote, Raymond. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation: 8 December 2002.
Cyr, Diane P.. “A List of Reasons Why Mayor Belanger Won’t Get This Voter’s Support.” Journal Tribune 1 October 1991: 9.
Dion, Donna. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation: 2 December 2002.
Dodge, Robert. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine: 4 December 2002.
Duguay, Helene. “Some Support for Mayor Belanger.” Journal Tribune 7 September 1990: 11.
Durham, Deanna. “Union Says City’s New Labor Chief Should Quit.” Journal Tribune 5 October 1991: A12.
“Dutremble Wins Easy Second Term.” Biddeford-Saco Journal 25 November 1975: 1.
Edgerly, Vicky. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine. 12 December 2002.
Gelinas, Roger. “It’s Time To Work Within the System.” Journal Tribune 11 July 1990: 10.
Grattelo, Jim. “Biddeford Needs AG to Investigate.” Journal Tribune 18 April 1990: 13.
Grattelo, Jim. “Twomey Needs Diplomacy.” Journal Tribune 14 August 1990: 9.
Guignard, Mary Beth. “Taxpayers Should Commend Officials.” Journal Tribune 30 August 1990: 9.
Hanson, Howard. “Citizens Must Protect Their Right to Speak.” Journal Tribune 16 August 1990: 8.
Hanson, Howard. “Does the Council Care What People Think?.” Journal Tribune 5 January 1991: 7.
Hanson, Howard. “In Biddeford, They’re Planning to Spend Like it Was 1986.” Journal Tribune 3 June 1991: 10.
Hanson, Howard, “The Tax Error Could Have Been Corrected,” Journal Tribune 29 October 1990: 12.
Hanson, Howard. “What Message Are The Leaders Sending Out?.” Journal Tribune 23 November 1990: 10.
Hardy, Erland. Email to Alan Casavant: 13 October 2002. I have this email in my possession.
Harper, Judith. “Angers, Brunet Indicted,” Journal Tribune 11 May 1990: 1.
Harper, Judith. “Angers Suit Calls Firing Unfounded, Council Unfair.” Journal Tribune 9 June 1990: 1.
Harper, Judith. “Officials Accused of Being ‘In Bed with MERC’ Approve Hike.” Journal Tribune 21 February 1990: 1,16.
Harper, Judith. “Union Protests Plan to Contract Treatment Service.” Journal Tribune 6 April 1991: 1,8.
Harper, Judith and Valway, Michele. “Twomey Charges Dropped.” Journal Tribune 13 March 1991: 1.
Harper, Judith and Wicklund, Eric. “Letellier is Out; Ladderbush Hints at Lawsuit.” Journal Tribune 11 March 1991: 1,12.
Hendrickson, Dyke. Quiet Presence. Portland, Maine: Guy Gannett Publishing, 1980
“If Biddeford Citizens Care About the Issues, This Meeting is a Must.” Journal Tribune 8 October 1990: 12.
“JoAnn Twomey: She’s Involved, Tough, and Effective.” Journal Tribune 29 September 1989: 1.
Johnston, Mark. Interview by Alan Casavant. Saco, Maine: 12 November 2002.
Johnston, Mark. Interview by Alan Casavant. Saco, Maine: 26 November, 2002.
Lebond, Joseph. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation: 4 December 2002.
Leblond, Joseph. “Question Anything but His Integrity.” Journal Tribune 10 November 1990: A9.
Lemley, Gail. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine: 10 December 2002.
Matherne, Clairma. Interview by Alan Casavant: Biddeford, Maine: 4 December 2002.
“Mayor Irked: MERC Behind $460,000 in Taxes.” Journal Tribune 22 May 1990: 1.
Maxon, Edward. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine: 8 December 2002.
“MERC Receives Low Level Readings Despite Accuracy Problems.” Journal Tribune 11 April 1990: 9.
Nadeau, Ronald N.. “Maybe There’s a Reason,” Journal Tribune 1 October 1990: 9.
Noble, Kyle. “Biddeford’s Incoming Administration Takes Over a City That’s in Good Shape.” Journal Tribune 24 October 1991: 9.
“Officials Strain Under Watchful Public Eye as Allegations Mount.” Journal Tribune 29 March 1990: 1.
Ouellette, Annette. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine: 21 November 2002.
Ouellette, Jacqueline. “Some Pointers on Professionalism.” Journal Tribune 27 March 1990: 9.
“Overtaxing Biddeford: Another $60 Added to the Burden.” Journal Tribune 1 October 1990: 12.
Peck, Dana. “Are You Really On Our Team, Jo Ann Twomey?.” Biddeford-Saco Courier nd: np.
“Post-Meeting Abuse Detracts From Critical Solid Waste Issues.” Journal Tribune 6 February 1991: 8.
Pothier, Bonita. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine: 16 November 2002.
Pothier, Laurette. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine: 20 November 2002.
Potvin, Richard. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation: 4 December 2002.
Rhames, Richard. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation: 5 December 2002.
Robinson, Mark. “Welcome to Trashville, JoAnn.” Biddeford-Saco Courier nd: np.
Rodrigue, Barry. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation: 6 December 2002.
“Sewer Management Firms Say They Will Hire City Employees.” Journal Tribune 2 May 1991: 3.
“Tax Vote May Spark Lawsuits.” Journal Tribune 20 October 1990: A3
Thaler, Jeffrey. “Letter to Mayor Roger Normand”, 10 January 1992. Letter was submitted to the mayor, who distributed it to the council. I have a personal copy.
“The Aftermath: Joy in Victory, Agony in Defeat.” Journal Tribune 6 October 1991: 3
“The Biddeford PR Project Has an Image Problem of its Own.” Journal Tribune 6 July 1990: 8.
Therrien, Paul. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation: 6 December 2002.
“The Tax Error Could Have Been Corrected.” Journal Tribune 29 October 1990: 12.
Toussaint, Sherry. “Speaking Out is Our Constitutional Right.” Journal Tribune 11 August 1990: A7.
Twomey, JoAnn. “If You Care About the City, Attend the Meeting.” Journal Tribune 5 January 1991: A7.
Twomey, JoAnn. “Looking Out for Biddeford’s Interest’s.” Journal Tribune 17 January, 1990: 11.
Twomey, JoAnn. “The Mayor of Biddeford Should Have Demanded a Better Deal.” Journal Tribune 13 February 1990: 8.
Valway, Michele. “5-Year Study Would Focus on Disease Patterns in Cities.” Journal Tribune 14 February 1991: 1,12.
Valway, Michele. “$60 Will ‘Buy a Pair of Shoes or Winter Jacket’.” Journal Tribune 3 October 1990: 1,22.
Valway, Michele. “Advisory Group Opposes Biddeford Dump Site.” Journal Tribune 22 May 1991: 1,14.
Valway, Michele. “AG Looking into Undue Influence Charge.” Journal Tribune 22 February 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Alliance Physician Says MERC Still Health Risk.” Journal Tribune 18 December 1990: 10.
Valway, Michele. “Angers Decides He Wants Job Back.” Journal Tribune. 6 March 1990: 1,12.
Valway, Michele. “Angers’ Dismissal Emotional.” Journal Tribune 10 May 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Angers Pleads ‘Not Guilty’ to Theft.” Journal Tribune 1 June 1990: 1
Valway, Michele. “Angers’ Story Unfolds.” Journal Tribune 6 October 1990: A1,3.
Valway, Michele. “Ash Landfill Foes Fight to Maintain United Front.” Journal Tribune 15 March 1991: 1,12.
Valway, Michele. “As Mayor You’ve Got to Do More Than Vote Against.” Journal Tribune October 1991: 1, 3.
Valway, Michele, “Belanger Fights Fees Caused by City Ordinances.” Journal Tribune 10 January 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Belanger Promises Progress on Housing, Streets, Schools.” Journal Tribune 6 December 1989: 1,3.
Valway, Michele. “Belanger Requests Commissioners’ Keys,” Journal Tribune 9 March 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Belanger To Launch Campaign to Bolster Biddeford’s Image.” Journal Tribune 19 June 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Belanger’s Candidate Slate Includes Critics, Republican.” Journal Tribune 27 August 1991: 1,10.
Valway, Michele. “Belanger Won’t Back Normand.” Journal Tribune 8 October 1991: 1,10.
Valway, Michele. “Biddeford Ballot, Candidates Pick Tickets.” Journal Tribune 6 September 1989: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Biddeford Candidates Debate.” Journal Tribune 27 September 1989:1,12.
Valway, Michele. “Biddeford Council Votes to Get $1M Sewer Loan.” Journal Tribune 6 March 1991: 12.
Valway, Michele. “Biddeford Department Head Pay Raises Rile Some Residents.” Journal Tribune 5 September 1991: 1,8.
Valway, Michele. “Biddeford Imposes Spending Freeze.” Journal Tribune 1 March 1991: 1,10.
Valway, Michele. “Biddeford Police Officer Subject of Investigation.” Journal Tribune 20 October 1990: 1,10.
Valway, Michele. “Biddeford Projects a Tax Shortfall of at Least $4M.” Journal Tribune 29 November 1990: 1,10.
Valway, Michele. “Biddeford Taxpayers Refused Right to Review Assessments.” Journal Tribune 21 August 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Biddeford Voters Back Belanger.” Journal Tribune 8 November 1989: 1,3.
Valway, Michele. “Brunet Target of New Probe.” Journal Tribune 15 October 1990: 1,12.
Valway, Michele. “Budget Cuts Into Public Safety.” Journal Tribune 20 July 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Campaign Styles: Biddeford Mayoral Candidates Take the Trail.” Journal Tribune 18 September 1989: 1, 3
Valway, Michele. “Cantara: No Suspicions of City Corruption.” Journal Tribune 30 March 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “City Businesses Raise Money for MERC Opposition.” Journal Tribune 8 January 1991: 10
Valway, Michele. “City Clerk Told to Quit by Friday.” Journal Tribune 8 March 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “City Council Wrestles with Corruption.” Journal Tribune 4 April 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “City Delays Action on Surplus...Taxpayers Irate.” Journal Tribune 8 November 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “City’s Industrial Sewage Problem Faces Possible $100,000 Fine.” Journal Tribune 26 January 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “City Officials Weigh Damage.” Journal Tribune 31 March 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “City OKS MERC Contract Amid Sound of Silence.” Journal Tribune 16 January 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Committee Recommends Axing City Engineer.” Journal Tribune 26 July 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Confused Council Tables ‘Fraud Audit.’ Journal Tribune 20 June 1990: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Constituents, Councilor Wants Angers’ Pay Revoked.” Journal Tribune 21 March 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Council Adopts No-Money-Back Policy.” Journal Tribune 17 October 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Council Approves Community Center, Renovation Bond.” Journal Tribune 4 September 1991: 1,12.
Valway, Michele. “Council Approves School Budge.” Journal Tribune 13 June 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Council Backs Down on Biddeford Budget Cuts.” Journal Tribune 15 August 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Council Creates Finance Position in Wake of Arrests.” Journal Tribune 2 May 1990: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Council Debates $660,000 Mistake.” Journal Tribune 28 September 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Council Differs on Projected Shortfall.” Journal Tribune 30 November 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Council Gives Initial Approval to MERC Deal.” Journal Tribune 3 January 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Council Grants Angers Paid Leave of Absence.” Journal Tribune, 13 March 1990, sec 1:10
Valway, Michele. “Council Reverses Itself, Opts for Fewer Cuts.” Journal Tribune 1 August 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Council Vote Shocks MERC, Pleases Saco.” Journal Tribune 14 June 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Councilors Looking for Places to Cut.” Journal Tribune 5 December 1990: 14.
Valway, Michele. “Councilors: Tax Issue Dead.” Journal Tribune 5 December 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Councilors Informally Back $8.48 per Ton Increase for MERC,” Journal Tribune 13 February 1990: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Councilors Say Cuts Too Much.” Journal Tribune 19 July 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Counteroffer: MERC Customers Present Fee Plan.” Journal Tribune 20 June 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Democratic Candidate Confident in Race Against Independent.” Journal Tribune 3 October 1989: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Despite Cuts, Tax Rate Might Hit $15.” Journal Tribune 9 August 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Divided Front: Saco Mayor Criticizes Biddeford Councilors.” Journal Tribune 16 February 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Frugality, Arm Twisting Help Wipe Out Shortfall.” Journal Tribune 11 June 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Frustrated Firefighters to Protest Lack of Contract.” Journal Tribune 2 July 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Group Recommends Firm for Private Sewer Contract.” Journal Tribune 26 June 1991: 3
Valway, Michele. “Harassment Claim Called Dirty Politics.” Journal Tribune 22 November 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Host City Mayors Want Stipend From Other MERC Communities.” Journal Tribune 3 April 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Ideas Take Form for Alfred Street Community Center.” Journal Tribune 8 March 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Increase in Sewer Fee to be Debated.” Journal Tribune 3 July 1991: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Labor Union Expert Hired as Manager of City’s Employees.” Journal Tribune 2 October 1991: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Last Chance: Countdown to Election.” Journal Tribune 30 September 1989: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Layoffs Inevitable if City Forces $1.8 M in Cuts.” Journal Tribune 11 July 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Major Budget Increase Proposed.” Journal Tribune 8 June 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Mayor: Angers Fails to Resign,” Journal Tribune 9 March 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Mayor Blasts Sheltra for Declining to Join Debate.” Journal Tribune 30 September 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Mayor Leads Way for Better Bookkeeping.” Journal Tribune 26 October 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Mayor Stunned by 3rd Charge of City Corruption.” Journal Tribune 29 March 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Mayor: Time Not a Factor in MERC Contract Decision.” Journal Tribune 12 December 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Mayor: Unlikely Revaluation Use Will Be Delayed.” Journal Tribune 10 July 1990: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Mayor Wants Police Board Abolished.” Journal Tribune 17 October 1990: 1 .
Valway, Michele. “Mayors Rethink Support of MERC.” Journal Tribune 11 January 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “MERC Contract Would Raise Fees, Propose Stiff Penalties.” Journal Tribune 29 November 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “MERC Loses a Round on Contract.” Journal Tribune 19 December 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “MERC Money: Belanger Releases $1.4m from IRS Fund.” Journal Tribune 27 February 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Mistake in Biddeford Tax Figures.” Journal Tribune 27 September 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Normand Says He is the Only Mayor Taxpayers Can Afford.” Journal Tribune 5 September 1991: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Normand, Sheltra Reject Belanger’s Calling.” Journal Tribune 9 September 1991: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Not In My Backyard, Agency Told.” Journal Tribune 24 October 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Official Cites Poor Work Habits in Custodian Cuts.” Journal Tribune 22 November 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Officials Concerned by Reappointment Delay.” Journal Tribune 8 February 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Officials Flip-Flop on MERC Increase.” Journal Tribune 15 February 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Pest or Prophet: Twomey Gets Heard.” Journal Tribune 18 August 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Police Board Battle.” Journal Tribune 18 October 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Probe Into City Insurance Fraud Widens.” Journal Tribune 30 March 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Republican to be Appointed to Biddeford Council.” Journal Tribune 5 February 1991: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Residents Sound Off to Council.” Journal Tribune 10 October 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Revaluation Helps MERC.” Journal Tribune 20 July 1990: 1.
Valway, Michelle. “Saco Council OK’S MERC Pact. ” Journal Tribune 12 February 1991: 1.
Valway, Michel. “School Custodians Lose Jobs, Benefits.” Journal Tribune 20 November 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “School Custodians to Meet With Legislature Over Jobs.” Journal Tribune 21 November 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Sewer User Fee to Hold Tax Rate.” Journal Tribune 5 July 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Struggling to Avoid Taxing Times.” Journal Tribune 3 August 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Tax Bite Back On Council Agenda.” Journal Tribune 6 November 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Taxes: Biddeford to Reconsider Rate, Assessments.” Journal Tribune 21 November 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Taxpayer Group, Assessor Prepare to Butt Heads,” Journal Tribune 14 July 1990: 1.
Valway, Michele. “Tests: Soot From Councilor’s Yard Not From MERC.” Journal Tribune 20 February 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “The Making of a Mayor’s Race: Debate Issue Still Divides 3 Candidates.” Journal Tribune 28 September 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele. “What If? Saco, Biddeford Study Setting Fines for MERC.” Journal Tribune 21 October 1990: 3.
Valway, Michele. “Workers Attack Sewer Plant Privatization Plans.” Journal Tribune 10 April 1991: 1.
Valway, Michele and Wicklund, Eric. “Madam Mayor: Hard Work Nothing New to Belanger.” Journal Tribune 8 November 1989: 3.
Valway, Michele and Wicklund, Eric. “Twomey Shocked After Council Arrest.” Journal Tribune 8 August 1990: 1.
Watkins, Wendy. “Biddeford Blasted by Book; Belanger Barks Back.” Journal Tribune 23 April 1990: 1.
Whiting, Allison. “Critics Blast Belanger Over Landfill Meeting.” Biddeford-Saco Courier 29 August 1991: 3.
Wicklund, Eric. “200 Sound Off Against MERC.” Journal Tribune 9 January 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Angers Status May Be Decided by Mayor Today.” Journal Tribune 7 March 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Angers Wins 1st Round in Workers Compensation Fight.” Journal Tribune 17 May 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Angry Anti-MERC Forces Turn on Councilors and Mayor.” Journal Tribune 5 February 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Attorney Hired in Landfill Fight.” Journal Tribune 18 September 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Belanger Not Convinced of Need to Postpone Revaluation.” Journal Tribune 16 July 1990: 13.
Wicklund, Eric. “Belanger Set for Race.” Journal Tribune 3 October 1989: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Belanger Proposes New Sewer Managers.” Journal Tribune 21 March 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Belanger Takes Heat on Handling of Dump Fight.” Journal Tribune 24 August 1991: A3.
Wicklund, Eric. “Belanger, Unions Debate Labor’s Role in Election.” Journal Tribune 12 October 1991: A1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Belanger Urges Action on New MERC Contract.” Journal Tribune 28 December 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Biddeford Best-Laid Plans Go Awry.” Journal Tribune 21 June 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Biddeford Council Approves Sewer User Fee on 6-3 Vote.” Journal Tribune 5 September 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Biddeford Hopes to be Out of Financial Hole by June. ” Journal Tribune 8 February 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Biddeford, Saco, OOB Share Ideas on Ways to Cooperate.” Journal Tribune 22 February 1991: 3
Wicklund, Eric. “Biddeford Tax Rebate May Be Up to Legislature.” Journal Tribune 3 October 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “City Moves to Privatize Sewer Plant.” Journal Tribune 13 July 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “City To Tap Water Users for 50% Higher Fees.” Journal Tribune 3 July 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Council To Consider Audit as Brunet Investigation Expands,” Journal Tribune 3 April 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Council Takes Angers Off Payroll.” Journal Tribune 11 April 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Councilors Back New Property Valuation.” Journal Tribune 8 August 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Day in Court Not in Cards for Twomey..” Journal Tribune 1 April 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Developer Out, City Back in as Owner of H. G. Wadlin Building.” Journal Tribune 8 February 1991: 3.
Wicklund, Eric. “I’m a People-Man and a Manager.” Journal Tribune October 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “I’m For The People and They Know That.” Journal Tribune October 1991, 1.
Wicklund, Eric. Interview by Alan Casavant. Phone Conversation: 4 December 2002.
Wicklund, Eric. “Mayor: City Budget Ignores $150,000.” Journal Tribune 23 May 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Mayor: No Apology for Twomey.” Journal Tribune 13 August 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Mayor’s Bid Draws Out Friends, Foes in 2 Cities.” Journal Tribune 27 July 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Mayors Reach Settlement with MERC.” Journal Tribune 21 September 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “MERC’s Good Day: Suit Settled, Off Site Plan Posed.” Journal Tribune 22 September 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “New Council May Find Strife.” Journal Tribune 8 October 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “No Decorations at Fire Station Until Contract Settled.” Journal Tribune 3 December 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Normand Says His Slate Offers Voters Real Change.” Journal Tribune 10 September 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Privatize Sewer Plant,” Journal Tribune 1 October 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Rumford Educator Tapped by Bddeford.” Journal Tribune 1 June 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Sheltra Picks New, Seasoned Candidates for Slate.” Journal Tribune 30 August 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Taxpayers Ready to Fight City Budget.” Journal Tribune 10 July 1990: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Undaunted Belanger Seeks Reelection as Biddeford Mayor.” Journal Tribune 26 July 1991: 1.
Wicklund, Eric. “Waste Dump, Taxes Dominate Debate.” Journal Tribune 3 October 1991: 1.
Zaitlin, Sam. Interview by Alan Casavant. Biddeford, Maine: 3 November 2002.
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Ledoux, Denis. What Became of Them. Lisbon Falls, Maine: Soleil Press, 1988.
Mello, Tam’ara. The Exploitation of Minority Mothers as Cultural Bodies: A View of French-Canadian and Black Mothers . http://www.fawi.net/ezine/vol3no3/Mello.html
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 I attended the lamb dinner at the home of Ron and Priscilla Goulet. I had never formally met Bonita Belanger and did not know the Goulets very well. Cantara believed that I should attend, as I was Council President.
 Ibid. Belanger, 35, was born in Biddeford, and had graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington. She had spent some years teaching, but at the time of her election, she owned Lorette’s Gift Shop, Trendsetter’s Hairstyling and numerous rental buildings. She was chosen “Citizen of the Year” in 1987 by the Biddeford-Saco Rotary Club, was past president of the Chamber of Commerce.
 Ibid. I too remember discussing with Cantara the practicalities of a female candidate. Not knowing Belanger personally, I was initially unaware of her skills and wary of damaging Cantara’s goals for the city. Upon meeting her, I was convinced that she could win.
 Annette Ouellette Interview, (21 November 2002), Biddeford, Maine. Ouellette worked in the mayor’s office. She knew all the political operatives. Before she was approached to run, she had heard rumors of a female that was being considered. She never expected it to be her.
 “Dutremble Wins Easy Second Term,” Biddeford-Saco Journal , 25 November 1975, 1. Lucien Dutremble served 3 terms as mayor, as well as terms as city councilor, State Legislator, and County Commissioner. His son, Denis, served in the State Senate. The Dutremble family had powerful connections and an incredible ability to garner votes. In 40 years of elective service, Babe Dutremble has never lost an election.
 Jill M. Bystydzienski, “Minority Women of North America: A Comparison of French-Canadian and African-American Women,” American Review of Canadian History, Volume XV, Number 4 (Winter 1985), p 465.
 The MERC plant had become a consistent problem during the terms of Robert Farley and Michael Cantara. Constructed on a portion of the old mill complex, it had replaced a leaking landfill. The plant was designed to produce electricity and sell steam to industries. Faulty engineering created ash and odor problems. Some people suggested health concerns.
 Eric Wicklund, “Belanger Set For Race”, Journal Tribune, ( 3 October 1989), p. 10. Campaign expenses had skyrocketed in the 1980s’. Earlier mayoral campaigns had cost less than $1000. Twomey raised no funds.
 Past candidates, such as Martin Reilly, had utilized the same device. It was believed that speaking French would gain votes. A graduate of Thornton Academy , Twomey was part Franco, but her attempt proved silly and forced. Her comment regarding the downtown was a slap at Belanger’s Downtown Development Commission.
 Ibid. Twomey had been endorsed by the Journal Tribune that had called her “a catalyst” with a “natural eloquence that can hush an audience”. Political veterans were stunned. Belanger was devastated.
 In Biddeford, the well-educated have left and continue to leave the city. Dr. Michael Guignard mentions this fact on page 125 of his book, and it has been reinforced by succeeding graduating classes of Biddeford High School. Perhaps that is why those who stay behind are often resentful of those with college degrees or successful careers. It also seems clear that those that stay behind often reflect their parents’ values.
 “Belanger Sweeps Biddeford Primary,” Portland Press Herald, (3 October 1990), np. Belanger’s victory was aided by her large family and business connections. While campaigning for her, I was stunned at how many times people told me, “Don’t worry, I am related to her.” She was also viewed as a clone of Michael Cantara.
 Roch Angers Interview, (9 December 2002), Biddeford, Maine. A former city council president and brother of former city clerk Luc Angers, Roch was brought up in a very traditional French-Canadian home. In his family, all of his uncles “wore the pants in the family”. The men “most definitely ran the show”.
 Donna Dion Interview, (2 December 2002), Phone Conversation. Dion believes that men have been held to different standards. The male was king of the house, while the mother remained in the home. Some may have worked, but once they got home, they still had things to do.
 Ibid. Eric Wicklund, a reporter who often covered the Belanger years, says, in an interview on December 4, 2002, that Belanger’s detractors often wondered “what types of deals could have been made in the back room had a male been in charge.”
 The mayor’s style of dress created an interesting contrast as, a year earlier, Michael Cantara had worn jeans to a meeting, and the Journal Tribune praised the attire as refreshing. Now a woman’s duplication had not only sparked criticism, but female criticism.
 Jacqueline Ouellette, “Some Pointers on Professionalism,” Journal Tribune, (27 March 1990), p. 9. Belanger had retired from teaching and entered into private business so as to allow more time with her children. Some women rebutted Ouellette’s comments in succeeding letters to the editor, but the general reaction was mute. Saco Mayor Mark Johnston also rebutted the letter. Young Byron Belanger even played on his lap.
 Dick Potvin, a city councilor who sat next to Belanger’s podium, use to laughingly complain of his ringing ears, when Belanger found it necessary to use her gavel. The podium itself even became dented.
 Mark Johnston Interview, (13 November 2002), Saco, Maine. “When I had my battles with the school board, revenues were down, so I called the school department in to tell them to postpone the purchasing of anything major for a few months, because we had no money. They went out the door and immediately purchased computers. Later, there was a demonstration at city hall protesting a $500,000 cut to the school budget. There was no cut. It was actually $500,000 above the budget, but we had cut $500,000 from the million dollars they wanted. So I said, you want a cut, you’ll get a cut. We cut $97,000 from their original budget. Things got better after that. Bonnie could never do that stuff because she was female”
 Richard Rhames Interview, (5 December 2002), Phone Conversation. Rhames, a vocal opponent of Belanger’s policies, argues that there are other factors that contributed to Belanger’s loss, such as the sewer fee, the Twomey arrest, the privatization of the sewer plant and school janitorial services, and her disconnect with average citizens. She had an unwillingness to listen to people who disagreed with her.
 Bonita Pothier Interview. Mark Johnston added that he similarly brought his children to all parades in Saco and was never criticized. Similarly, Annette Ouellette also had heard comments of “Get back into the kitchen.”
 Ouellette Interview. She added that women would never vote for one of their own. She believes that a lack of education fuels this thinking, as many people do not read the news and are not informed of the facts. Biddeford voters have often sent to Augusta representatives who could barely read or write. Richard Rhames believes that Biddeford is a low-brow community. Those who use big words are frowned upon and stand out.
 Laurette Pothier Interview, (20 November 2002), Biddeford, Maine. An intelligent woman, she quit school to work at a bakery and later in the mills. She had 6 sisters and 5 brothers. Her youngest sister spent a year in high school, and her youngest brother graduated. The majority of her friends and family did not attend high school. Such an educational history was not unusual. Work was valued more than education.
 In fact the De Man and Benoit study suggest that feminists and males demonstrated a higher self esteen than non feminist women, while no difference was found between males and feminists. It may be argued that the observed jealousy resulted from poor self esteem of those women who were never able to actualize their potential.
 Laurette Pothier Interview. Numerous business owners in the city have told me the same thing. Biddeford citizens will not shop in their stores. They are jealous of success and will not support each other. Store owners often battle customers who insist on cheaper prices and threaten to shop in Portland to save, literally a penny. Biddeford customers believe that the proprietors are making huge profits and thus should share.
 Norman Sepenuk, “A Profile of Franco-American Political Attitudes in New England,” A Franco-American Overview, Vol. 3 (Cambridge, Ma., 1981), p. 219. Amazingly, such comments still resonate within the social and business sectors of Biddeford. The Franco resents the success of others. Local politicians are routinely attacked on personal issues or personality, rather than on political or policy issues. For the past ten years, Biddeford politics has been a sequence of personal attack. The result? Talented people no longer run for office.
 A study conducted in the 1960's among a random sampling of 3rd Generational working-class or lower class Franco women revealed that more than half felt generally unhappy and inadequate in their individual lives (Brault, p 166). Such feelings may have affected female attitudes towards a successful, dominant Belanger.
 Ibid, 3. Belanger’s Inaugural Address was delivered on 12/5/89. The speech outlined her vision, and ended by quoting Isak Dinesin, “I will answer to what I say or do; I will answer to the impression I make. I will be responsible.”
 JoAnn Twomey, “Looking Out For Biddeford’s Interests,” Journal Tribune, (17 January 1990), p. 11. Belanger routinely had coffee and candy in her office, making meetings more inviting. The intended derogatory language, such as hostess, coffees, etc., still denote gender stereotyping. Ironically, it is a woman who is making the criticism, and again points out that Belanger is attacked for both stereotypical and anti-stereotypical roles.
 Mark Johnston of Saco claims that the contract signing was correct. There were no alternatives. He also states that because of her vision, “she cannot be viewed as a Biddeford elected official, but as a York County official. She played a major role in regional solid waste management. She shaped waste policies for the past decade. This is how she will be measured. She was the best person for that job in that time period.” 26 November 2002
 Bonita Pothier Interview. Twomey regularly got away with lying, as the press accepted her words at face value. A former director of the Chamber of Commerce also caught Twomey lying, in French, to some elderly citizens at the community center. She, however, immediately, and in French, pointed out those “errors”.
 Twomey owned a singing balloon service and not connected to any political family. Her politics triggered the beginning of personal politics in Biddeford. Behind the scenes, she was profane, abusive, and hostile. She badgered those who opposed her, phoning donors to opposing campaigns to berate their donations, and accosted people outside of City Hall, when they disagreed with her positions. Despite such conduct, she has been regularly elected to Biddeford political offices, popular with the elderly and the poor.
 Clairma Matherne Interview, (4 December 2002), Biddeford, Maine. Matherne was appointed to the position of city clerk, by Belanger, after the firing of Luc Angers. She notes that Twomey still gets out of control on the MERC issue and clashes with anyone who disagrees with her position.
 Most people who are politically connected in Biddeford agree that Twomey sabotaged Belanger’s term. Though she is vicious against her enemies, she is able to create an image of wholesomeness, integrity, and sincerity, when speaking to the poor and the elderly. Roch Angers, in his interview, called Twomey “a loud mouth” who fought Belanger because “she had disciplined her”. Most agree that Twomey could only get elected in Biddeford. Mark Johnston, for example, says she could never get elected in Saco.
 Entman believes journalists demand a higher standard for public figures. Though this standard is based on Progressivism and the emphasis of applying business standards to government, strict applicability of business standards do not work and are chastised by the media. For example, the press demands open government and immediate disclosure, yet in the political arena, the revealing of a proposal before the glitches are worked out, triggers a negative connotation within the press. In the business world, nothing is revealed until the system works.
 Eric Wicklund Interview, (4 December 2002), phone conversation. He claims Cantara knew how to work the system. During Michael’s term, things were quiet, but when Bonnie was mayor, so many things happened, that people were shocked and couldn’t handle it.
 Sepenuk, “A Profile Of Franco-American Political Attitudes,” p. 218. Benoit wrote these observations in 1961. He also identifies characteristics such as timidity, prejudice, the holding of political grudges, the tendency for emotion to dominate reason, and verbal violence, as being causes of the lack of Franco political power. Professor Barry Rodrigue of USM notes that anecdotal information suggests that State Supreme Court Justice Elmer Violette once lost a state election because Lewiston Franco voters had an ‘How dare you rise above us” attitude.
 In fact, in order to bypass the press and generate a more accurate, factual representation of City Hall policies or actions, Belanger created, on public access television, Minutes with the Mayor, a 30 minute broadcast that preceded regular council meetings. Infuriated by her actions, her opponents, especially Richard Rhames, demanded equal access to broadcasting in order to debate her comments. They were denied.
 There is evidence that the press, rather than Belanger’s poor style, created distortions. In 1990, Belanger appointed Dana Peck to the council. Peck, aware of negative city publicity, insisted that he could effectively deal with the reporters. He carefully outlined MERC issues with them and told me that tomorrow’s story would be accurate. The next day, as I walked into city hall, I saw him jumping on a Journal Tribune newspaper. He was furious. Despite his patience, the paper had taken his words out of context and had distorted what his explanation.
 Mark Robinson, “Welcome to Trashville, JoAnn,” Biddeford-Saco Courier, (nd), np. Biddeford Pool residents also showed to protest high taxes, and Channel Six produced a nasty piece entitled “MERC, City Hall, and Corruption”. Ironically, the positive campaign eventually collapsed because of all the negative publicity.
 Wicklund Interview. Roch Angers, in his interview, went one step further. He argues that Belanger was also trapped by family limitations. Coming from a respected, good family, she could not fight dirty against Twomey. She was trapped by her heritage and family background. She couldn’t do the things that Twomey could do.
 Ibid. Robert Boilard, a friend of Twomey, held a Tea Party in the back of the room after the meeting, as he had a gallon jug filled with ash and water that he insisted was similar to what was being deposited into the river and water supply by the plant. He offered tea to the councilors, but there were no takers.
 Police Chief Roger Beaupre, once ordered by the mayor to get his office involved in the investigation, asked her “Do you know what you are asking me to do? Do you understand the ramifications of what you are asking?” He added, “If you get me involved with my department, don’t you dare sweep this under the rug as they have done in the past. You have that option now before it becomes public. We don’t know what this will unravel or what it will uncover. If you let me do what I do, then you better back me with the results.” Bonita Pothier Interview.
 Cummings, Lamont, and McNamee, “Audit Letter to Mayor, Finance Committee and City Council,” (9 November 1989)pp. 1-4. In this letter, the auditors “urgently recommend” the installation of a double-entry system. They suggested the hiring of a finance director and identified numerous cash and investment improvements. When Belanger began to computerize the affected departments, she was criticized for spending too much money. Past administrations had failed to upgrade the financial departments because of cost, and a long standing practice to hold the line on taxes. Tax increases were a guaranteed way to lose an election.
 Wicklund Interview. Roch Angers, in his interview, agreed with this assessment. “She was viewed as being the same as Michael Cantara, polished and smooth, when she was first elected. But when things started to happen and were seen as mistakes, because she was a female, people had a target. This was because she was the first. Even my father said that she should not be mayor, that she should be with her kids.” (9 December 2002)
 Erland Hardy, the city attorney, had drafted such language as he believed that such charges were more encompassing and more provable in a court of law than direct embezzlement charges. Hardy’s choice as Belanger’s solicitor had been controversial, because he was not Franco and did not live in Biddeford. Some local attorneys were angry that they had not been selected. Belanger did not play the patronage game.
 Michele Valway, “Belanger Requests Commissioners’ Keys,” Journal Tribune, (9 March 1990), P. 1. Bob Ladderbush who would not give his keys, ran for reelection on an opposing ticket in 1991. Letellier would resign. The press now regularly attended all Commission meetings, something that had rarely ever been done.
 Jill M. Bystydzienski, “Minority Women of North America: A Comparison of French-Canadian and African-American Women,” American Review of Canadian History, Volume XV, Number 4 (Winter 1985), pp 465, 469.
 Vicky Edgerly, Interview by Alan Casavant, (12 December 2002), Biddeford, Maine. The city’s welfare director, she was hired by Mayor Martin Rielly. He described her to a councilor as “A real good looker”, and her interview was laced with personal questions rather than competency issues.
 I chaired that meeting. The tension was incredible. The mayor carefully presented all the evidence to the council. As councilors asked questions, I remember thinking how terrible it would be if I had to break a 5-5 tie. I kept trying to get a feel for how individual councilors were leaning. Thankfully, it was a 6-4 vote. Belanger was devastated. I remember her sitting on a bench, crying, being consoled by Councilor Gary Plamondon.
 Michele Valway, “Angers Dismissal Emotional,” Journal Tribune, (10 May 1990), p. 1. The situation was further complicated by the embezzlement charges against Personnel Director Jacklyn Brunet, who ultimately was charged and with the theft of $30,000. Belanger was furious at the loss of confidence in the insurance scam.
 Angers Interview. Roch Angers, Luc’s brother, believes that the fall-out was not as great as one might expect. He says that “she was doing her job, doing what she had to do. I would do the same thing. As the years went by, the Luc situation did not have the impact as we thought it would.” That, however, is the view of ten years past. In the immediate context of the firing and Belanger’s strong leadership, political alliances were frayed.
 Robert Dodge Interview, (4 December 2002), Biddeford, Maine. Dodge served as Community Development Director during the Belanger Administration and still works for the city of Biddeford. He believes that Belanger’s policies were sound, but that she was regularly “cheapshotted by Twomey.” Belanger was progressive “in terms of education and tough decisions, but (she) paid the price. Pocketbook issues are important.”
 Johnston Interview, (12 November 2002). I had “no public participation, except at public hearings. I knew how to do that because I had been in city government as a ‘little Joanne’. I was not going to allow anyone to stop my government.” He believes the status of the mayoral office itself created the gender problem in Biddeford.
 Eric Wicklund effectively argues that Twomey made a name for herself representing anti-establishment powers. Belanger worked from the inside, while Twomey worked from the outside. As mayor, Belanger was forced to operate under certain restrictions, because of her office. She had to follow its norms.
 Saco held same view regarding council meetings. At a Saco meeting regarding MERC, Twomey again got out of order, forcing Mayor Johnston to tell her publicly, “Don’t force me to do what my counterpart in Biddeford did, because I will do so.”
 Valway and Wicklund, “Twomey Shocked After Council Arrest”, p. 1. The mayor had asked Twomey if she wanted her to call the police, and Twomey responded “yes”. When police arrive, Twomey waved her hands saying, “Right here, guys, right here.”
 “Citizen Participation: Was This Arrest Really Necessary?,” Journal Tribune, (11 August 1990), p. 6. Belanger had not ordered Twomey’s arrest, just her removal. The police escalated to the next step.
 To the community, he was a political unknown. However, he possessed an ax to grind. His father had been principal of the junior high school when Belanger had been a teacher. Belanger had been instrumental in getting the elder Hanson removed from his position.
 Johnston Interview, (26 November 2002). During this time, Belanger had appointed Twomey friend, Bob Boilard to the Harbor Commission. He quit, saying, “I work better from the outside, not the inside.” It is easier to take pot shots from the outside, where there is no accountability, as opposed to the inside, where you are judged. Johnston says that leaders cannot use a shotgun approach for results. You have to visualize the future. Those on the outside can blast away without looking to the end results, just immediate targets.
 In interviews, most have indicated that the sewer user fee was the greatest cause of citizen unrest. It infuriated people. People argued that it was a hidden tax. Eddie Caron, a local attorney, in an interview said that taxes and the user fee were the biggest problems. Even male mayors lose elections because of tax increases.
 Mary Beth Guignard, “Taxpayers Should Commend Officials,” Journal Tribune, (30 August 1990), p. 9. The clown reference was an allusion to JoAnn Twomey’s balloon business, as she often dressed as a clown.
 The meeting proved to be outrageous. One man sat in the audience with a small suitcase on his lap. City Councilor, Gary Plamondon, said to me at the meeting, “See that guy with the suitcase. He has a gun in there, but don’t worry, I have mine”, motioning to under his arm. Gary was a deputy sheriff.
 Richard Rhames Interview, (5 December 2002), by phone. Rhames later served on the City Council, but was an outspoken critic of Belanger because of the Twomey arrest, the sewer fee, and MERC. He is a farmer and known for his activism on behalf of cable access programming.
 The battle shifted to Saco. At one point, the mayor and council found themselves pinned against the wall with Twomey and Diane Diolio leading a chant urging a council vote. Diolio grabbed the mayor’s gavel and slammed it on the table. Opponents yelled that they hoped that Johnston’s children would be the first to die of an illness caused by the incinerator.
 During one MERC contract hearing in Saco, Johnston, when presented with a bed by Twomey, told her “Hey Bonnie got a better one”, in reference to the fur lined one that she got. He added that “They should have nailed me, because I changed, but they didn’t. They nailed Bonnie. It didn’t bother me a bit with the demonstrations and antics because I knew these people.” (Mark Johnston Interview)
 Gent once told her, “You are truly the epitome of a super woman, and I don’t understand how you do it”. Rather than take the statement as a compliment, Pothier claims that all woman are like that, never understanding that the statement was reflective of her unique ability to do so many things outstandingly well. It was a testament to her sweeping, multiple intelligences. (Bonita Pothier Interview)
 Wicklund, “Undaunted Belanger Seeks Reelection as Biddeford Mayor,” Journal Tribune, (26 July 1991), p. 1. The softening of style again was an allusion to femininity and her perceived abrasiveness when she asserted authority.
 Eric Wicklund, “Normand Says His Slate Offers Voters Real Change,” Journal Tribune, (10 September 1991), p. 10. Belanger’s slate included 10 men running for 11 council positions; one man and one woman running for 3 police commission positions; 4 women and 3 men running for school board positions.
 “Belanger: A Strong Leader With a Firm Grasp of the Realities,” Journal Tribune, (4 October 1991), p. 10. Such a strong of an endorsement is surprising, unless one considers the poor quality of the opposition.
 Ibid., p. 10. In fact, Belanger had been urged by some to not send out the bills until after the election, but she refused to play that game. She would not hide behind the inevitable to suit her political advantage.
 Farley had irately called her, blasting her for making aspersions about his mayoral term. At the time, she was on the phone talking to Attorney General James Tierney about the scandals. The press had noted that auditors reports in the past had identified the problems, but had done nothing about it. Belanger was quoted as saying that it was about time something got done. Farley said, “I will get you for that. How dare you make those comments? You are white washing everyone in the same mode.” (From Bonita Pothier Interview)
 Edgerly Interview. Vicky recounts how she walked into city hall, 15 years ago, wearing a maxi skirt. She was called into the office by one city official who told her, in front of Mayor Rielly, that he preferred her working in her shorter skirts! Today, such comments are more muted. The demographics of Biddeford are also changing, and the pure Franco character is disappearing, diluted by young people moving to the area in search of affordable housing. In City Hall itself, politicians like James Grattelo still resonate popularly within the culture. Sexist, bullying, and confrontational, he is viewed as a strong leader, responsive to the taxpayers.