Ad watch: This dog fight is nasty business

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Race, party: Gubernatorial, Republican

TV ads: “Less jobs”

Length: 30 seconds

Producer: Marsh Copsley and Associates

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Sponsor: Poliquin for Maine Governor

Market: Television

Announcer: Male announcer

Text, audio and visuals: Les Otten is seen standing at a podium saying, “I know how to build jobs in Maine,” as the image purposely flickers, while slow-building, ominous music plays. An announcer then says, “Really, Les? As CEO of American Skiing Co., Les Otten piled up massive debt; the New York Stock Exchange delisted Otten’s company for financial mismanagement; Otten was forced out as CEO; and American Skiing filed bankruptcy. Maine families lost jobs.” After each allegation is announced, a clip of Otten saying, “jobs in Maine” is repeated. Names of prominent local newspapers also run across the screen as each charge is made. It finishes with the announcer saying, “Les Otten. Less jobs,” with the words written on screen.

Purpose: To highlight Otten’s negative experience as CEO of American Skiing Co.; the ad seeks to convince Mainers that Otten is not the successful businessman his campaign claims he is.

Accuracy: As CEO of American Skiing Company, Otten did pile up crippling debt. In March 2001, the company was carrying more than $400 million in debt, which was about 70 percent of the company’s capital value, according to Sun Journal archives.

The ad also accurately reports that the NYSE delisted the company. The NYSE uses certain numerical benchmarks to determine whether a company should get delisted, but according to their written policy, “the exchange may give consideration to any definitive action that a company would propose to take that would bring it above continued listing standards.” By choosing to delist American Skiing Co., decision-makers at the NYSE were clearly not optimistic the company, and more specifically its management, could succeed in making a turnaround.

“Forced out?” According to Chris Howard, Otten’s attorney who also worked at American Skiing, Otten voluntarily resigned his position as CEO and remained on the company board for several years afterward. Foster Stewart, the attorney in charge of what remains of the company’s assets, said he could not comment on whether Otten was forced out or whether it was fair to say Otten voluntarily resigned. He did say there was no formal vote of any kind asking Otten to leave. According to a 2007 report in the Portland Press Herald, Otten said, “My old company is coming apart, and they’re not letting me run it anymore.”

American Skiing Co., contrary to the Poliquin ad’s assertion, never filed for bankruptcy. It sold off all its resort assets and investors lost millions.

The claim that Maine families lost jobs is misleading. Some employees from the Newry-Bethel area who had been promoted within American Skiing Co. either chose to leave the company or were let go as a result of the company’s failure. But the Bethel area continues to benefit from the tourism and hospitality industry that grew as a result of Otten’s promotion of Sunday River and his role at American Skiing Co., according to Robin Zinchuk, executive director of Bethel’s Chamber of Commerce.

Our view: The attack ad is nasty. It’s dramatic. It’s riveting. And, its only partly true.

The claim that American Skiing Co. filed bankruptcy is just plain wrong, and its inclusion in the ad says more about Bruce Poliquin’s willingness to bend the facts than it does about Les Otten’s business acumen. And who knows whether Otten was pushed out at American Skiing Co. if no one will say anything on the record?

Poliquin was born in Maine, worked hard and earned a top-notch education that he put to productive use on Wall Street. He has been campaigning that he’ll bring something different to Maine, that it won’t be business as usual if he’s in the Blaine House because he’s a businessman and not a politician.

With less than a month to go before the June 8 primary, with this single ad, Poliquin has  proven he’s every bit the politician, as much as anyone else who ever ran for office.

Mainers don’t like attack ads. If Poliquin wants to win votes, he should focus on the many and varied successes in his own background, instead of harping on what he perceives as failures in Otten’s background.

Voters need less criticism and more evidence that Poliquin has the chops to lead this state. Otherwise, the only thing voters might remember about Poliquin is that he started this dog fight.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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