RUMFORD — Politics between a former Republican candidate and an Oxford County Democratic Party leader derailed the River Valley Candidates Night forum, a debate between area legislative candidates scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Mountain Valley High School.
After announcing the forum on Oct. 6, Len Greaney, who helped plan the event, clashed with Cathy Newell of the Oxford County Democrats in a flurry of e-mails to the Sun Journal and Rumford Falls Times.
That discord led Janet Brennick, second vice chairman of the River Valley Chamber of Commerce, to officially cancel the event Tuesday afternoon.
“Due to short notice and unforeseen factors, the River Valley Chamber has not been able to pull enough interest from all sides to facilitate this event,” Brennick said by e-mail to both newspapers.
She said the Rumford Rotary and Bangor Savings Bank, for whom she also works, would not sponsor a candidates night at this time, but left open a future possibility.
Greaney blamed Newell for the discord, saying she told her candidates not to attend after he wrote a letter to the editor endorsing Republican candidate for Maine governor, Paul LePage, and state Senate candidate Sawin Millett, R-Waterford. It was published on Oct. 2 in the Sun Journal.
“I just wanted to see a candidate night without political considerations,” Greaney said Friday. “My (letter) was my choice as a voter.”
A former Rumford town manager, Greaney said he registered as an independent in 2006, but was recruited by the Republican Party to run for state Senate against incumbent Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield. He did and lost.
In 2008, he said the party again asked him to run, this time for representative in District 92, but when he said he wanted to run as an independent, the party instead chose Rob Cameron, who lost to Matthew Peterson, D-Rumford.
“Somehow, the Democratic Party in Oxford County doesn't want their candidates to go 'head to head' with their opponents,” Greaney said of the failed event.
Newell cited her reasoning on Tuesday by e-mail.
“On Oct. 6, the River Valley Democratic candidates for legislative and county office were informed of a hastily constructed candidates' forum being driven by one of Rumford's local Republican leaders, Len Greaney, and set for the date of Oct. 19,” Newell said.
Prior to setting up the event and booking the venue, she said organizers should have consulted with the Democrats.
“The date was in conflict with work commitments for one candidate, and with a county budget hearing involving three of the six invited candidates,” Newell said.
“When asked for advice, I recommended that the other two Democratic candidates, who had not already declined, stick with their own campaign plans rather than attend.”
Greaney then sought help from Rumford selectmen on Thursday night. He asked them to urge the three Democratic legislative candidates, John Patrick and incumbents Peterson and Sheryl Briggs, to attend. Chairman Brad Adley said they would try to help.
Later, Greaney e-mailed the selectmen, saying, “I'm sure you agree that democracy in the River Valley will fall back seriously if our local legislative candidates cannot understand the importance of facing their opponents in a fair and balanced way.”
Newell called Greaney's attempts to present himself as impartial bogus.
“He is a former Republican candidate for office and, as recently as Oct. 2, endorsed two Republican candidates, including the opponent of John Patrick for Senate, in a letter to the Sun, as well as sporting lawn signs for the Republicans,” Newell said.
“Candidate forums work when they are planned with consultation with both parties well in advance of the election so that candidates are able to agree on the date, format, etc.,” she said.
“This was not the case with Len Greaney's forum, and we are gratified that the chamber and others have distanced themselves from this effort.”
Newell said her party's candidates will be completing home visits in the coming weeks, listening to voters, and “making the case for their support.”
“That is their top priority,” she said.
Greaney said he helped plan the event to let voters familiarize themselves with the candidates and their views prior to the Nov. 2 election.
By Friday night, Greaney removed himself from what he called “a somewhat confrontational situation.”
“I have zero regrets about the actions, even the (confrontational) actions,” he said.
“My children know that I possess three separate communication styles: comfort, clarity and confrontation. I only resort to the confrontation style when I feel that the stakes are high enough to take the risk. I took that risk and here we are.”