Congdon: 'Would I be so brain-dead to stand up and say those things?'

AUGUSTA — Philip Congdon, who Wednesday abruptly resigned his post as the state's head of economic development, says the offensive comments that apparently cost him his job were not reported accurately and taken out of context.

Associated Press file photo

Philip Congdon says when he made remarks that led to complaints from Aroostook County residents, "I thought I was talking to people who were sufficiently intelligent to understand my real meaning. I was mistaken."

Congdon stepped down as the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development following widespread complaints that the Round Pond resident disparaged Aroostook County residents and minorities during speaking engagements held there earlier this month.

Congdon's remarks at a Chamber of Commerce event in Caribou and another meeting in Presque Isle came during a tour on April 1, where he reportedly told attendees that Aroostook County residents needed "to get off the reservation" and told another gathering about the negative impact of the nation's affirmative action programs on the educational system.

But Congdon, 69, disputed those statements in a phone conversation Thursday, saying they were taken out of context and misinterpreted.

"Would I be so brain dead to stand up there in front of an audience and a microphone and say those kinds of things?" he asked.

Congdon said his reported remark about affirmative action "was totally taken out of context."

He declined to repeat the statement, saying only that he made it during a "private conversation."

"Unfortunately, I thought I was talking to people who were sufficiently intelligent enough to understand my real meaning," he said. "I was mistaken."

Congdon said his reported "reservation" comment was "absolutely untrue."

He noted the absence of media at the events.

"I had hoped there would be at least one camera there," he said. "I was defenseless."

Several individuals who attended the events had a different view of Congdon's remarks. Tim Crowley, the president of Northern Maine Community College, told the Sun Journal he attended one of the events.

While Crowley declined to repeat the remarks, he said "there were some things that transpired that raised some concerns."

Jenny Coon, the executive director of the Caribou Chamber of Commerce, told Maine Public Broadcasting Network that attendees were shocked by Congdon's comments during an awards dinner. Coon told the network that Congdon had several controversial theories about why Maine's economy was in a slump.

"And also we're poor parents, that was another reason why things are the way they are today is because we're poor parents," Coon told the station.

Ken Murchison, with Northern Maine Development Commission, was also at the event. Murchison told the Kennebec Journal, "He (Congdon) growled at us for 45 minutes and said things like 'Get off the reservation.' "

Such accounts eventually made their way to state Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who detailed the remarks in a letter to Gov. Paul LePage.

Martin and the Governor's Office have declined to turn over the letter, saying the document relates to a personnel matter. The Sun Journal on Thursday requested the document through a Freedom of Access Act request. Under the Labor Relations Act, "If disciplinary action is taken, the final written decision relating to that action is no longer confidential after the decision is completed if it imposes or upholds discipline."

Under FOAA law, the administration has five business days to respond to the request. 

Confronted by reporters Thursday, LePage had little to say about Congdon's resignation. When asked why he refused to comment on a significant change to his cabinet, LePage said, "Let me put it this way, my actions should speak for themselves."

He added, "We had a personnel issue, we dealt with it. Let's move on."

The governor was also asked if he felt Congdon had been sufficiently vetted for the position.

"Absolutely," LePage said. "He was vetted. Believe me, he was vetted."

Congdon is a retired engineer for Texas Instruments and former member of the Maine Constitutionalists, a tea party organization in Waldoboro. LePage was introduced to Congdon during an event there.

On Thursday, Congdon disputed that characterization of his remarks. He also indicated that he wasn't asked to resign by LePage.

Asked why he would leave voluntarily if his reported comments were inaccurate, he said, "I'm a supporter of what the governor is trying to do. If what I'm doing is not helping the cause, then I'll get out of the way."

He later added, "It's very difficult to battle people with he-said, she-said."

Congdon also denied speculation that he was reluctant to leave his office at the Burton Cross building Wednesday. While nobody would speak on the record, there were widespread rumors that Congdon didn't go quietly. 

Several spotted Congdon making his way through the Capitol grounds hours after his resignation.

Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin confirmed that Congdon was still on the grounds several hours after his resignation. Gauvin also confirmed that Congdon was escorted out of the building by Capitol Police, but that such measures are routine for employees leaving their posts.

Gauvin, one of the officers who escorted Congdon, said it was "a non-event," but acknowledged that "some employees were concerned because he was still there so long, especially after how he was let go."

"You could sense a lot of anxiety among the staff," Gauvin said.

Congdon, a concealed weapons permit holder, called "outrageous" anonymous claims that he'd previously brought his gun to work. Guns are currently not allowed on Capitol grounds. 

"I've never had a gun on me in Augusta," Congdon said.

LePage has yet to name a replacement candidate for the DECD post.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

RONALD RIML's picture

No Humble-Pie here.....

Arrogance exceeded only by his Ignorance.

Does that somehow remind you of another Bright, Shining Star we witnessed out of Texas???

 's picture

Congdon and LePage

Evidently. Congdon is brain dead. And, his insulting remarks tell me that he and LePage are two peas in a pod. It always amazes me that some men of this age are just down right ornery. The need to belittle others is a horrible trait no matter what position in life. Very sad. And, very disturbing when the men are in positions of power in public government.

 's picture

Yes, you would.

"Would I be so brain dead to stand up there in front of an audience and a microphone and say those kinds of things?" he asked.

When you consider the administration you work for, yes you would. In the long run, we the people have to consider the source.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

new excuse needed

The RNC really needs to send out a new talking point memo on excuses. "Out of context," "media messed up," and "I didn't say that," are becoming shopworn. Every other time a Republican politician opens his mouth and inserts his foot, one of the three is guaranteed to be the next day's story.

At least Governor LePage just tells people to stick it in their ear or to do something else with it if he gets criticized.

 's picture

Yes, he would be!

His quote. "Would I be so brain dead to stand up and say those things?"
The answer to that is apparently yes, based on this quote
"Unfortunately, I thought I was talking to people who were sufficiently intelligent enough to understand my real meaning," he said. "I was mistaken."

This guy is right out of LePage's book! Won't admit to what he did, won't tell the truth, blame someone else.
The blame lies with LePage, i recall a very very wise man said one "The buck stops here". Paul LePage however is not very wise, his line is "it's not my fault"

 's picture

sufficiently intelligent enough

Yeah, "sufficiently intelligent enough to understand my real meaning." I guess you've got to know the code. I'm not sufficiently intelligent enough to know where to get a decoder ring. Do they come in cereal boxes?

GARY SAVARD's picture

Terry, Paul Lepage fired

Terry, Paul Lepage fired Congdon as soon as this came to his attention. What's wrong with that? Do you remember when Baldacci's pal, David Lamoine, lost about $20 million of taxpayer money he invested in a Ponzi Scheme? Was he fired? Did Baldacci apologize for appointing a crony to a job he wasn't qualified to do? Ah, but selective memory is nice, isn't it?

 's picture

Facts

It would help if you got your facts right. Lamoine was State Treasurer appointed by the Legislature (just like the present State Treasurer). Baldacci had nothing to do with his appointment unlike Poliquin who the Governor requested be appointed State Treasurer.

 's picture

I don't understand...

Because of what Mr. Lamoine did, makes what Mr. Congdon did all right?

GARY SAVARD's picture

Bob, what Mr. Lamoine did

Bob, what Mr. Lamoine did doesn't make what Mr. Congdon did right, and Paul Lepage fired Congdon on the spot, unlike John Baldacci, who covered Lamoine's butt with excuses and whitewash. That is my point. The point was made in answer to a post that held up Baldacci as career politician with impeccable credentials as compared to Lepage, mayor of a small city with no real experince for the job. Kind of like B. Obama, I guess.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Poor Phil, surrounded by

Poor Phil, surrounded by stupid people. You can call Mr. Congdon many things, but humble isn't one of them.

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