JACKMAN — The people of Jackman hope the select board will do the right thing.
The small tourist town has been under scrutiny since Town Manager Tom Kawczynski’s white separatist, anti-Islamic and misogynistic comments were first published by media outlets Friday.
The posts on Kawczynski’s Facebook page and Gab, an alt-right social media network, range from sympathizing with Nazis — writing Nazis were not villains but simply nationalists — to making appeals for racial segregation by sharing a meme that said, “Leaves are like civilizations. They change color as they die.”
On Monday, residents and business owners in Jackman told the Morning Sentinel that Kawczynski’s posts have tainted their quiet, remote community in the eyes of the world. They see Jackman, which is just 17 miles from the Canadian border and home to fewer than 900 people, as a friendly, tourist town. They boast about their views of pine tree-lined mountains and frozen ponds. One resident called it a melting pot where Canadians come to play and migrant workers from all over the world come to work part-time in the summers.
But now they are seeing a backlash play out on social media, with some outsiders broadly painting the town and its people as racist. It’s not the way they want their home to be viewed. They hope Kawczynski will be out of a job come Tuesday morning, when the four members of the select board are scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on the negative publicity Kawczynski’s postings have brought to Jackman.
“I have a feeling he’s going to be looking for another job soon,” said Debbie Petrin, who owns the Long Pond Camps and Guide Services and works as an animal control officer for the town.
The attention on Jackman already has been bad for business, she said.
“I was bashed on Facebook because of the situation,” Petrin said. One individual has taken it upon himself to give businesses in town low ratings on travel and dining websites because he believes the business owners are partly responsible for Kawczynski’s employment, Petrin said. That’s a characterization that she believes is not true and unfair.
“I feel that we shouldn’t have to be punished until we follow the steps that need to be taken. Give businesses the opportunity to react before he goes around branding us all racists. That’s very unfair.”
Petrin said she did not know Kawczynski personally. She said they may have exchanged polite small talk a few times, but she was not aware of his beliefs or that he was the “steward” of a website, and potentially a group of people, called New Albion, which says it aims to defend the people and culture of New England, and that people of different races should “voluntarily separate.”
Similarly, others in town did not know about New Albion or Kawczynski’s white separatist views until his comments were published. But now that they know, they think that holding these viewpoints disqualifies him from holding a public position.
“You can’t be the town manager and saying stuff like that,” said Mark Giroux, who sits on the SAD 12 school board and owns Jackman Hardware and Sporting Goods.
Giroux, a Moose River resident who has owned the shop in Jackman for about eight years, said he wasn’t against Kawczynski and that he did a good job of separating his views from doing the work of a town manager, but since he posted those views so publicly, he shouldn’t continue in his role.
“I’m not worried about it,” he said as he worked on an AR-15 rifle. “It’s Jackman. He’s not burning crosses and he’s not wearing swastika stickers around. He’s cleanly dressed and he’s got his opinion. But he should not be a town official saying what he’s saying.
“I don’t want to go out and lynch mob him. I don’t think he’s that bad. But he needs to start his cult somewhere else.”
Trevor Martin, who works at Mountain Country Supermarket, said he has lived in Jackman for two years but he grew up in Lewiston. He said he lived alongside people of all skin colors and backgrounds. “They’re the same as us,” he said.
He said Jackman is not a racist town.
“It’s a quiet town. It’s a peaceful town. There’s hunters and snowmobilers and Canadians come down here. A lot of good people live here,” Martin said.
He thought the select board needed to do a better job vetting the next town manager, if Kawczynski decided to quit or if he’s fired by the town.
“I think they should have took a deeper look into his past,” he said. “They should find someone who grew up here and knows the town better. I think they should find someone who has roots here. Someone who is looking for business opportunities, not just picking one group of people and accept them and not the others. That’s not right.”
Raymond Levesque, who owns three businesses in town, including Bishop’s Store, wrote an open letter to Kawczynski, making a plea to the town manager not to do any further damage to Jackman and its people.
In the letter, which was given to the Sentinel by Levesque’s daughter, Kimberly Danforth, Levesque made a personal plea by telling the story of his French-Canadian family coming to America in the mid-1900s and not being welcomed by people. He wrote that his grandfather changed their last name to Bishop, which is the English translation of Levesque, and named their family business Bishop’s Store so that customers would not discriminate.
Now, Levesque said he welcomes all people to his business, regardless of skin color, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or beliefs, and that included Kawczynski.
“However,” Levesque wrote, “you were hired to lead and help Jackman by serving its residents, its businesses, its economy and anyone passing through or visiting. Sadly for Jackman, now the opposite occurred. …”
He asked Kawczynski, who has posted on social media that he will not resign, to rethink his fight with the town over his employment.
“Please do not drag us further into your cause or agenda as you are only hurting those whom you were hired to help,” Levesque wrote, ending his letter.
Longtime Jackman resident Pat Roy said that in addition to the negativity that Kawczynski’s comments have brought to the town, those comments are not indicative of the people who live there.
“We’re a community. When you live remotely, you rely on each other. We look out for each other,” said Roy, who was enjoying a cup of coffee at Kori’s Kap.
She said she will let the select board decide what to do about Kawczynski at the meeting 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Jackman Town Office, but she hopes outsiders will still feel welcome in her town.
“Come enjoy the outdoors,” she urged. “It’s beautiful here.”
Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239