LEWISTON – On the second day of questions about old tax liens against him in Farmington, Republican gubernatorial candidate Chandler Woodcock blamed political dirty tricks for the revelations so close to the election.

Meanwhile, two other candidates were forced to answer questions about liens of their own, while the fourth said the others had plenty to be ashamed about, never mind the inconsequential liens.

Woodcock held a hastily arranged news conference Thursday morning in Portland to answer questions about a series of 10 liens placed against his house in Farmington beginning in 1997.

Nine of the liens involved unpaid bills for municipal sewer service. The 10th was placed on his house in 2005 for an unpaid state income tax bill from 2003. All of the liens have been discharged.

Woodcock called the release of the information with just two weeks left in the gubernatorial race “suspicious at best and dirty politics at worst,” according to The Associated Press.

On Wednesday night, Woodcock explained the liens to the Sun Journal, saying that he and his wife had struggled to pay all of their bills while putting four children through college and caring for an elderly relative.

Woodcock’s comments Thursday at the news conference echoed similar concerns from his campaign manager, Chris Jackson, who spoke to the Sun Journal right after news of the liens broke on WMTW-TV Channel 8, which was the first to report the matter on Wednesday.

“I don’t even think it’s an issue,” Jackson said. “I think it’s another attempt by people to distract voters.”

Neither Woodcock nor Jackson would identify who they think is responsible for the release of the information, saying only that they thought it came from a rival political party.

Candidates react

The Baldacci campaign and the Maine Democratic Party said they played no role in disclosing the information.

“All families are familiar with times of financial hardship,” said Ben Dudley, the chairman of the Maine Democratic Party. “Chandler Woodcock has paid his debts and as far as the Maine Democratic Party is concerned, this is a private matter that has no place in the discussion over the 2006 election.”

Green Independent Pat LaMarche said her campaign also wasn’t involved and that she had talked to Jane Meisenbach, the chairwoman of the state party, who said her organization didn’t release the information.

Independent Barbara Merrill, a state representative from Appleton who’s also running, said Wednesday night her campaign had no role in the disclosure. It added nothing to the important political debate going on in the state, she said.

Across the state in Augusta, Gov. John Baldacci answered questions about a $7.64 lien placed against his family’s Bangor restaurant in 2003.

In a news conference outside the Blaine House Thursday afternoon, Baldacci explained the small lien against Momma Baldacci’s, which was placed soon after his mother’s death and during the transition of ownership. He was also running for governor at the time. The lien has been discharged.

“It was my responsibility, and I should have made sure it was written correctly,” Baldacci told the Sun Journal in a telephone interview. “It was an oversight, a mistake, that was taken care of as soon as I learned of it.”

A search of property records in Knox County, where Merrill lives with her husband, Phil, turned up a $12,680.93 lien against the independent’s home in 2000.

Merrill’s campaign described it as a mechanical lien that came from a dispute with a subcontractor who did work on the house while it was being built.

The matter was settled within a couple of months, said Dick Dyer, a Merrill spokesman.

A distraction

A search of Cumberland County records turned up no liens on LaMarche.

“I am clean,” LaMarche said Thursday. “That’s what poverty does for you, you don’t own anything that a lien can be put against.”

LaMarche said she sold her home to put her two children through college.

“I think what matters is this is what it’s like to live in Maine right now,” LaMarche said. “It’s why we have (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights). A lot of people are having a hard time.”

LaMarche’s only other comment about the liens was one of sympathy. “I feel bad for the Woodcock family. I bet it was a difficult morning at breakfast,” she said.

She did not, however, hold her fire against her three opponents for other fiscal matters.

“There are real money issues that should have raised red flags about these candidates,” LaMarche said.

Merrill was fined $10,000 by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices for misfiling clean election paperwork, and Baldacci and Woodcock have allowed outside groups to spend millions of dollars on their behalf, undermining the Maine Clean Election Act, LaMarche said.

Karl Trautman, the chairman of the department of social sciences at Central Maine Community College, said it was too early to know whether the disclosure would affect the race for governor.

“At the very least it’s going to be a distraction for the Woodcock campaign,” Trautman said. “Eight points down and less than two weeks to go, the last thing you need at this point in a race is a distraction.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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