Maybe Lewiston should erect playground equipment from Maple Street Park inside the city council chambers. Though kids around Knox Street don’t have a place to play, childish behavior is still welcome at city hall.

Only petty politics – like that played by Councilor Normand Rousseau and Mayor Laurent Gilbert – could derail a noble notion like a Knox Street pocket park. Community activists have worked for years to replace the defunct Maple Street Park, and Knox Street was a fine solution.

Until the politicians got involved.

Rousseau, who owns the Knox Street property, and Gilbert, the loudest voice on the city council, instead of scuttling their election-related differences, allowed their mutual distaste to infect this laudable effort.

There is no reason for it. Certainly, former Councilor Mark Mason muddied waters with his eleventh-hour $25,000 bid for the Park Street property (and a $5,000 donation for a new park), but this shouldn’t have scuttled the deal. It was an ironable wrinkle.

Rather, two torpedoes sunk the property swap: Gilbert and Rousseau, two foes who couldn’t agree to disagree, even if given the chance.

The victims of discord are foremost the Knox and Maple street neighborhoods, and the trust of community organizations who finally, after what seems like an eternity, really thought the city was listening.

Oops. Politics’ power to destroy good ideas, like the dark side of The Force, should never be underestimated.

This failure also shoves aside the city’s new Downtown Advisory Committee, which Gilbert fought with the council to create and populate. Resolving the Maple Street Park impasse was this committee’s first priority, but this disaster should advise its membership against working too hard – it appears their labor won’t bear much fruit.

Gilbert, who advocated for the downtown committee and embraced the activists calling for the new pocket park, looks worse for wear in this imbroglio. By quibbling over a meaningless $1,200 difference in property value of the two parcels, he appears overly concerned with bottom lines, an image at odds with his community-enhancement rhetoric, exemplified most recently by the dedication of Lewiston’s graffiti wall.

But nobody comes away clean from this mess. Gilbert looks vindictive, and Rousseau – who gleefully points the finger at his nemesis – lacked patience. If he wanted this deal to go through, as he says, the councilor could have worked with Mason and the city on an alternative.

There’s still time. To save some face from this debacle, all parties need to use it.

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