The value of a sentiment isn’t felt by who bestows it, but rather by who receives it. Halting the practice of mayoral sentiments, as floated in Lewiston, is the wrong solution to a problem of political appearances.

Council President Tom Peters has suggested Mayor Larry Gilbert, while he is a candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, discontinue the perfunctory practice of sentiments at the beginning of City Council meetings.

Sentiments are getting out of hand, according to Peters, and are providing a unique, powerful platform for Gilbert to win campaign support. It is an easy way, the council president remarked, for the mayor to get his name in public.

But so is, we would argue, serving as mayor. In Lewiston, the position of mayor is largely figurehead. The office is less about policy, and more about politics. Only when the council is deadlocked can the mayor vote.

Gilbert has embraced public relations. One day he’s greeting the French ambassador at the Franco-American Heritage Center, the next he’s reading to schoolchildren, and the next he’s having coffee at Tim Hortons.

Being visible is a raison d’etre of being mayor. It is the city’s most public position.

There are limits, however. Gilbert was wrong to allow a link to his Web site, which has campaign information, to remain on his official mayor page. Of all ethics violations, it is the most trifling. There are no rules against it.

This, of course, doesn’t make it right. The hyperlink has been removed and the matter should be settled.

Unless Gilbert is bound and gagged through June (or November, if he wins the primary), or steps down as mayor, the appearance of conflict with his present position and his desired position cannot be avoided, especially given the high-visibility nature — and demands — of being mayor.

The last thing the city should do is stop the sentiments. This would unfairly punish worthy people who deserve recognition because of concerns about the propriety of political appearances.

Politicians (especially state legislators) issue sentiments routinely, sometimes to the detriment of the legislative process. In 2005, the National Conference of State Legislatures said overflowing sentiments are gumming Maine’s policymaking works.

“The Maine Legislature spends too much time and too many resources on legislative sentiments,” the NCSL said, and recommended streamlining the process, perhaps by substituting a certificate that doesn’t require introduction, debate and a vote.

But the NCSL did not recommend eliminating the practice. Honoring those who deserve recognition is an important function.

There are political differences among city councilors. Gilbert’s concurrent legislative campaign is exacerbating these differences, as the Democratic primary against opponent Michel Lajoie looms. This is the heat of the battle.

Stifling the sentiments would only create innocent victims. 


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