The Mayor of Lewiston, Maine, resigned abruptly on Friday following the controversy surrounding leaked text messages, one of which included a racist remark calling elderly Black people “antique farm equipment.”
According to the Sun Journal, about 150 of former Mayor Shane Bouchard’s texts were made public by Heather Everly Berube, who worked on Bouchard’s opponents’ campaign during the 2017 mayoral runoff election.
Berube claimed that she and Bouchard had an affair during the mayoral race, and admitted to funneling internal emails from Democratic candidate Ben Chin’s campaign to Bouchard, including one in which Chin claimed he’d encountered a “bunch of racists” while campaigning. Those emails ended up going public and are credited, in some way, to helping Bouchard ultimately win the run-off.
However, Berube wasn’t done with the leaks, because she went on to share Bouchard’s problematic texts with the Sun Journal.
Of the more offensive texts included one particular “joke.”
“All my jokes are quite racist lol,” Bouchard texted. “What do you call 2 old Black people sitting on your front lawn.”
“Antique farm equipment,” he answered.
“Yikes.” Berube texted back.
In another message, Bouchard detailed his schedule to Berube, quipping, “Then my clan meeting. I mean GOP meeting,” making a reference likening the GOP to the Ku Klux Klan.
“That’s not funny,” Berube replied.
Last Thursday, when the texts went public, Bouchard originally apologized, insisting that he wasn’t racist and that the “jokes” didn’t show his true thoughts on Black people.
“I say stupid things and stupid jokes occasionally,” he said.
“You can tell from the context of it that it was, you know, a joke. And in poor taste, of course,” he added. “If you looked at the message, she was pushing me to just tell her any kind of joke and, I don’t know, I just, it just came out.”
“It is tasteless and it is in no way a reflection of how I feel,” Bouchard said.
The Sun Journal notes that several Lewiston residents are first or second-generation African immigrants, who may side eye his comments. But Bouchard claimed his actions spoke louder than his words.
“I think my actions towards minorities in this community are going to speak a lot louder than an off-color joke to a friend,” he insisted. “My actions are very pro-immigrant, you’ll find. My board and committee appointments. My outreach. I don’t think you’ll find anything racist about me, period, in general.”
But Berube wasn’t just sharing racist texts she had received from the mayor. She also spoke at an open City Council meeting last Tuesday, accusing Bouchard of illegal activity.
Berube met with local police on Thursday to go over the allegations, and now the police department is conducting a joint investigation with the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
By Friday, Bouchard had changed his tune, resigning suddenly.
“Several allegations have arisen in the last few days, some of them very personal,” he said in his resignation announcement. “It has become clear to me that the media does not acknowledge personal space and reports on nothing more than rumor in many cases. In this political climate where the media does not discriminate between facts and rumors, it is hard to be a public figure.”
“I am not a perfect person. I have made many mistakes in my past. I have also, in the past been the victim of some very damaging rumors,” he added.
Bouchard ensured his supporters that he intends to fight the allegations surrounding him, but added “I cannot do that effectively from the mayor’s seat. It is not fair to the people of Lewiston.”
Bouchard acknowledged that he did get Chin’s internal emails from Berube, but he denied sending those emails to Jason Savage, who owns and operates the Maine Examiner, the publication that published excerpts from the email and ultimately through a wrench in Chin’s campaign a mere week before the election.
The Sun Journal notes that per Lewiston’s city charter, the council president will act as the mayor for the remainder of the term if the mayor resigns with less than a year left. Bouchard would have been up for re-election in November, and so Democrat Kristen Cloutier will serve the people of Lewiston until then.
During a news conference, Cloutier noted that “this week has been a tough one for Lewiston as a series of unfortunate circumstances have occurred.
“I assure you that I will do my best to represent the city of Lewiston and its residents to the best of my abilities, as I always have,” Cloutier, who is also a state representative, said.