Editor’s note: This examination of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rosa Scarcelli by the non-profit Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is part of a series examining the claims and records of some of the leading candidates for governor.
PORTLAND — In an interview on public TV, Rosa Scarcelli, a Democratic candidate for governor, described herself as one of the “newcomers who don’t have political relationships.”
Yet, the records of her campaign and her resume show Scarcelli has benefited from a nationwide network of highly placed and well-funded political connections.
The theme of her campaign has been her “experience … from building a successful business” that manages housing developments.
But she got her start in that business fresh out of Bowdoin College with a degree in art and art history because her mother, Pamela Gleichman, owned the business.
Gleichman was one of the earliest Maine players in the lucrative business of developing low-income housing with the federal dollars that became available in the late 1970s.
Scarcelli’s website and political literature promote the fact that she grew up in Wilton, projecting the image of a rural Maine native. But that’s only part of her story.
She has lived mostly in Portland since the age of 12, and attended Waynflete School for several years, where current tuition runs around $23,000 per year. She graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.
In interviews, Scarcelli, 40, said her youth and lack of any political or government experience is not a detriment to being a successful governor. She supports that argument by comparing herself to previous governors.
Yet a review of their records show that all but one of the governors she cited – Angus King – held elective or high-level experience in state government before running for governor.
Like many political campaigns, Scarcelli’s presents a narrative that cherry-picks her background and experience to create one image, while a closer look reveals there’s mush more to the picture.
The family business
Some of Scarcelli’s political advantages derive from the history of Democratic party contributions and a network of connections built by her mother, who was both successful and highly controversial when she was a housing developer in Maine.
According to state and federal campaign reports and a 1995 Bangor Daily News article, since 1988 Gleichman had given more than $11,000 to Maine Democrats, including $5,000 to former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and $4,200 to former U.S. Rep. Thomas Andrews. Her husband, Karl Norberg, gave $4,000 to Mitchell and both of them also contributed to some Republican candidates.
Scarcelli served as Mitchell’s first senate page in 1987 and later as an intern, according to her website.
The BDN article states that Gleichman hosted a party for Andrews featuring several U.S. Senators at her Portland home on Portland’s Western Promenade.
Although Gleichman was lauded for several of her projects, including the renovation of the delapidated Lafayette Building in Portland, she was accused of mismanagement by the Farmers Home Administration. Gleichman was for a time barred from doing new business with the agency’s state office, which administered millions in federal affordable housing development dollars. She claimed she was the victim of a political vendetta.
Gleichman also had a long court battle with the Maine State Housing Authority, which sued her for $250,000 the agency said she owed. The case was settled after 10 years.
Except for a few years when she started her own development company, Scarcelli’s whole career has been in the housing and development business, in companies founded by her mother.
“I know that I was lucky to be able to go into the family business at that time,” Scarcelli said in a recent interview in her company offices on Commercial Street, conducted under the watchful eye of campaign consultant Dennis Bailey, who was also one of the architects of King’s successful campaign for governor.
“When I graduated from college, it was in the middle of a recession, and there were very few jobs around, and it meant my husband and I could stay in Portland. … I’m very proud of what my mother accomplished at that time. There weren’t many other woman developers around. She was a pioneer.”
A few years later, Gleichman and her husband, Karl Norberg, founded Stanford Management to manage the properties. After Gleichman was barred from managing her properties in Maine she turned to outside operators to run her management companies, which Scarcelli said was a disaster. Scarcelli joined Stanford as president in 2005 and bought the company outright in 2007.
“My mother asked me to come in and you do what you’re supposed to do,” Scarcelli said. “The portfolio had been going downhill for years. I worked hard under my mother, which was not always an easy thing to do.”
Just over 22 percent of the properties Stanford Management operates are owned by Gleichman and her related companies, and a similar percentage are owned by Scarcelli and related entities. Portland developer Michael Liberty has an ownership interest in the remaining properties.
According to Maine Housing Executive Director Dale McCormick, the agency forced Liberty to give up management of Maine Housing-related properties in 2009. While Maine Housing proposed dividing the management of his properties among three of their housing operators, including Stanford, Liberty executives chose to place all their properties under Stanford’s management.
Growth on ‘my watch’
Stanford Management now oversees properties worth $245 million, mostly in multi-family complexes throughout Maine and three other states.
The business has grown from 87 to 115 employees, mostly in Maine, since Scarcelli took it over in 2005. It oversees 82 properties, 58 throughout Maine. Scarcelli also owns Acadia Maintenance, which maintains the properties.
“The growth in the company has been on my watch,” she said.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development records do not reveal a large number of major complaints, but one describes a recurrent problem in 2009 with the elevators at the Rumford Island buildings, which are owned by Gleichman and managed by Stanford.
The problems included doors not opening, the elevator not stopping and other problems sometimes requiring a fire department emergency response.
Although the company made repairs, both the site manager and state building inspector concluded the elevators should be replaced. State elevator inspector Stanley Quinn said there had been resistance to replacing the elevators because “management seems to feel there is no money to make the necessary replacement.”
HUD officials responsible for the project were frustrated with the recurring problem and Diana Huot, HUD project manager, said there were ample funds in reserve to fix it. She urged Maine Housing officials, who were acting on behalf of HUD, to get Stanford to fix the problem and “do it right.”
The document concludes with a statement from Stanford Management Chief Operating Officer Gary Crowell, who said on Aug. 25, 2009, that both elevators were working and the owner had not made a determination about replacement.
According to one tenant, who was interviewed last week, the elevators have just recently been replaced, and she tenant is generally happy with the conditions there. Rumford Island resident Patricia Arsenault said the site managers are attentive to problems.
A check of some other towns where Stanford properties are located did not reveal any significant problems. Katie Haley, code enforcement officer in Fryeburg, where Stanford’s Silver Pines is located, said there there were no “big problems” with that building.
A slightly different story was told of a Bar Harbor building, Harbor Hill Estates, where residents had to alert the local Fire Department to ensure that the walks were shoveled at the emergency exits. Fire Chief David Rand confirmed that the department contacted the management company to do that, but added that he did not see any serious problems with the building’s management.
Scarcelli and Stanford Management also get a passing grade from Dale McCormick, executive director of Maine Housing, and a well-known Democrat to whom Gleichman contributed $850 in McCormick’s unsuccessful 1996 congressional campaign.
“Her company has done satisfactory work in managing several of the properties in our portfolio,” McCormick said.
The start Scarcelli’s mother gave her in the housing business also gave her the status to make national connections that have included recognition as a national young leader in 2009 by the Henry Crown Fellows of the Aspen Institute in 2009.
The institute is an establishment think tank, run by former Time magazine Editor Walter Isaacson. Among the trustees are Henry Kissinger, Paul Volcker and Lester Crown, the chairman of General Dynamics, parent company of Bath Iron Works. Crown is a donor to Scarcelli’s campaign.
In addition to the Crown family, many of Scarcelli’s other donors hail from Chicago. These include several members of the Pritzker family, owners of a real estate empire that includes the Hyatt hotel chain. Several of her donors are officers of the Henry Crown Co., which also has a stake in General Dynamics.
“All of my Chicago donors are people I met through the Aspen Institute, and other organizations,” Scarcelli said.
Another Chicago connection: Scarcelli’s mother and her husband develop real estate in Chicago. Scarcelli says that while her mother has donated to her campaign, “she is not raising money for me. She has not raised one red dime.”
Scarcelli had raised $260,000 as of December 2009. A new campaign finance report was expected to be made public this week.
Scarcelli has also received consulting help from top Democratic party operatives, including Ricky Arriola of Miami, who is working for the Democratic National Committee on just three campaigns this year; Scarcelli’s is one of them.
Arriola, a direct mail marketing executive, was instrumental in the Obama fundraising effort and he and his father, a former Miami mayor, have contributed to Scarcelli’s campaign. Arriola and Scarcelli are both 2009 Crown Fellows.
Scarcelli also made many contacts while serving on the New England fundraising committee for Barack Obama in 2008.
The experience issue
Scarcelli’s decision to run for governor, announced last spring, came on the heels of a brief flirtation with the idea of running for the Portland City Charter Commission.
Instead, she jumped right to trying to be the highest elected official in the state. If she wins it will be first and only time she has served in any public office.
“Voters are right to question how any governor might succeed,” Scarcelli said in an e-mail, “but given the state of our economy and our continuing budget gaps and deficits, do the voters really believe that the experienced politicians are succeeding, that only career politicians need apply?
“I’m sure Jim Longley and Angus King, two former governors who had never held elective office or served in Augusta, were asked the same question when they were candidates. But what this question implies is that my experience, or the experience of anyone who runs for office having never held political office, doesn’t count or isn’t important or is somehow irrelevant to the issues facing this state, like improving our schools and providing affordable health care. I reject that. “
She was also prepared with a list of Maine governors who had been elected in their 30s and early and mid-40s: Ken Curtis, 35, John Reed, 37, John McKernan, 38, Edmund Muskie, 40 and Joseph Brennan, 44.
All of those governors had previous legislative experience and Longley, while never elected to office before becoming governor, led an important state cost-cutting commission before running for office.
Scarcelli sees herself in the mold of the young politicians, like Barack Obama, who have urged voters to turn to a new generation of political leaders.
“I want this campaign to be graceful and about ideas,” she said. “I’ll run and win or lose just being me.”
Before becoming a contributing writer to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, Marian McCue made a $100 contribution to Elizabeth Mitchell’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor. The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism organization. The e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is pinetreewatchdog.org.