SOUTH PORTLAND — A former city councilor and mayor on Wednesday said City Councilor Eben Rose tried to coerce her not to run for the state Legislature against City Councilor Brad Fox.
Rosemarie De Angelis on Wednesday told the City Council she was harassed by Rose via email regarding her planned appointment to the Civil Service Commission after he heard she may run for the state House.
De Angelis said Rose told her she should either accept the nomination to the city commission or seek elected legislative office, but it would be a conflict of interest to do both.
“These were all his personal conditions,” De Angelis told the council. “If I wanted the nomination, I must agree not to run for District (33), in a primary against his friend, Councilor Fox.”
Fox and Rose have been political allies since Rose was elected to the council in November, and have defended each other’s positions and actions, especially on the issue of propane storage in Rigby Rail Yard. Prior to Rose’s election, Fox praised Rose for his criticism of city staff’s interpretation of the zoning code as it pertains to propane storage at Rigby.
Mayor Tom Blake on Thursday morning said Fox also contacted him last weekend and raised the question of a conflict of interest in the De Angelis appointment. Blake said he told Fox and Rose he saw “absolutely no connection” or conflict.
Blake said it is unusual for a councilor to contact the mayor about an appointment to a board or committee of a resident not from their district.
Rose, who was absent from the Feb. 17 meeting because he is in Canada, planned to nominate De Angelis to the commission, according to their email exchange and the council agenda published Friday, Feb. 12.
Councilors voted 5-0 Wednesday, with Rose and Councilor Patti Smith absent, to appoint De Angelis to the panel.
Fox moved to postpone the vote until Rose could be present, but his motion failed to receive a second.
Normally, postponing an item until the councilor involved is present would be respected, Blake said at the meeting.
But “in this particular place, I’m completely uncomfortable with the reason why Councilor Rose is seeking postponement,” Blake said. “This is just poor government.”
Questions were was raised by Councilor Claude Morgan, after the agenda for the Feb. 17 meeting was amended to remove the De Angelis appointment.
According to a Feb. 16 email from Rose to De Angelis, Rose said he asked to postpone the council action because there were issues to be resolved before the commission seat, which has been vacant for more than a year, could be filled.
In a Feb. 13 email to her, he said he heard “through the grapevine” that De Angelis might seek the Democratic Party nomination in House District 33, which Fox previously said he will seek. Rose asked De Angelis to “please say yes or no,” and give a definitive answer about whether she would seek the House seat.
One cannot do both, he said in a subsequent series of emails with the subject line, “CSC or state rep?”
The “CSC must be nonpartisan, or at least appear overtly nonpartisan,” Rose said. “It’s not a matter of law so much as public perception. Civil servants need to be assured that any job performance evaluation or appeal is not politically motivated.”
In a Feb. 14 email, Rose told De Angelis, “When I heard word that you had expressed interest in running for state legislature I was surprised, as it seems to me rather obvious that one would expect to do one or the other, but not both.”
“If you truly have no intentions of running for state legislature this election cycle, then please say so. If your answer is a definitive ‘no’ then I am happy to put forward the nomination as planned,” he said.
“A CSC appointee who is also running for state office or holds state office aligned with a party taints civil service appointments and oversight … I see it as a conflict of interest,” Rose wrote to De Angelis in another Feb. 14 email.
“I do greatly appreciate your experience and anticipated efforts to help achieve greater demographic diversity in our fire and police departments,” Rose wrote in a Feb. 15 email after De Angelis stopped responding. “At the same time, forthrightness and graciousness are qualities that I find important as well.”
“This is your opportunity to acknowledge the concern I have expressed in this thread about your intentions to run for state office within months of this appointment,” Rose wrote, “and to decide, forthrightly, and with grace, whether you want this nomination or to maintain the option to run for state house this year. Please make your decision and, again, I will support you with either decision.”
De Angelis responded to Rose in at least two separate emails that she had no immediate plans to run, that she felt Rose was “badgering her,” and that there was no basis in the City Charter for his refusal to nominate her even if she plans to seek elected office.
“I have all the qualifications and have no issues that prohibit me from appointment,” De Angelis said. “The rest of your questions are not relative to this point and I feel you are badgering me. This has been the most difficult ‘volunteer’ position I have ever tried to pursue.”
In addition to serving on the council, De Angelis is an adjunct professor of advanced English Language Learning at Southern Maine Community College. She also serves as a court-appointed guardian ad litem for disadvantaged youth through her business, De Angelis Consulting.
Councilor Linda Cohen on Wednesday said there is nothing “that prevents someone” from seeking an elected office while serving on a volunteer committee or as an elected official.
“If that was the case, then we wouldn’t have city councilors on the council and running for state representative,” she said at the meeting, motioning at Fox. “There is certainly no conflict.”
De Angelis, in addressing the council Wednesday night, called Rose’s conduct inappropriate and offensive. “I do not rattle easily, but this has been very upsetting,” she said.
Morgan said Rose made De Angelis’ nomination a “quid pro quo equation. It’s ‘this or that.’ This office is being held out on these conditions as something to be exchanged.”
He called Rose’s behavior “ugly,” and said, “Frankly, I’m disgusted … this stinks of old cronyism politics.”
“It looks a little like blackmail,” Councilor Maxine Beecher added.
Every councilor, including Fox, lauded De Angelis as an exemplary candidate for the volunteer position and said she is exceedingly qualified.
Fox said he thinks De Angelis is “very qualified for the position.”
“Rosemarie’s background fits perfectly here,” Blake added.
In an email late Wednesday night, Rose defended his belief that there is a conflict of interest.
“My concern is that which resonates with a long history in American politics of civil service favors-for-votes, even though this may be more past history than recent history,” he said.
“I know Rosemarie as a tireless advocate of some of the most vulnerable folks in the City. I also know that she has been a center for controversy in the recent past herself, and I do not know who and how impassioned her allies and adversaries are,” he wrote. “I hope she still considers me a friend. Her defensive hackles seemed raised early in this exchange, though; I can only hope for the best.”
Rose called the debate “surprising,” and said, “I wish everyone would just calm down.”