This Friday, June 6, the Portland Public Library is hosting a celebration of Casco Bay Weekly — “the most popular dead newspaper in town,” according to special collections librarian and archivist Abraham Schechter.
Since CBW died a decade ago, people have been coming into the library’s Portland Room almost every day to find stories in the collection of back issues stored there. The public’s interest in the pioneering alternative newsweekly, coupled with the deteriorating effect time has on old newsprint, compelled the library to undertake the massive task of scanning every page of the paper, going back to its inception in 1988, and posting the issues online. The project took over two years to complete, and is finally done (see digitalcommons.portlandlibrary.com/cbw).
I worked for CBW from 1998 to 2002, rising from a lowly half-time listings position to the editorship before owner Dodge Morgan fired me and most of the rest of the newsroom in a dispute over deep cuts to the editorial budget. My experience at CBW inspired me to start The Bollard three years later, and this month’s issue contains a history and retrospective of the paper. For CBW’s 10th anniversary issue (May 14, 1998), “deputy assistant chief sub-editor” Al Diamon also did a retrospective, one that included a list of the “72 stupidest things ever said in CBW.”
Diamon’s list began with this nugget, from Old Port “mega-landlord” Joe Soley, published in the June 9, 1988 issue: “I want to return the [Old Port] to its 1866 splendor. The area has been trashed for a long time. To fix up one building and let the others look ornery would serve no purpose.” In hindsight, this remark is hilarious, given that Soley’s neglect of his Old Port properties led to so many clashes with tenants and city officials that CBW dedicated a regular column to his exploits, called “Soley Watch,” beginning in 1995.
But hindsight spares no one. In the Nov. 19, 1998, issue, CBW criticized a proposal to give Bookland a tax break to open a big store in Portland’s blighted Bayside neighborhood “a couple blocks from the new Portland Public Market” and “right next to the likely site of a new civic center” — attractions that would supposedly make the tax break a bad deal. Of course, the former failed a few years later and the latter never materialized, just like that Bookland store. The author of that editorial: Al Diamon.
The following summer, Diamon wrote a column in which he suggested that Chellie Pingree, then the majority leader of the Maine Senate and a candidate for governor, had sought to score points with the media by sponsoring a bill favorable to the economic interests of radio and TV journalists. “You’re so right, Al Diamon,” Pingree responded in a letter published Aug. 5, 1999.
That quote alone is worth saving, but it gets better. “After reading your column, I can see that the secret to success in politics is [simple] — just make friends with the media. Once I have them in my pocket, the rest is a walk.” U.S. Rep. Pingree, now the wife of the owner of the biggest newspaper in the state, then goes on to facetiously offer Diamon one of her “excellent blueberry pies.”
The alt-weekly’s willingness to print profanity provides useful perspective on people in state government. After CBW reporter and columnist Connie Pacillo criticized then-Gov. Angus King for insisting that equal rights for Maine’s gay minority be subject to approval by a majority of Maine voters, his spokesman, Dennis Bailey, left Pacillo a voice mail: “The governor … thinks you’re full of [excrement].”
In fairness, after CBW ran that quote in its Nov. 26, 1998, issue, Bailey, now a PR guru, wrote a letter to the editor in the Dec. 3 issue apologizing for his “intemperate” message. Then he added, “If I had to do it over again … well, I’d pretty much say the same thing.”
The CBW archive is a treasure trove of priceless quotes like that, and a valuable source of insights into recent Maine history that can inform our decisions today. Dig in!