PORTLAND — Rosa Scarcelli walks down the aisle at Becky’s Diner, stopping at one booth after another to chat with folks over pancakes and coffee.

She’s on one of her “Rise and Shine with Rosa” stops, talking with people, letting them get to know her a bit and trying to answer questions they may have. Four times a week, she hits various spots around Maine – the Golden Rooster in Saco, Simones in Lewiston, the Frog & Turtle in Westbrook, the iconic Dysart’s in Bangor.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate is campaigning hard, trying to get her name and face in front of as many people as she can, working to make the shift from an unknown to a possible governor.

She’s a successful businesswoman, the CEO of the family business, Stanford Management, an affordable-housing company. And as a political newcomer, she has positioned herself as an outsider who has the business savvy and leadership skills to run the state government.

She’s running against three candidates in the June 8 primary who have lengthy resumes in state government, who tout their experience and sometimes note her lack of it.

Scarcelli, 40, bristles at that.

“That talk about experience – that’s an outdated construct,” she said. “The idea that one person has it all – that’s old. That notion you have to come from a certain experience, I just don’t buy it.

“True leadership is how you build relationships, cut through extraneous details. We are living in the 21st century,” she said.

But for the patrons at Becky’s, those questions of experience are at the heart of the matter.

Brendon Augustine of Brunswick owns a small painting company. Scarcelli mentioned that she would work to support small businesses, and talked about forming a committee to get more money loaned to that sector, Augustine said.

When he asked her for more information about how she would accomplish that in the state government system, she didn’t have many details, said Augustine, who’s a Democrat. “That’s the part that worries me a little bit,” he said.

On the other hand, Augustine said, the fact that she isn’t part of the establishment is a positive.

“Maybe she can shake things up a bit,” he said. “I’m willing to listen.”

A few booths down, John Tewhey of Gorham and Martha Mixon of Portland ate breakfast. Tewhey said he had seen Scarcelli on television, and was impressed with her eloquence and ideas.

But, he said, he’s been a longtime fan of Steve Rowe, another Democratic candidate.

For people who know her and work with her, like Gary Crowell, Stanford’s chief operating officer, Scarcelli is “energetic, passionate, driven – 100 percent dedicated to the task at hand, (and) at the same time, can be thinking about what is coming.”

She’s “knowledgeable and driven,” said Richard Day, president and chief financial officer for Stanford. Day has worked with Scarcelli since 1994, and can easily see her in the Blaine House.

“I think she can do the job,” Day said. “It’s whether people want to give her the chance.”

Scarcelli grew up in Wilton. Her father was a professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, was politically active, and helped organize the first pancake breakfast for Franklin County Democrats, now a St. Patrick’s Day tradition.

Her mother is Pam Gleichman, who has developed multiple affordable-housing projects around the state.

Scarcelli attended the Waynflete School in Portland from grades 6 through 9, and finished high school at Northfield Mount Hermon, a boarding school in Mount Hermon, Mass.

From an early age, she was exposed to politics. It made an impression, she said.

She remembers meeting Lillian Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s mother, when she was 8. A photo album in her office holds pictures of her as a baby, of her mother and father and former Maine Gov. Joseph Brennan. At 17, while she was still in high school, she was George Mitchell’s first Senate page.

“I saw people who were engaged in ideas,” Scarcelli said. “I knew at some point I would want to serve. I didn’t know when, or how.”

Along the way, Scarcelli got a grounding in business.

As a teenager, she packed and shipped boxes for her father and stepmother’s sweater business, which used hundreds of at-home hand loomers around the state to make the apparel.

At 16 she got her first real job, at a new clothing store in Bar Harbor, where she managed a few other workers. She went to the University of Maine and graduated from Bowdoin College, running a clothing store that her father and stepmother opened in Bar Harbor during summers.

It was there, in 1989, she met her husband-to-be, Thom Rhoads, who worked at a health food store. In 1990, he was offered a job at Gateway Mastering Studios in Portland. Scarcelli didn’t want to work in retail anymore, and jobs were scarce during that recession. She took a job with her mother’s company, Stanford Management.

“I became a grunt – I did everything,” Scarcelli said.

At 22, she became a utility player for the company. She was in front of tenants’ councils and “hostile planning boards.” When people tell her she presents herself well today, it began back then, she said.

1994 she was handling a $6.5 million development project. She and Thom also married that year. 1995, she was running the company’s development division, overseeing $500 million in deals.

She credits much of her current leadership skill to that time. Development projects entailed building teams with architects, lenders, marketers, construction companies and local planners.

She left in 1999 to start her own firm, D.E. Property Management, seeking more control over her life as a working mother. She returned to Stanford in 2005, taking over the company from her mother. The business had been flagging, she said, and needed to be brought into modern times.

She computerized the business, exchanging faxes for Web-based systems. She essentially brought a lean management approach to the company, making it more efficient and returning it to profitability, Scarcelli said.

Similarly, she said, the next governor will have to set priorities. That governor will need to choose where Maine is excellent, and what areas have to be cut, she said. She called efforts to cut state government by shared sacrifice “irresponsible,” and said hard choices must be made.

Scarcelli said she decided to run for governor after she returned from President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. She had served on his regional finance committee. She said she knew who was running for governor on the Democratic ticket, and didn’t feel any candidates represented her.

She saw an example in Obama.

“I was inspired to try to make a difference,” said Scarcelli, who has an Obama-like “Change” poster in her office, with a stylized picture of her instead of the president.

Scarcelli had flirted briefly with political runs in the past. In 1994, she took out papers to run for the Portland City Council in District 2, but didn’t return them. Last year she considered a run for the city’s Charter Commission.

She said her strengths and skills are executive-level ones, and she felt she could contribute more in a leadership role.

Crowell, Stanford’s chief operating officer, said that when Scarcelli was considering the Charter Commission, he thought that if she was going to get into politics, she could contribute so much more.

Then she made an announcement in July that made sense to him.

“Governor – that was the one,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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