Oct. 23 was not the best of days for Bree LaCasse.

That was the day the Portland Press Herald editorial board, of which I am a member, sat down with LaCasse and two other candidates vying for an at-large seat on the Portland City Council.

At issue: Which of the three – LaCasse, fellow challenger Joey Brunelle or incumbent Jill Duson – would earn the newspaper’s endorsement.

LaCasse lost. Duson, we decided, deserves to be re-elected.

Thus, imagine our surprise when a LaCasse campaign mailer hit doorsteps all over Portland last week with the Press Herald logo plastered all over it not once, not twice, but 10 times.

Next to each logo were headlines and quotes praising LaCasse.

One came from our endorsement of Duson, a single paragraph out of 20 in which we acknowledged LaCasse’s resume.

The other nine came from letters to the editor from LaCasse supporters, their names dwarfed by that of the newspaper.

The distinct impression conveyed by the mailer: The Portland Press Herald thinks Bree LaCasse is the best thing since sliced bread.

Which we don’t.

Because she isn’t.

In fact, our primary reason for not endorsing LaCasse was her opaque response when we asked about her ties to the advocacy group Progressive Portland, its political bomb-throwing co-founder Steven Biel and his endless campaign to prop up Mayor Ethan Strimling in his power struggle with Portland City Manager Jon Jennings.

We, as a board, had long grown tired of Biel and his scorched-earth tactics, his public vilification of anyone who ever so slightly disagrees with him, and his knack for slipping into the shadows whenever the spotlight shifts to him.

Equally fed up with him, apparently, is Progressive Portland. After Biel, against the group’s wishes and without its knowledge, shared at least part of its extensive email list last month with LaCasse’s campaign, Progressive Portland gave him the heave-ho “at least until Election Day.”

Back to LaCasse. Asked during the endorsement meeting about her ties to Biel and Progressive Portland, she vaguely responded that some of their emails are “divisive, shrill and uninformed,” but went on to say “they care about some issues I care about.”

Listening to her that day, we felt then that LaCasse wasn’t being forthcoming about her close connection to Biel, his often-underhanded tactics and the noticeable degradation of the political dialogue in Portland since he arrived on the scene a few years ago.

Now comes LaCasse’s mailer implying, strongly, that we endorsed her. Which, again, we didn’t.

“I’m sorry that you feel that way,” LaCasse told me when I called her Friday. “That was definitely not the intention.”

So, what was the intention?

“It is what has been said about me in the paper and what neighbors are saying. I think that seems legitimate,” she replied.

So, if she’s trying to call attention to what her neighbors are saying, why are their names really, really small while the newspaper logo next to each quote is really, really big?

And why top the mailer with an out-of-context quote that looks like an endorsement, sounds like an endorsement, but is actually nothing more than a courteous nod to an also-ran?

“I guess I just didn’t think that much about it, honestly,” LaCasse said. “We sent all the quotes to the designer and that’s what he came back with. And honestly, it’s a friend who’s a designer, he’s not a political designer, there was no weird political innuendo. That’s what came back and it looked good and I didn’t think, you know … I was focused on the titles of all of the letters.”

And the implication that she had the newspaper’s endorsement?

“I didn’t imply that. I didn’t imply that. I did not imply that anywhere in the mailer,” LaCasse insisted.

Try telling that to her opponents.

The mailer “reads as if Bree was endorsed by the Press Herald,” Duson said. Upon seeing it, she added, “I pondered, ‘How does one respond to this stuff?'”

And?

“I don’t even know what word to use,” Duson said. “I’m not accustomed to it, and so I’m equally unsure how to respond.”

Brunelle showed no such hesitation. He took one look at LaCasse’s mailer and saw a con job.

“It just seems very clear to me that the way that mailer was designed was to give an impression that your newspaper had endorsed Bree when that was not the case,” Brunelle said.

A print and web designer by profession, Brunelle created his own campaign literature.

“What we did on our mailer was we included faces of the people who had endorsed us, people who had written letters,” he noted. LaCasse’s campaign “could have done that here, but instead they chose to have 10 Press Herald mastheads.”

Brunelle, in a refreshing display of class, lamented that while he too came up short with the editorial board, “I feel for Jill because she got the endorsement. And yet, it feels cheapened that basically it was manipulated in this way.”

Not that he was surprised. In fact, had Brunelle played ball with Biel months ago, he believes the race for the at-large council seat may well be a two-way contest.

“We had a conversation, Steven and I, back in March where he tried to tell me all the things that I should do in the course of campaigning, like robocalls and all this nonsense,” Brunelle recalled. “And he said, ‘Oh, you’re going to need to raise $50,000.’ And he said he could help me raise money like he’s raised money for other City Council candidates.”

Brunelle’s response?

“I refused and refused and refused,” he said. “And at the end of that conversation, (Biel) said to me – and I will remember this, because it took me so off guard, I couldn’t even mouth an answer to him – he said, ‘If I got Bree to run and got the mayor to endorse her, would you drop out?'”

Brunelle told Biel (who by Saturday morning had not replied to my Friday email seeking a response) to take a hike.

“I was just floored that he would be that brazen,” he said.

We’re not. Nor should we be all that shocked that LaCasse, joined at the hip with Biel whether she admits it or not, took what was essentially our rejection of her candidacy and, voila, transformed this newspaper into her biggest cheerleader.

Which, one last time, we are not.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]