March 15, 2010

New state, new baby, no controversy for Maine tribes advocate

TUX TURKEL

— Fourth of nine parts

click image to enlarge

[please credit] Photo by Jodi Gibney, Sunday, August 31, 2008: Tom Tureen, Erin Lehane, baby Rose, and dog Boo Radley.

By

Staff Writer

Voters will consider a proposal this fall to build a casino in Maine -- this time in Oxford County -- but Tom Tureen won't be paying much attention.

In 2003, Tureen was the chief architect of a failed ballot measure to allow Maine's largest Indian tribes to run a casino in southern Maine. Come November, Tureen will be busy with his work as a financial consultant from his home in San Francisco.

He'll also have his hands full helping to raise his daughter, who was born this summer to Erin Lehane, the former spokeswoman for the pro-casino campaign.

Tureen and Lehane dropped out of public view immediately after voters defeated the measure by a 2-1 ratio. They left Maine for San Francisco in 2005, and got married in 2006.

Mainers with long memories know Tureen as the Portland lawyer who engineered the historic, $81 million land claims settlement between the tribes and the state in 1980. Many also recognize his complex legacy in Maine: a man who became wealthy in a high-profile career meant to lift the tribes out of poverty.

Now 64, Tureen offered a few thoughts about the upcoming gambling referendum in Maine. But mostly, he seems excited and energized about his second family and his fresh living environment.

''We've really got a whole new life out here,'' he said.

Tureen said he's structuring investment deals for New York-based private-equity firms, which he declined to identify. Some of the enterprises involve western Indian tribes.

Lehane, who is 37, has been working as a political consultant, most recently for former NBA basketball player Kevin Johnson, who won a June primary in the mayoral race in Sacramento and will face the incumbent in November. Lehane's brother, Chris, an adviser to Democrats who was involved with the Bill Clinton and Al Gore presidential campaigns, lives nearby.

From their home in Pacific Heights, Tureen and Lehane can see the Golden Gate Bridge and the downtown skyline. Aside from caring for their new daughter, Rose, named for Tureen's mother, they enjoy their Great Pyrenees dog, Boo Radley, and their 35-foot sailboat, docked in San Francisco Bay.

''We feel very fortunate,'' Tureen said.

Tureen's work for the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes became a springboard for him to build an investment company representing American Indians. He gained a national reputation in the early 1980s by helping an obscure Connecticut tribe win sovereignty. That led to the creation of the lucrative Foxwoods Resort casino, a model for today's tribal gambling resorts.

After he had a heart attack in 1995, Tureen changed course. He stopped practicing law. He and his former wife, Susan, moved from a large colonial home in Parsonsfield to a grand estate in Falmouth Foreside. When it sold for more than $5 million in 1998, it was among the state's most expensive homes.

In 2002, Tureen returned to public view at the request of the tribes to launch the Indian casino campaign in Maine. The campaign was divisive.

Supporters heralded the economic development potential of a casino. Opponents warned of the corrupting influence of Las Vegas-style gambling on Maine's way of life.

While Tureen acted as a behind-the-scenes adviser, Lehane, then a lawyer in Portland, became the spokeswoman and manager of the Think About It campaign.

Tureen and Lehane drew some flak in the media when they were unavailable for comment on the day after the proposal was defeated. Two days later they had left the state on vacation -- exhausted, aides said, after a year of working full time on the campaign.

Tureen's abrupt departure and failure to concede the race were criticized at the time by Dennis Bailey, the public relations specialist who represented Casinos No!. Today, Bailey said, he thinks Tureen's behavior was a reaction to being caught off-guard by the level of opposition to casino gambling in Maine.

Tureen's conduct was defended by his longtime friend and former Portland law colleague, George Marcus.

Tureen did the best he could for the Maine tribes, Marcus said, and moved on personally when the campaign ended. When the two men get together, Marcus said, they rarely talk about that period, except for an occasional anecdote.

For his part, Tureen seems most interested in focusing on the present. He finds San Francisco invigorating and filled with new opportunities. Having a child later in life, he said, has been an incredible privilege that's bringing him great joy.

In July, he and Lehane did find their thoughts pulled back to casino days when they got a call from Maine. On the line was Pat LaMarche, the former political candidate and broadcaster who -- until mid-August when she stepped down -- was campaign spokeswoman for the proposed casino in Oxford County.

Tureen isn't hot on the idea of a casino in western Maine. Put it as close as possible to Boston, he said, where it has the potential to draw the most out-of-state money.

Kittery is where Tureen wanted it in 2002, but opposition there made the town a non-starter. Sanford later became a nearby alternative.

Tureen said he has no regrets about his efforts on behalf of Maine Indians or the new place his life has taken him.

''I've got a nice life out here,'' he said. ''None of the things I do are controversial.''

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

tturkel@pressherald.com

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