June 13, 2013

Lone Old Orchard recall survivor took high road

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Bob Quinn sat alone in Town Council chambers Wednesday afternoon, still trying to wrap his head around Tuesday’s recall election.

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Old Orchard Beach City Councilor Bob Quinn sits in the Council Chambers at Town Hall on Wednesday. Bob was the only one of the previous council to be re-elected,

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

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After seven months of political tension and rival recall campaigns that targeted all seven town councilors, Quinn found himself the last man standing.

“I don’t know if I’ve captured the total significance of it,” Quinn said of surviving the election that removed the six other councilors from office. “It places somewhat of a burden on my shoulders.”

Quinn, 75, a lifelong Old Orchard Beach resident, is serving his second term on the council. He said he was surprised by the results of the recall campaign, a sentiment echoed by the councilors who were recalled and the people who were elected to replace them.

But few seem surprised that Quinn kept his seat.
“People in town are tired of these confrontational, bitter happenings on the council. They’re more comfortable with respectful deliberations,” Quinn said. “I’m probably the most laid back one on the council. I laid low through the whole (recall) process.”

Quinn voted against firing former Town Manager Mark Pearson, whose dismissal in March exposed the deep divide among councilors and prompted two recall campaigns. During tense meetings with more shouting matches than respectful debates, Quinn mostly sat back and listened.

As the recall campaigns heated up – with accusations of stolen signs, stalking and inaccurate information spread around town via social media – Quinn kept to himself.

He didn’t post on Facebook. He didn’t knock on doors to court voters. He didn’t stand at the doors of the high school gym on Tuesday to greet residents as they arrived to vote in the first recall election in town in nearly 30 years.

“I think he presented himself well through the whole thing. He didn’t attack anybody,” said Kenny Blow, who was elected to replace Councilor Michael Coleman.

Malorie Pastor, who will replace Councilor Linda Mailhot, said she has heard people refer to Quinn as the Mr. Rogers of Old Orchard Beach. People in town seem to genuinely like him, she said, and he brings a calming presence to the council chambers.

“He’s sort of removed himself from the drama. He’s not a theatrical person,” she said. “He said what he meant and he meant what he said, but he wasn’t dramatic about it.”

Though he has been on the council only since 2010, Quinn is a familiar face to many in Old Orchard Beach. He and Margaret, his wife of 48 years, raised their three children in town. He ran a bicycle shop, first in Old Orchard Beach, then in Biddeford.

Quinn was first elected to the council seven months after he sold his shop and retired. He was council chairman during his first term, and quickly became known for his quiet but thoughtful presence behind the dais.

“He was a true professional, so organized and professional in our working relationship,” Louise Reid, assistant town manager, said of Quinn’s years as council chairman.
Pat Brown, manager of the Recall 4 campaign, which sought to remove the four councilors who voted to terminate Pearson’s contract, said Quinn’s ability to keep a low profile and gain the respect of people on both sides of issues likely helped him avoid recall.

“His behavior and temperament are consistent, thoughtful and independent,” Brown said. “He’s also demonstrated an ability to listen to the residents, meaning he has cast votes that do not always coincide with his personal beliefs.”

Jay Kelley, who was elected to replace Councilor Robin Dayton, said Quinn’s experience will likely help guide the new council as it tackles the municipal budget and the process of hiring a permanent town manager.

Kelley, who grew up in Old Orchard Beach, bought his first bicycle – a Schwinn Stingray – from Quinn.
“There isn’t a finer gentleman in Old Orchard,” Kelley said. “I’m sorry he got caught up in what was going on, because that’s not him. It’s no surprise he wasn’t recalled.”

Now that the recall election is behind him, Quinn said he is ready to get back to doing the town’s business. His hope is that his experience will help new councilors get through the learning curve and develop a municipal budget by July 1, when the new fiscal year starts.

“This whole episode has really polarized the community, and that’s really problematic. The middle ground is what’s absent. We need to get back to that,” Quinn said.

He also thinks the damage done in the past few months -- from broken friendships to families torn apart by the controversy -- can be undone as the new Town Council focuses on moving forward.
“I think it’s repairable,” he said. “I think that healing will take place over time.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:
ggraham@pressherald.com

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