October 14, 2012

U.S. Senate race: Democrat Dill stands her ground, then and now

From the schoolyard to the campaign trail, the Democratic nominee for Senate has a reputation for challenging the big guys.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of profiles of the U.S. Senate candidates.

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Cynthia Dill speaks during the Maine Democratic Convention in June. Dill won a four-way primary to become her party’s nominee to vie for Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in the U.S. Senate, but has lagged behind her rivals in polls. Political scientist Jim Melcher says Dill “has a reputation for being tenacious, scrappy, willing to say what she is thinking and to let the chips fall where they may, even if they rub her own party the wrong way.”

2012 file photo/Kennebec Journal

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Democrat Cynthia Dill speaks at a candidates’ forum Oct. 4. In six years, she has gone from being a town councilor to her party’s nominee for U.S. Senate.

2012 file photo/Gordon Chibroski

Additional Photos Below

CAPE ELIZABETH — Ask Cynthia Dill about her elementary school days, and the first thing she recalls is a fistfight.

The bully was a bigger, older boy and had been relentlessly taunting a severely disabled girl, who used a wheelchair, on the playground of her Barrington, R.I., elementary school. Dill, a fifth-grader at the time, says she told him to stop. He wouldn’t, and when pushes turned to punches, she stood her ground.

“She was being tortured by him,” Dill recalls today. “I was always the kid to stand up for the kid who was being bullied.”

In the decades since, Dill has continued standing up to the big kids, from the bar owner she sued in college for demoting her on account of her gender to the major corporations she took to court as a young attorney, to going head to head with the governor of Maine as a freshman state senator.   

Now she’s running for U.S. Senate, taking on the sitting secretary of state and a popular and wealthy two-term governor. Those who have known her through the years say if elected, she’d remain the person she’s been since grade school: fearless, outspoken, ambitious and not one to pull her punches in defense of principle. Her detractors wonder if her stridency – which has propelled her in just six years from being a freshman councilor in a small, affluent suburb to the Democratic nominee to one of the most prominent and powerful lawmaking bodies on the planet – has doomed her party’s chances of winning the three-way race.

A RESPECTED FAMILY

Her story starts in Carmel, N.Y., a leafy town of 30,000 just over the border from Westchester County and near the far end of the commuter rail lines to Grand Central Station. She was born there Jan. 6, 1965, the fourth of five children of the scion of a successful family business and an Italian-American nurse from Rhode Island.

The Dills were a respected and influential family in Carmel. Cynthia’s grandfather, Fred Dill Sr., had come to the area as a penniless young man at the height of the Great Depression and built a thriving regional chain of lumber and home improvement stores. As she was growing up, Fred Dill was founding community organizations and a local bank and chairing the local chapter of the United Way. There is a nature preserve named after him incorporating land he donated to the town for that purpose.

“He got all the different organizations in the community to get together and work together and help one another,” says Alfonso Lotrecchiano, a close friend of the family patriarch who serves as historian of the local Rotary Club. “He didn’t look for accolades, but he loved to see people succeed and helped a lot of people, unbeknownst to the public.

“He never got involved politically, but he had a lot of clout and if he said something, people listened,” Lotrecchiano adds.

The Dills – including Cynthia’s father, Fred Dill Jr., who managed the business with his brother – were Republicans of the old Yankee sort, Cynthia says, and their experiences as small-business owners and community leaders shaped her worldview. “I didn’t grow up with the idea that government was the enemy, I was brought up with ‘you serve your community, you work hard, and you give back through public service’ – and to me that’s what government is,” she says.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Cynthia Dill, then a state representative, listens to a debate in the Maine House in 2007. In Augusta, Dill sponsored measures to allow the recall of the governor and to ban nepotism in state government (both in response to actions by Gov. Paul LePage). She also spearheaded the creation of an expansion of broadband Internet in rural Maine.

2007 File Photo/John Ewing

  


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