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

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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

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Cynthia’s parents divorced when she was 9, and she moved to her mother’s hometown of Barrington, a comfortable suburb of Providence. She and her siblings continued to spend weekends, holidays, and a chunk of their summer vacation in Carmel with their father and stepmother. “He remarried Carol Brady and she had four kids, complete with Peter Brady, so we became a mixed family of nine, a Brady Bunch,” she recalls.


In Rhode Island, her mother worked long hours as a respiratory therapist, and her grandmother helped take care of the kids while working night shifts at a nearby rubber plant.

Dill says she had a remarkably independent childhood, catching buses to Providence, Newport, Carmel or to her grandmother’s home in Bristol, “a little house with Italian food and a beach nearby.”

From age 14 she worked, and did well in school without trying very hard. “I was a free agent, because I was a good girl and did well in school,” she says. “My grandparents had instilled confidence in me, and my father really encouraged all of us kids to take measured risks.”

“Her father and grandfather were very strong men and very confident, and they played a big role in her life and both really impressed her in those ways,” says Mary Katherine Pyle, who became best friends with Cynthia in second grade. “She’s a very brave person and a fighter and when she sees situations where people are in an unfortunate circumstance, she’s going to do what she can to help them.”

She finished high school and started college a semester early. A high school boyfriend led Dill to attend college at the University of Vermont. The Air Force posted him in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The university was in Burlington, just across Lake Champlain.

“It was definitely a party school; a lot of people went there because they liked skiing and the outdoors and the Grateful Dead,” says college friend John K. Kane, now a partner at Jones Day, a New York law firm. “Cynthia took part in a lot of that stuff. She liked the outdoors and skiing and she did party and was a Grateful Dead fanatic.

“She was a hardworking and energetic and very mature person – that struck me early on,” Kane adds. “In a school that had a lot of privileged upper-middle-class kids who maybe weren’t the best at taking care of themselves, she was the opposite. She would cook brown rice for herself in one of those Crockpots and paid a good number of her bills herself.”

During her junior year, Dill gave up waitressing to take a better-paying job as a bartender. Less than an hour into her first day the owner walked in and, displeased to find a female behind the counter, demoted her to cocktail waitress. She protested. He fired her. She sat crying on the curb – she had no idea how to meet the rent – until one of her professors happened by, learned what had taken place and advised her to sue for employment discrimination. She did and ultimately won.

“I had no idea there was this system in place. It was a whole new window for me,” Dill recalls, adding that it was a formative experience.

“I think it brought it home to her personally the issues women face in the working world,” Kane says. “I think it had some relationship to where she wound up going in her legal career."

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Additional Photos

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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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