October 26, 2012

Sex scandal clashes with image of small-town Maine

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK - For most residents here, the biggest news of the fall was expected to be the completion of a beautification project on Main Street resulting in wider brick sidewalks, new plantings and a new bridge over the Mousam River.

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Mark Nedeau of Kennebunk created this T-shirt to make light of the prostitution scandal that has plagued Kennebunk over recent weeks. “It’s like deer season,” he said. “Get your deer yet?”

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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A pedestrian crosses Route 1 in downtown Kennebunk. Alexis Wright, a 29-year-old fitness instructor from Wells, has pleaded not guilty to prostitution, invasion of privacy and other charges at her downtown Kennebunk business.

Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press

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That was before a mix of illicit sex in an upscale small town, rumors of a list of prominent prostitution clients, the slow release of the names of suspected "johns" and even a hot new fitness routine turned Kennebunk into the setting for "a pretty potent formula for a tabloid story," said Max Read, a blogger for Gawker, a New York-based website with the motto: "Today's gossip is tomorrow's news."

The story of Alexis Wright, the 29-year-old former Zumba instructor accused of using her business in downtown Kennebunk as a front for prostitution, clearly has taken hold, not only with residents but outside the town as well. It has been a much-discussed topic on television shows, Internet sites and newspapers, in part because the scandal seems so at odds with Kennebunk's reputation as a quaint tourist destination.

Of course, it has become the focus of most everyone in town, with a mixture of fascination and dread.

For instance, Chris Farr, director of The Brick Store Museum, has been busy planning a new exhibit on the town's role in the Civil War, but he's also taken time to keep up with more current town events.

One morning last week, his computer displayed the home page of The Age, a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, and its story on Wright's alleged prostitution operation -- a story that unfolded not far from the museum at the other end of Main Street.

"It's the only thing people are talking about in this town," Farr said, as he sent off an email with a link to the Australian paper's story to his brother. He said there's little competition for topics of conversation because "the political news is pretty depressing."

Although it has its share of old captains' mansions, stately homes and beaches, Kennebunk is often overshadowed by neighboring Kennebunkport, with its even wealthier summer residents and renown as the seaside home of former President George H.W. Bush, which drew tourists and world leaders to the town. Of course, many of them passed through Kennebunk to get there.

For years, the town seemed proudest of the fact that it was the only place in the world with the name Kennebunk, a fact noted on the side of a mill overlooking Route 1.

But while Kennebunk's reputation for now is synonymous with the prostitution scandal, many residents believe -- and hope -- it will soon be eclipsed by some other media sensation.

"I think it will be over 10 minutes after the last list (of Wright's suspected clients) comes out," Farr said.

Resident Mark Nedeau, however, is hoping the interest remains for at least a little longer so he can make some good out of the scandal. Nedeau had printed up T-shirts for sale that read: "I'm NOT on the client list. ARE YOU?"

He said the shirts reflect the fact that almost every man in town has been asked, or asked, that question.

"It's like deer season," he said. "Get your deer yet?"

Nedeau said proceeds from the sale of the shirts -- as of Thursday he had sold 116 at $10 each -- will go to the town's heating assistance fund.

"I'm trying to make light out of a bad situation," he said, while hoping that the boost to the fuel fund will also result in something positive coming out of it.

"I love my town, but am I disappointed by what's going on? Yes, I am," he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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