The head of the Maine Democratic Party has said he first learned about allegations of misconduct against a candidate for Cumberland County District Attorney in June, but was unable to verify them at the time.

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett: “I stand by my decision to ask Mr. Gale to withdraw from the race.”

Now, just days before the general election, a once-competitive race is uncontested.

Party Chairman Phil Bartlett asked Jon Gale on Sunday to withdraw his candidacy because of unspecified allegations of sexual misconduct from when he worked at Unum in the early 2000s. Gale, a Portland defense attorney, has repeatedly denied the allegations but announced Monday that he would drop out of the race. With his departure, independent Jonathan Sahrbeck is the de facto winner in next week’s election. The Republican candidate withdrew in September.

“I’m disappointed that as Cumberland County voters, we don’t have the opportunity to make a choice between two visions of criminal justice,” said Frayla Tarpinian, who came in second to Gale in the primary by fewer than 1,200 votes.

On Wednesday evening, Bartlett wrote an email to members of the Democratic State Committee, saying he knew some people were upset with his handling of this issue.

“When credible allegations of sexual misconduct were presented to me over the weekend, I had a judgment call to make,” Bartlett wrote. “I stand by my decision to ask Mr. Gale to withdraw from the race as I believe it was the right thing to do morally and ethically. I also believe the long-term damage to MDP and our candidates from a failure to act far outweighs the loss of this particular race.”

ALLEGATIONS AROSE IN JUNE

Jon Gale has repeatedly denied allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

In the email to the party committee, Bartlett said that just before the June primary he had received an anonymous letter through the campaign of another Democrat in the race, whom he did not identify, in which the sender made secondhand allegations about Gale. Bartlett confronted Gale, but he denied the allegations and Bartlett took no further action because he was not able to contact or verify the letter’s sender. The following week, Gale won a three-way primary.

Bartlett wrote that he did not receive more information until Saturday, when an email came in through the party’s website from a person who had worked with Gale at Unum. Over the weekend, Bartlett spoke with that former coworker, as well as a woman Bartlett characterized as a victim. He said their information was more specific than what was contained in the June letter, and it was supported in part by documentation.

Bartlett has declined to share more details about the source and substance of the allegations.

“The woman that I spoke with had not been in a consensual relationship with him and was describing what I would characterize as sexual misconduct,” Bartlett said in the interview.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Gale repeated his denial and commented only briefly on Bartlett’s email.

“Some of the details he gives in this email regarding the time line are inaccurate, but the most important thing is that over the 24 hours after the email he sent me on Sunday, after a lot of conversations with my immediate family, we decided to withdraw to save my wife and kids from this public discussion about my private life,” Gale said. “This is exactly what we don’t want to engage in.”

GALE DENIES ‘VICTIMIZING ANYONE’

Gale declined to answer questions about the allegations against him or the response to his decision. He would not specifically say what, among Bartlett’s statements, he considers inaccurate. In the withdrawal statement released Monday, Gale admitted that he engaged in extramarital affairs in the past and said he has accepted responsibility for those actions.

“However, those decisions did not involve my victimizing anyone, nor was I accused of victimizing anyone,” he wrote in the statement. “Moreover, my decision to leave my employment was wholly unrelated to my personal life, or any human resources investigation. Whatever stories are being told have not been shared with me beyond third-party descriptions, and no identities have been shared with me, but their insinuations are ultimately misinformed, and are inaccurate.”

Maine Political Report



Gale submitted his official withdrawal notice to the Maine Secretary of State’s office Thursday morning.

The candidate nominated by Republicans, Randall Bates, a defense attorney from Yarmouth, dropped out of the race in September, saying the time wasn’t right for him to run. Bates’ and Gale’s names will still appear on the Nov. 6 ballot because the deadline has passed for candidates to have their names removed.

“I am grateful for all of the support I’ve received, now and throughout this campaign, and I’m proud of our run,” Sahrbeck said in an email Thursday night. “It is my hope that the circumstances under which Attorney Gale withdrew from the race do not detract from my core message as a candidate: The district attorney needs to be an experienced, apolitical, independent individual who understands law enforcement, victim advocacy, and public safety — and who consistently acts in the interest of justice.”

IT’S TOO LATE FOR WRITE-INS

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said his office has been fielding calls this week about withdrawals and the possibility of write-in campaigns. Tarpinian, who said her campaign was not aware of the allegations and did not provide the anonymous letter to Bartlett in June, said some of her supporters have contacted her to ask about making a last-minute push for the district attorney job.

But Maine law requires votes for a candidate who has officially withdrawn to be counted as blanks. Absentee ballots can’t be recalled once they are submitted. Only declared write-in candidates will be counted, and all other names will be counted as blanks. The deadline to declare a write-in campaign was back in September, 60 days before the election. So no candidate can jump into the race at this point.

Tarpinian said she respects the results of the primary and trusts that the party leaders acted in good faith. But she hopes to see candidates vetted more thoroughly in the future.

“I think it is really important that we have transparent and fair elections,” she said. “I want to see lessons learned from this incident moving forward to help us elect people that are Democrats so we can fulfill the goals that we have.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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Twitter: megan_e_doyle