Editor’s note: This story contains a racist joke. The Sun Journal is including it in its entirety to provide readers with clarity.

LEWISTON — Two months before his opponent’s campaign was upended over emails referencing encounters with racists in the city, Shane Bouchard texted the woman who was funneling Bouchard those internal emails and told her a racist joke.

City Council members, Shane Bouchard, Kristen Cloutier and Michael Lachance listen to James Howaniac, former mayor of Lewiston and current chairman of the Coalition to Oppose Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation, during a public meeting in 2017. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“All my jokes are quite racist lol,” he said before adding, “What do you call 2 old black people sitting on your front lawn.”

“Antique farm equipment,” he answered.

“Yikes,” she wrote back.

The exchange came exactly two months before the Maine Examiner publicized internal campaign emails from Bouchard’s opponent, Ben Chin, including one in which Chin said that he’d encountered “a bunch of racists” while campaigning. The comments were considered divisive and insulting by some. Bouchard went on to win the race, in part because those emails were made public.

On Thursday, as that text exchange and others were made public, Bouchard apologized. He said he was not racist and the comment was not a reflection on the way he feels about black people in general or Lewiston’s black residents in particular.

“I say stupid things and stupid jokes occasionally,” he said.

Heather Everly Berube made public that text exchange and more than 150 others late Wednesday night, hours after she sat down for a wide-ranging interview with the Sun Journal to talk about her relationship with Bouchard and her part in a covert effort to boost Bouchard’s chances of becoming mayor by sending him Chin’s internal emails.

Many of the texts are conversational, focused on when and where to meet up, talk of family and local politics. In one, Bouchard tells Berube, who also goes by her married name Everly, that she is on his short list of possible appointees to fill a vacant School Committee seat.

“You may be #1, but I still have to win and weigh my options,” he said, before musing that Mark Cayer would do a good job in the seat.

“I don’t need to be gifted. Whoever gets it should be best for the position,” she responded

“Exactly. Hence why I won’t promise it to anyone,” Bouchard said, then added, “You will always know where you stand with me.”

Bouchard ultimately nominated Mark Cayer, who is now the Lewiston School Committee chairman.

Other texts are more suggestive. In one, Bouchard talks about what it would take to make his night better.

“Do you know a set of 20 year old blonde twins?” he asked.

In another exchange captured mid-conversation, Bouchard said, “Could be better too. Still holding out for twins,” then added, “Or an overweight brunette. Lol.”

After Berube offered a laughing emoji, Bouchard wrote, “I’m so sexist. Lol.”

In other texts, he talks about the Maine Examiner stories that published his Democratic rival’s internal emails and ultimately upended Chin’s campaign a week before the December 2017 runoff election. Berube, who had volunteered for the Chin campaign, sent internal campaign emails to Bouchard.

In February 2018, as the Maine Ethics Commission was considering looking into the Maine Examiner, Berube texted Bouchard that she was “Ignoring it for now.”

“I have no interest in connecting you to the examiner,” she wrote.

“Ignore is good,” Bouchard responded. “But just so you can sleep well, the fact that you sent them to me and the fact that they ended up in the hands of the examiner (who I was unaware of who owned it until a week ago) does not break any laws anywhere. It really does not mean squat.”

“The whole thing and the fact that they are still harping on it still is actually laughable,” Bouchard said. He added, “I got Chin a tie on election night. I should have sent him a participation trophy.”

Both Bouchard and Jason Savage, the owner and operator of the Maine Examiner, have denied that Savage got the internal emails from Bouchard.

But two of the most potentially inflammatory texts deal with race. One was the racist joke. In the other, Bouchard talks about his schedule, including a gathering of his fellow Republicans.

“Then my clan meeting,” he wrote. “I mean andro GOP meeting.”

“That’s not funny,” Berube replied.

Heather Everly Berube has made public over 150 texts between her and Shane Bouchard, including this one in which he appears to compare his fellow Republicans to the Klu Klux Klan.

Berube linked to screen shots of the texts on Facebook and shared them with the Sun Journal late Wednesday night.

On Thursday, Bouchard said of his racist text that “you can tell from the context of it that it was, you know, a joke. And in poor taste, of course.”

“If you looked at the message, she was pushing me to just tell her any kind of joke and, I don’t know, I just, it came out,” he said. “It is tasteless and it is in no way a reflection of how I feel.”

As mayor, Bouchard oversees an increasingly diverse city. To residents, many of whom are first- or second-generation African immigrants, he said, “I think my actions towards minorities in this community are going to speak a lot louder than an off-color joke to a friend. My actions are very pro immigrant, you’ll find. My board and committee appointments. My outreach. I don’t think you’ll find anything racist about me, period, in general.”

Of the GOP “clan” comment, which appeared to refer to the Klu Klux Klan, Bouchard said, “I seem to remember this as stemming from our joking about how people view (Republicans) in the media at the time. It was meant in a ridiculous eye-roll kind of way.”

This is not the first time in recent history that a Lewiston mayor has had to explain comments touching on race.

In October 2002, Mayor Larry Raymond released a three-page open letter to the Somali community asking immigrants to spread the word among family and friends to stop moving to Lewiston in such large numbers. More than 1,000 African immigrants had moved to the largely white city in the previous 18 months. Many people considered Raymond’s request to be motivated by race. Ten years later, two groups called for Mayor Bob Macdonald to resign after he told a BBC documentary: “You (immigrants) come here, you come and you accept our culture and you leave your culture at the door.”

Macdonald told WGME after the documentary comments came to light, “If you believe in (Somali culture) so much, why aren’t you over there fighting for it? If you believe in it so much, why aren’t you over there shedding your blood to get it? Why are you over here shirking your duties?”

On Thursday, Bouchard said he wasn’t sure he saw any irony in joking about slavery and comparing the local GOP to the KKK around the same time his opponent was getting lambasted, in part, for commenting on his experience with racists

“A couple of racist-ish, not racist comments but just distasteful jokes, more than anything are just, again, stupid messaging between friends,” he said of his texts. “You never know how that’s going to get spun on you.”

As the texts made their way through social media Thursday, city leaders began dealing with allegations Berube made against Bouchard during an open City Council meeting Tuesday night, including allegations of illegal activity.

Heather Everly Berube

Heather Everly Berube

Lewiston police said Berube met with investigators Thursday. The department is conducting a joint investigation with the Maine Attorney General’s Office of Berube’s allegations.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the department emphasized that it “had no knowledge of these allegations prior to her disclosure to the City Council.” The department said it would not be able to provide any additional details because of the ongoing investigation.

City Council President Kristen Cloutier released a statement saying the council takes Berube’s allegations seriously and “is committed to examining them closely.”

“As we look at these issues, we will review the city’s ethics policy and will proceed in a way that is in line with the conventions that govern our great city,” she said.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said it was unclear whether the city’s ethics policy, as written, applies to elected officials as well as employees. Even if it does, and even if Bouchard were found to have run afoul of it in some way, Barrett said there is no provision in the city charter to recall a mayor.

“So we don’t have that as an option,” he said.

The charter does allow the City Council to undertake an investigation, if it votes to do so.

“It is a fairly convoluted and likely expensive process, but it is there and is something that the council could take a look at,” he said. “My impression at this point is that it may be premature to kick anything off there until we get a little bit better information on all of these allegations and at least some preliminary notion of what we’re finding out.”

He said the council could name an independent third party to conduct such an investigation to avoid a conflict of interest.

If there were a council-ordered investigation and wrongdoing was found, there are few actions the council could take, Barrett said. The mayor’s removal is not one.

“Certainly the council could pass some kind of a motion of disapproval or censure or something like that,” he said.

Staff writers Kathryn Skelton and Andrew Rice contributed to this report.

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