Connecticut Post, Bridgeport
You’ve probably never heard of Christine Maine and most likely never will again, but the Putnam Democrat, a candidate for the state General Assembly, has caused a stir across the state with her comments about police officers joining the profession for sex with women attracted to their uniforms, to drive fast and “beat people up with impunity.”
Coming six weeks before Election Day, this is not the raw reminder of friction between Democrats and the police community that the party needed.
Maine, the endorsed Democrat against locally popular incumbent Republican Rick Hayes — a retired police chief — made the remark at the end of a debate last Friday, Sept. 23, in the studios of WINY Radio in Putnam.
Now the political novice finds herself with dwindling support in her own party, which had embraced her as a newbie to elections in the northeast corner of the state. “I told her it might be wise to step down,” Sen. Cathy Osten, D- Sprague, told me Wednesday night, adding, “That’s her decision to make.”
The Putnam Democratic Town Committee is set to vote Oct. 6 on whether to pull its endorsement of Maine, after issuing a sharp rebuke. The move is to protect other Democrats on the ballot, especially for probate judge, and to take the right moral path, Chairman J. Scott Pempek, a selectman in town, said Wednesday.
Democratic leaders in Thompson and Killingly, the other towns with all of part of their territory in the 51st state House District, have also issued statements. Many of Maine’s lawn signs have disappeared, not stolen but removed by people who supported her until Friday.
Maine didn’t return my call or messages through campaign associates, though she did call WINY to explain herself, according to a post on the Facebook page of the radio station, where much of the drama has unfolded. She did not apologize; she said her statement was based on years of experience as a magistrate in Virginia, working closely with police officers. “They confided in me about their personal lives,” she told WINY, the station’s Facebook page quotes her saying.
Cindy Dunne, who was chair of the convention that nominated Maine and is listed as a campaign official for her, would only tell me Wednesday that Maine is still in the race. Maine’s treasurer, Monica McKenna, said she had not talked with the candidate since the debate.
Maine, a recently appointed member of the inland-wetlands commission in Putnam, never had a chance against Hayes. She was, simply, the person who stepped up to run, a liberal Democrat in a land of moderate and even conservative Dems — attacking Hayes, against the advice of some party locals.
The real question isn’t about her fate. It’s whether her statements about cops will haunt Democrats across Connecticut and beyond. Not surprisingly, Republicans say yes it will and Democrats say no, it will not.
Maine responded to a question about the shortage of police recruits from John Mahon, the moderator and news director of WINY (a local treasure at 1350 AM and 97.1 FM if you’re out that way), near the end of the Sept. 23 debate. For context, here is most of her answer:
“I think there’s been a lot of bad press about the police because they’re shooting unarmed people of color,” Maine said, calling for “malpractice insurance” to protect cities and towns against “bad apples.”
“I see why people don’t want to join the police department, it’s a hard job. But if we had more community policing, more people that were actually friendly instead of combative with citizens then people would want to join.”
Now the nut: “I was a magistrate…They had to come to me for all their warrants….. I knew them very, very well. And some of them joined the police department because they wanted to beat people up with impunity. They wanted to have sex because their uniform attracted women (she laughed uncomfortably) and they wanted to speed. And I was shocked when they told me that. But I’ve known thousands of police officers, I worked in a big city, Newport News, Virginia.”
“I don’t even know how to respond about what was just said,” Hayes replied.
‘They ought to be ashamed’
Maine moved to Connecticut around 2006, I was told, so she was talking about experiences long ago.
“That just tells you where the Democratic party is going in this country. They ought to be ashamed of themselves,” John Krupinsky, president of the Connecticut chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, told me late Wednesday. “It’s the Democrats with ‘Defund the police’…. It’s the Democrats with the police accountability bill.”
The Fraternal Order of Police is hardly nonpartisan. As both a labor union and a professional and social association, it endorses local and national candidates, almost all Republicans — including former President Donald Trump overwhelmingly in 2020. But Democrats can’t just take the comments by Krupinsky, a sergeant on the Danbury force and a 41-year veteran officer, as a predictable attack in a campaign season.
Krupinsky reflects what a lot of cops feel, even though the vast majority of Democrats don’t share the idea Maine was impolitic enough to express publicly. “That’s the democratic party and this is the type of candidate that they run,” Krupinsky said.
Democrats, naturally, disagreed. Pempek, the Putnam town chairman, who is acting to protect other candidates, said Maine’s comments don’t have the power to reverberate far and hurt Democrats. “That would be a stretch,” he said, “from one first-time-running candidate.”
Osten, the state senator, added, “There may be some people that would try to skew it that way but I don’t see it that way.”
Osten, co-chair of the public safety committee that oversees some police legislation, was disappointed in Maine’s “unacceptable” remarks all the more because, she said, “I’d like to see more women veterans in the General Assembly.” Right now that’s a caucus of one — Osten, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War era. Maine, a captain in either the Air Force or the Army — I’ve heard both — is a Gulf War veteran.
Dems need to face issue
On Sunday, Bob Stefanowski, the Republican candidate for governor, tweeted at Gov. Ned Lamont to call on Maine to quit the race.
Stefanowski didn’t mention Maine’s comments in his debate with Lamont Tuesday at the WVIT-TV studios in West Hartford. He did aim squarely at what he called disrespect for cops and the 2020 police accountability bill that Lamont signed, which remains the subject of heated debate about whether it targets police, as Republicans say, or only goes after the rare bad actors, as Lamont and other Democrats claim.
Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chairwoman, sent me a statement: “This was a local issue that has been addressed effectively by the local Democrats. Voters in Connecticut are worried about the economy, healthcare and ensuring women continue to have access to safe, legal abortions.”
It’s too soon to say this issue is over, as Maine needs to apologize. Pempek told WINY that “she has COVID and will be out for the next five weeks.”
Maine “just articulated what the legislation was meant to imply,” GOP state chairman Ben Proto told me Wednesday night, referring to the 2020 reform, which he said disrespects police. “There are probably more people on the Democratic side who have less respect for police officers than on the Republican side.”
The answer is somewhere in between what the Democrats and Republicans are saying.
We can all agree that police need to be supported and respected; and that, yes, there are a few bad ones just like there are bad news reporters and bad electricians, who need to be ousted.
Christine Maine made a rookie campaign mistake, taking old comments to her out of context. Democrats need to work hard to show that isn’t how they think.
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