PORTLAND, Maine — On the evening of June 8, Primary Day in the Pine Tree State, Rosa Scarcelli celebrated a win with her supporters in Portland.
“Going from a dead-stop — zero, no one knew me — to 27,000 votes for a first-timer? That’s a win,” she said in a recent interview. “Even if I had come in fourth, it wouldn’t have mattered. The reality is that I came out of nowhere, and that’s a lot.”
Scarcelli, CEO of Portland-based Stanford Management, finished third in the four-way Democratic primary. She topped out at almost 22 percent of the vote, nearly a dead second-place split with Steve Rowe (about 23 percent) and Pat McGowan (about 20 percent). While Sen. Libby Mitchell (35 percent) took the prize in the four-way race, Scarcelli’s third-place finish may be the great untold story of this year’s Democratic primary.
When she started the race last year, she was a darkhorse private sector candidate facing a field of Augusta and D.C. veterans. She beat McGowan, a Democratic powerhouse with more than 20 years experience at the state and federal level, in two-thirds of Maine’s counties, and contended against 1st Congressional District favorite Rowe. All in all, Team Rosa managed to convince more than 26,000 Maine Democrats that she should be governor.
Scarcelli says she will use the momentum she built during the campaign to propel her through the transition into whatever comes next. So, just what is next for the newly minted politician who’s never held elected office? Your guess is as good as mine.
She talks a lot about “transitioning” into new “projects,” but she’s either not sure or not telling exactly what those projects will be. One thing is for sure, though: She’s not giving any hints as to whether she’ll run for office again. (Scarcelli did say that her campaign’s finance director, Emily Mellencamp-Smith is off working on a federal election campaign, “gaining some experience,” after which she will come back to help Scarcelli with whatever it is that’s coming next. Again, your guess is as good as mine in terms of what that means.)
“Opportunities to serve again will come, and I’ll be ready to evaluate them when they do,” Scarcelli said. “I’ve been very flattered with everyone’s suggestions for different offices since Wednesday after the election. And it’s very nice. But we really need to see how we can make the most impact. It’s not about the office so much as how we can make the biggest difference.”
And Rosa does have plans for how to make a difference. In the course of our short interview, she mentioned the possibilities of moving to Haiti or New Orleans to help there (presumably with housing, Stanford Management’s industry), picking a few important issues to “champion” in Maine or D.C., helping to bring the business community back under the Democratic Party’s tent and starting a new company with a social responsibility component.
Mostly she talked about creating some kind of forum, possibly even a TV show, to engage Mainers.
“I’d like to work on are creating a forum, where we can keep talking about the issues that we raised during the campaign — whether that might be creating a blog or doing a talk radio show or approaching some of the media outlets here in Maine to do a hosted TV show. Those are things I’d like to pursue.”
Perhaps because she was such a newcomer, there wasn’t a lot of controversy surrounding Scarcelli’s campaign for the Democratic nod. The closest she got to any sort of firestorm was when the folks over at Dirigo Blue took her to task for this ad, in which she encouraged independents to register as Democrats to vote for her, then to leave the party if they wanted. Gerald Weinland said this was antithetical to party building.
“I think that’s shortsighted. Maine is one of the few states that has such a high percentage of unenrolled voters. A majority of voters in Maine are unenrolled in a party. That means the parties aren’t working for them,” Scarcelli said. “There are other states that have a more open enrollment process, and when 60,000 people come out to vote, as they did in this last election, and don’t vote for one of the Democratic or Republican candidates, that’s 60,000 people that don’t have a voice and have their choices made for them.”
This party-centric approach to politics is central to Scarcelli’s feelings about her own party. But it’s not partisanism. Scarcelli is quick to point out that she doesn’t care which side of the aisle a good idea comes from. And she thinks Mainers feel the same. She said she doesn’t buy into the notion of hyper-partisanism, or the dominant narrative she says is being forced on this election; a narrative of a hard-right LePage and a hard-left Mitchell.
“There were frustrated people that were Republicans, Independents and Democrats,” Scarcelli said of the campaign trail. “I think you’ve got some people who are trying to take that middle road and paint the extreme left and the extreme right. The reality is that they’re good people. Libby is a good person. Paul is a good person. The narrative of extreme left and extreme right does not do good to anyone. It’s just a stereotype.”
“I want us to be working together toward solutions. I don’t buy into screaming, yelling, bitching and moaning. I say, give me a solution.”
Scarcelli said she’d be willing to add her areas of expertise to the effort to elect Libby Mitchell.
“If I can help her [Mitchell], with reforming government in particular, that would be good. But I think we need to wait and see how everything unfolds,” Scarcelli said. “But I would love nothing more than to serve the state of Maine, to help us take advantage of all our opportunities, to make us strong.”
For now, she’s working to settle the debt she loaned to her campaign. According to the Bangor Daily News, more than half the $850,000 she spent running for Governor was her own money. She plans to launch a new website soon, an online home for her current and future endeavors.
And we’ll be watching.
Check back later for audio of the Observer’s interview with Scarcelli.