The Republican mayor of the second largest city in Maine resigned on Friday after leaked emails and text messages showed he joked that elderly Black Americans were like “antique farm equipment.”
In the private messages, Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard made several “stupid jokes” during a text exchange with a woman with whom he reportedly had an affair, according to the Sun Journal. Heather Everly Berube, who claims to have had a fling with the mayor during his campaign, leaked the messages, along with more than 150 texts between her and Bouchard.
“All my jokes are quite racist lol,” he reportedly said in a text, before adding: “What do you call 2 old black people sitting on your front lawn.”
“Antique farm equipment,” he said.
“Yikes,” Berube wrote back.
The exchange reportedly came roughly two months before the Maine Examiner publicized internal emails from Bouchard’s opponent, Ben Chin, including one in which Chin said he had encountered “a bunch of racists” while campaigning. His comments were considered divisive by some and partly cost him the election, the paper reported.
Berube, a former volunteer on Chin’s campaign, also confessed she was the one who leaked Chin’s internal emails to the Maine GOP as part of an attack on the Democratic candidate.
Bouchard offered an apology after the damning messages were made public Wednesday, saying he is not a racist and that his comments in no way reflect how he feels about Lewiston’s Black residents or Black people in general.
“I say stupid things and stupid jokes occasionally,” he said, describing his texts as “a couple of racist-ish, not racist comments, but just distasteful jokes.”
“More than anything, they are just, again, stupid messaging between friends,” Bouchard added. “You never know how that’s going to get spun on you.”
The Sun Journal noted that as mayor, Bouchard serves an increasingly diverse community that’s mostly comprised of first- or second-generation African immigrants. In a statement to residents, the embattled former mayor said, “I believe my actions toward 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.”
His leaked texts with Berube proved otherwise. In addition to the racist joke, there was one exchange where Bouchard talked about his schedule, including an upcoming meeting with his fellow Republicans.
“Then my clan meeting,” he wrote. “I mean andro GOP meeting.”
“That’s not funny,” Berube responded.
The mayor’s resignation also comes after Lewiston police announced they were launching a joint investigation with the Maine Attorney General’s Office into claims made by Berube during Tuesday’s city council meeting. Bouchard has denied ever having an affair with the woman.
“In this political climate where the media does not discriminate between facts and rumors, it is hard to be a public figure,” he said during a Friday press conference. “I’m not a perfect person. I have made many mistakes in my past. I have also, in the past been the victim of some very damaging rumors.”
Bouchard’s resignation is effective immediately. City councilor Kristin Cloutier is expected to take over as mayor.