‘At the mercy of landlords,’ tenants fear fatal-fire verdict devalues their lives

They vow to fight for stronger laws. Landlords express relief.

Crystal Cron hoped for a different outcome, but wasn’t surprised when she heard that landlord Gregory Nisbet had been cleared of manslaughter charges in a fatal Portland house fire.

The verdict, which came just after noon Friday, sends a message that tenants’ lives are less important than their rent checks, said Cron, who chairs the Portland Tenants Union.

“The overall sentiment is that tenants are ways (for landlords) to make money. Whatever happens to us is the consequence of being poor and being a tenant. If we had the means to buy a house, then we would not be at the mercy of landlords,” she said.

Cron said the verdict will galvanize efforts by the Portland Tenants Union to push for tenants’ rights before the City Council, including rent stabilization and measures to prevent the no-cause evictions of tenants who rent month to month and pay their rent on time.

“The issue of the fire is a huge one, and one that people have been following because it’s so tragic. But the tragedy is that we are not valued as human beings. We are paying higher costs and living in lower-quality housing. We should not have to trade costs for safety,” she said.

Six young people died in the Noyes Street blaze on Nov. 1, 2014. It was Maine’s deadliest house fire in 40 years.

Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, said landlords are relieved about Friday’s verdict. They worried that if Nisbet had been found guilty of manslaughter, they could be held responsible for the actions of their tenants.

“Greg Nisbet was not the kind of landlord that we should hold up as a role model,” Vitalius said. “He was not the most attentive landlord. But that does not make him criminally negligent. It’s easy to think of all the things he did badly, but that is different than him being criminally negligent.”

Prosecutors portrayed Nisbet as an irresponsible landlord who rented to tenants without leases and failed to maintain his building safely. They contended he operated the building as a rooming house and not an apartment building, and that third-floor windows were inadequate as fire exits.

Fire investigators said the fire started in a plastic receptacle for cigarette butts on the front porch at 20 Noyes St. and quickly spread. The building was equipped with smoke detectors that had been disabled by tenants.

The trial began Oct. 3. Family members and friends of the victims wanted Nisbet convicted because they said his lax management and maintenance of the building contributed to the deaths.

Elizabeth Burke, a landlord who lives on Oakdale Street near the site of the fire, said the city was partly to blame for the fatal fire because it was plainly obvious to everyone in the neighborhood that the house was a problem and that Nibset was an irresponsible landlord.

“We all knew it was a disaster waiting to happen. You walked by it all the time to go to the corner grocery store, and there was garbage and beer bottles and kids and parties all the time,” she said. “I think almost everyone thinks he was a slumlord. But when an inspector doesn’t go to a building to check things out, then something is wrong with the city process.”

Burke, who has five tenants in her home, changed how she handles leases and fire-safety procedures with her tenants after the fire. She rewrote her lease agreements with tenants, adding a clause that allows her to evict tenants if they tamper with or disengage smoke detectors or if they prevent her from going into their rooms to inspect the smoke detectors or change the batteries. She also talks with tenants about fire-safety procedures.

“I sit down with them once a year now. We sit in the kitchen and talk about fire, how to properly use a fire extinguisher and where the fire boxes are on the street,” she said.

While she did not believe Nisbet would be convicted, she said the prospect of his conviction reverberated among Portland landlords. “We were all paying attention,” she said.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said the city has improved its housing inspection program since the fire. As mayor, it’s his responsibility to ensure there are adequate resources for inspectors to do their jobs, he said in a phone interview after the verdict.

Strimling called the situation “tragic.”

“When I knew the verdict was coming, I wasn’t sure how I would react,” he said. “I was just really sad. However the verdict went down, it’s not going to bring those kids back.”

Cron, the Portland Tenants Union leader, said her organization will continue to advocate for stronger laws and rules that benefit renters “so we can live free from the fear that we will be on the street” for speaking out about poor living conditions.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:


Twitter: pphbkeyes

What will change if Massachusetts legalizes marijuana?

Researchers who look at four states where pot is legal find a small increase in tax revenue and no evidence of negative outcomes.

Researchers who look at four states where pot is legal find no evidence of negative outcomes.

FALL RIVER, Mass. — We are either facing the end of the world or utopia, depending on whom you ask.

Either way, both pro and con forces say life will change based on the vote for referendum question four, which asks if Massachusetts should legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Proponents say legal marijuana will raise tax revenue, reduce crime, stimulate the economy and improve public health.

Opponents say legal marijuana will increase the use of alcohol and other drugs, increase crime, cause traffic accidents and cause teenagers to skip school.

But Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska say don’t worry about it. No matter which way the vote goes, nothing much will change, according to Harvard professor Jeffrey Miron.

Miron is a senior lecturer on economics and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank.

Miron joined researchers Angela Dills and Sietse Goffard to write a paper for the Cato Institute in September, offering a statistical analysis of the effect of referenda in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska that legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Massachusetts will be one of 11 states, including Maine, considering that question on election day.

“Based on the four states, we didn’t find any changes or any of the outcomes that have been projected,” Miron said. “Any changes were very minor.

“What we found was evidence of increased tax revenue. The four states have taken in a modest amount of increased revenue as a result of the change.”

The paper looks at the legal history of marijuana laws – it was legal through the United States until 1913, when California became the first state to prohibit it. The federal government first got involved in 1937, when it imposed a prohibitively high tax on marijuana. Possession of marijuana did not become a federal crime until the 1950s.

Washington, Oregon and Alaska made medical marijuana legal in 1998. Colorado made recreational marijuana legal in 2012. (In Massachusetts, medical marijuana is legal. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a civil rather than criminal offense.)

Miron and company looked at a decade of statistics from Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. In those studies, both marijuana and alcohol use remained steady, both before and after legalization. Marijuana prices remained stable and suicide rates showed no appreciable increase or decrease.

Admissions to emergency rooms in Colorado for treatment of alcohol or marijuana both declined slightly after marijuana was made legal. In Washington, ER admissions continued a decline that started in 2008. The crime rate and the violent crime rate remained stable in both Denver and Seattle. There was no appreciable change in the rate of traffic accidents or traffic fatalities after legalization in any of the states that had sufficient post legalization data, according to the paper.

In schools, suspensions remained stable as did standardized test scores.

Home prices and unemployment rates followed national trends in all four states. So did state spending on corrections and state police expenditures.

The biggest change has been in state revenue: All four states collected steadily increasing tax revenue from legal marijuana sellers.

“Our conclusion is that state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes,” the paper states.

The authors note that there are only limited statistics available and that, over time, the results could change.

“On the basis of available data, however, we find little support for the stronger claims made by either opponents or advocates of legalization. The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents.”

Another View: Global trade is here to stay – whatever politicians say

The two presidential candidates’ campaign rhetoric ignores today’s economic realities.

They say you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but if you could, here’s how we imagine it: An American company invents the process and then outsources physical genie-stuffing to a factory in Mexico. The empty bottles are shipped in from Taiwan.

No, we’re not really thinking about genies – we’re contemplating the global economy. Once a country becomes part of the international order of things, it’s not easy or cheap to retreat to the previous way of life. Free trade and free genies are similar: Each will go its own way and pursue its best path.


The example of the moment is the United Kingdom, where British voters in June voted to leave the European Union. The decision, called Brexit, is an exercise in genie-stuffing: The process of reversing decades of economic integration is expensive and counterproductive. Warning signs are everywhere: European leaders say they’ll take a tough negotiating stance on the divorce, which has caused the British pound to plummet. Financial services firms may leave London for the continent. A leaked British government report warns that Brexit could cause a sharp decline in GDP over 15 years.

Being part of the EU is good for Britain, but as with all trade relations there are positive and negative aspects – tradeoffs, as it were, for being part of a large, single marketplace.

British voters didn’t like the fact that citizens from the continent could live and work in the U.K., potentially taking jobs from locals. They also resented the role EU bureaucrats in Brussels played in their everyday lives. Brexit passed because voters believed the argument that Britain could disentangle from Europe but keep the trade benefits of EU membership.

The problem is there are 27 member countries in the EU besides Britain, and in order to dissuade other members from breaking away, they will not make it easy for the U.K. to leave. European leaders appear determined to require that the U.K. keep its borders open for all EU citizens in exchange for unrestricted access to the continent’s market. France’s president, Francois Hollande, set off the pound’s recent plummet by saying Britain won’t be allowed to retreat to its bottle without pain. Once on its way out of the EU, Britain will be a diminished player.

The United States faces the same existential debate about global trade and integration. Donald Trump is campaigning on the promise of abrogating or renegotiating trade deals that he says are killing American factory jobs. Hillary Clinton, who once promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other countries, is now against it.


Yet international trade and investment already are the reality. In the global economy, companies and countries specialize in making the most valuable products they can and buying the rest. American companies manufacture sophisticated goods and American farms grow crops sold all over the world. Our genie company would be most efficient and profitable with its headquarters and R&D in the States and the assembly line in Mexico.

There is no need to reverse these economic trends, and they shouldn’t be reversed. The TPP will be good because the best way to improve the American standard of living is to support the competitiveness of American businesses. Conversely, American consumers enjoy the benefits of less expensive goods from overseas. Part of the equation is using trade deals to secure and protect new markets for American products. That’s what the TPP will do.

The folly of putting this genie back in the bottle is exemplified by Trump’s campaign promise to get Apple to bring production of the iPhone home in order to create more American jobs. Setting aside the fact that presidents don’t control business decisions, assembling iPhones in the United States isn’t going to happen.


Making the phones here would add $50 to $100 to the cost of each one, which would drive consumers to Apple’s competitors. That likely underestimates the cost by multiples, because China’s factories, with their low-cost workforce, are so vast and flexible that no American plant could compete.

The late Steve Jobs once was asked by President Obama what it would take for Apple to make iPhones in the United States. Jobs’ reply, according to The New York Times, had a touch of the genie to it. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said.

The best path for the American economy is to seek productivity gains and competitive advantages wherever they are. No magic is required.

Letter to the editor: If Question 2 passes, Maine will attract fewer doctors

Imagine a newly graduated physician. She has completed years of training, and now looks forward to starting a rewarding career. She is concerned, however, about the staggering debt load she is carrying: Debt in excess of $250,000 is not unusual these d…

Imagine a newly graduated physician. She has completed years of training, and now looks forward to starting a rewarding career. She is concerned, however, about the staggering debt load she is carrying: Debt in excess of $250,000 is not unusual these days.

In what state will she decide to practice? Maine is a wonderful place (which is why I choose to practice here), but the proposed new tax surcharge on income over $200,000 will make Maine radioactive. So many other states offer lower taxes and higher compensation.

I want Maine kids to get the best possible education. I respect our teachers. I am sympathetic to the funding problems. But this is the wrong answer.

You think you have to wait a long time to see a specialist now? Wait until this referendum passes. Maine already has enough problems attracting and retaining physicians. Let’s not make it worse. Vote “no” on Question 2.

Peter H. Bouman, M.D.


Some Maine schools with polling stations opt to close on Election Day

Long lines of voters, parking problems and safety are among school officials’ chief concerns.

A number of Maine schools that serve as Election Day polling places are canceling classes on Nov. 8, citing big crowds, possible parking and traffic issues, and student safety.

Officials at schools that are staying open say the physical layout of the campus allows voters access to the polls without interacting with any students.

“I was not comfortable last year with having polls open in our school,” said John Suttie, who is both district superintendent and principal of Old Orchard Beach High School, where a polling station is located. This year, classes are canceled for students but teachers will be there for a staff development day.

Old Orchard Beach usually cancels classes for presidential and gubernatorial elections and remains open during off-year elections.

“It’s not just about people coming in and casting their votes,” Suttie said of his concerns. “There are petitioners there, candidates are there, vendors are there. For me, that was really the catalyst for canceling classes.”

In southern Maine, more than a dozen schools have polling stations, including Biddeford, Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, Gorham, Lebanon, Lewiston, North Berwick, Old Orchard Beach, Scarborough, Wells and York. Most of them have canceled classes, and a few have made it a parent conference day or staff development day.

“We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks, and talking to town officials,” said Patti Gilley, principal at Lebanon Elementary School, which will remain open. “We have a plan in place and they (voters) really aren’t going to cross paths (with students.)”

Gilley said the layout of the rural school, with two buildings separated by a walkway, made it easier to remain open. Officials do anticipate big crowds and Maine State Police will help with traffic control and parking, she said.

State officials expect turnout to be slightly lower than in recent presidential elections, however. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap anticipates turnout to be about 67 percent of registered voters, compared to 71 percent in 2012 and 76 percent in 2008. In off years, voter turnout typically dips to about 15 percent.

In addition to concerns about big crowds on Nov. 8, Maine schools are responding to safety issues. Schools have instituted new safety procedures and strict campus access rules in recent years in response to school shootings nationwide.

In Portland, which has three polling stations in schools, the School Board canceled classes at Deering High School and East End Community School but is keeping Reiche Community School open for students.

“At Deering, parking and traffic congestion on busy Stevens Avenue will be a problem on Election Day,” read a district notice. At East End, which closed during the 2008 election, the polling will be in an area students use and a long line would “likely stretch into student areas.”

Reiche can remain open because the polling location is in the community side of the building, apart from the classroom and student space.

Earlier this year, Deering High School was swamped during Maine’s Democratic presidential caucuses, which have a different voting process. The line to vote stretched for more than a half-mile and thousands of voters waited for up to four hours.

In Lewiston, Superintendent Bill Webster told parents that he was canceling classes at Montello School and Longley Elementary School.

“In reviewing our past experiences with elections and knowing the potential for a record-breaking number of voters this November, I have decided to excuse Longley and Montello students that day,” he wrote in a newsletter. “This decision is based upon the level of school disruption and safety compromise that would otherwise be expected.”

Cape Elizabeth town officials asked that the high school close this year, according to Interim Superintendent Howard Colter. The school board voted to amend the calendar in late August to make it a day off for students.

“Traffic, adequate parking, and safety are at the heart of their concern,” Colter said in a message to parents. Some students will be on election duty, however, as Cape seniors are offering rides to the polls for senior citizens in the area as a service project.


Port City Post: Talent for tap dancing can lead to overconfidence, bigly

Being great at one thing doesn’t mean you excel at everything, especially leading the nation.

An empty nest allows extra time for some potentially foolish decisions – like raising chickens, meditating or taking a hip-hop class, for example.

As we mature, our self-consciousness goes low as our impulsiveness goes high. We decide to do things that we might not do during our more relevant decades, like getting a tattoo or walking our dog in our pajamas.

If a friend told me that she had signed up for a tap dancing class, I’d be very polite and enthusiastic, but I would also hope that she would not go as far as inviting me to her recital. I think I’m busy that night.

It’s hard not to look upon the choice of an aging pal to start taking a tap dancing class without seeing it as just another desperate attempt to stay alive, upright and ambulating.

But here I am telling you about my decision to finally take a tap dancing class. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for years. I now own a pair of shiny-new tap shoes and a 10-class pass to Casco Bay Movers. It’s jazz hands all around, my friends.

Be happy for me because I plan on being the best tap dancer ever.

As it turns out, I am already great at tap dancing. I mean really, really great. I’m bigly and fantastic at tap dancing. I can hear an eight-count beat from a hundred miles away. Shuffle ball change step, shuffle ball change step and stomp.

I was born to tap and because of my natural ability to tap, I’m quite confident that I could also become president of the United States or have my own reality show or climb Mount Everest or become a movie star. Why not? After all, greatly begets greatly and then we become, well, terrifically terrific!

I’m already the best student in my class. And speaking of my class, it is a very good-looking group of people. I went around the room so I would know who the hell I was tapping with. There are some seriously bad senoritas in my class rocking their right to tap. If I weren’t tapping with these women, I would probably be dating them.

Tap is all about love and “love” is a fantastic word and I know words. “Love” is the greatest word ever besides “beautiful” and “strong,” of which I am both.

The beauty of me is that I believe in me and my ability to tap. Don’t feel insecure around me when you see me tap. It’s not your fault. Shuffle off to Buffalo, one two three four five six seven eight, ball change.

Nobody has more respect for tap dancing than I do. Fa-lap, fa-lap, fa-lap, one two three four five six seven eight.

And women are the best tappers ever. Nasty women are unbelievably great at tap dancing. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Tap is winning. Tap is love. Tap is nasty. Let’s all hold hands and make a big wall of sound with our tap shoes and then life will be safe, secure and goodly.

Let’s make America great again, one nasty ball change after the other. Love and tap trump hate, and I just want you to be happy.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:


We could all breathe easier by reducing greenhouse gas emissions

We urge the DEP and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to consider an annual cap reduction of at least 5 percent.

When my son was young, his asthma affected his ability to play, especially on hot and humid days. It always broke my heart to have to make him slow down and even to stop playing.

Here in Maine, on the tailpipe of the U.S., we know that air quality is important to our health. We have an opportunity through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – a mandatory market-based program that works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector – to support a 5 percent emissions cap that will reduce exposures to air pollution and help slow the progression of climate change that also threatens our health.

The RGGI cap on carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) represents a regional budget for carbon emissions from the power sector in the nine participating states. Strengthening the emissions cap from 2.5 percent to a 5 percent reduction in emissions per year, starting in 2021, will build on RGGI’s previous success and ensure that Maine is doing its part to clean up air pollution and protect health well into the future.

Maine residents, no matter where in the state they live, are and will be affected greatly by increased asthma and respiratory illness, heart attack and stroke as a result of air pollution and climate change. Reducing carbon emissions through RGGI reduces the rate of climate change, improves the health of millions of Americans by clearing the air of toxic co-pollutants such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides, ozone and particulate matter and even returns economy-boosting dollars to our state. It’s a win-win-win.

When we reduce carbon emissions in the electric sector, harmful air pollution declines. Our kiddos with asthma can avoid scary emergency room visits; they can play safely and participate in sports outside without fear of an asthma attack.

Workers stay healthy, on the job and productive, earning the wages they need to support their families. Elders are healthier and live longer, with more time to help their adult children and enjoy their grandchildren. Taxpayers save billions on the health costs of pollution-related disease.

RGGI states, including Maine, adopted aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals to combat climate change – a 35 to 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and a 75 to 90 percent reduction by 2050. These admirable goals are essential targets that we must meet to avoid allowing Earth’s temperature to increase more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, which, scientists agree, is required to prevent severe environmental collapse.

Maine must help choose a plan for RGGI that will propel us toward these important goals. There is little time left to debate how to control climate change. We already have the information needed to be confident that a 5 percent carbon cap reduction in the RGGI program can be achieved and will produce health and economic benefits.

RGGI’s success has been valuable for Maine, producing benefits to consumers while reducing electricity demand and supporting clean renewable energy. However, the funds from auctioning allowances are only a small part of the economic bonus that the RGGI states receive for reducing emissions.

Air pollution is so deadly that the monetized health co-benefits of reducing carbon emissions are enormous, as are the indirect economic benefits of keeping students in school and workers on the job.

A recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change quantifies the health and economic benefits that will accrue from the changes that the electric sector must make to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees. These required emissions reductions are roughly equal to an annual cap reduction in RGGI of 5 percent.

If all states reduced carbon emissions by this amount, we would see dramatic health benefits nationwide, with thousands fewer asthma attacks requiring emergency room visits in children under 18, and potentially millions of fewer missed work days. In this scenario, we could also prevent thousands of premature deaths each year.

Even the most conservative economic models show that the benefits of the emissions reductions required to meet the goals of the RGGI states are five to 10 times the costs of implementation.

RGGI is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions from the electric sector and to make the future healthier for Maine citizens. We urge the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the leadership of RGGI to seriously consider an annual cap reduction of at least 5 percent.

Families and children in our state are relying on the DEP and RGGI leadership to choose a plan that will adequately control climate change and improve public health so that no matter where we live in Maine, we can breathe easier for many years to come.

Letter to the editor: Physicians group: Vote yes on Question 3 to reduce gun deaths

There is no disputing that the United States has a problem with gun violence. Firearm homicide rates in the United States are 25 times higher than in other high-income countries, and 90 percent of the yearly firearm deaths of women and children in the …

There is no disputing that the United States has a problem with gun violence. Firearm homicide rates in the United States are 25 times higher than in other high-income countries, and 90 percent of the yearly firearm deaths of women and children in the developed world occur in the U.S.

In 2010, the firearm homicide rate in the U.S. was 600 times the rate in South Korea, which had the lowest rate among high-income nations.

In addition, of the more than 30,000 people in the United States who die each year from gun-related injury, roughly two-thirds die from suicide. Put simply: If there is a gun in a home, there is a two to 10 times increased risk of someone in that home dying from a completed suicide. As we begin to look at the problem of gun violence in the United States as one of public safety and public health, closing a loophole that allows the purchase of a firearm at a gun show without a criminal background check is a necessary step. Voting “yes” on Question 3 is strongly supported by the American College of Physicians.

Donald Medd, M.D., FACP


Letter to the editor: 1960 election indicates election fraud could be real concern

It’s prime time for making mountains out of molehills – a season most political hacks relish. A key theme would be Donald Trump’s behavior patterns with the opposite sex.
How can we describe the ways? “Brash,” “bluster,&…

It’s prime time for making mountains out of molehills – a season most political hacks relish. A key theme would be Donald Trump’s behavior patterns with the opposite sex.

How can we describe the ways? “Brash,” “bluster,” “blunt,” “gross,” “badgering,” “vulgar,” “harassing,” “coercing,” “intimidating” and on and on. Not a new pitfall, but one that gets on the front page every time.

Trump has apologized and focused his attention on a rigged system. Now, that is a mountain with a history.

Even a staunch Democrat and friend of Jack Kennedy, New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, suggested in his 1978 book “A Dangerous Place” that most likely Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley stuffed the ballot boxes (with passed-on Irish names) in the 1960 presidential election.

Richard Nixon cried “I was robbed!” and outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower agreed with him; however, that mountain became a dribble via lack of attention by the press. Oh hum!

Robert Denbow


Russians Seek Answers To Central Moscow GPS Anomaly

stevegee58 writes: Russians have been noticing that their GPS doesn’t work in Moscow near the Kremlin. Everyone from taxi drivers to Pokemon Go players suddenly notice that they’re transported 18 miles away at the airport when they near the Kremlin. Wh…

stevegee58 writes: Russians have been noticing that their GPS doesn’t work in Moscow near the Kremlin. Everyone from taxi drivers to Pokemon Go players suddenly notice that they’re transported 18 miles away at the airport when they near the Kremlin. While this may be an annoyance to the public it seems like a reasonable countermeasure to potential terrorist threats. Is it only a matter of time before other vulnerable sites such as the White House or the Capitol in Washington start doing the same? “A programmer for Russian internet firm Yandex, Grigory Bakunov, said Thursday his research showed a system for blocking GPS was located inside the Kremlin, the heavily guarded official residence of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” reports Yahoo. “The first anomaly was recorded in June, according to Russian media reports, which have also suggested that the GPS interference comes and goes in a pattern. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday he did not know why the malfunction was occurring and admitted experiencing the problem himself when driving recently. Peskov redirected questions to Russia’s Federal Guards Service, which is responsible for protecting the Kremlin and senior Russian officials.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.