AUGUSTA — A former Lewiston mayor has taken out papers to run for a seat in Congress, 20 years after an unsuccessful run in Maine’s 2nd District.
James Howaniec, a Democrat and lawyer who served two terms as mayor in Maine’s second largest city after he was first elected in 1989, would join a crowded field of hopefuls for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, an East Millinocket Democrat who is running for governor.
Howaniec, 55, who said he’s “liberal on social issues and pretty conservative fiscally,” said Thursday that he hasn’t made a final decision on whether to run and will likely decide by the end of February.
He picked up nomination papers from the Maine secretary of state’s office earlier this month. Though he’s been out of politics for 20 years, he said he hasn’t lost a passion for it.
But he said his law practice is busy. In May, a month before the primary, he’ll defend Kristina Lowe of Oxford at trial, where she could face years in prison on two counts of manslaughter related to a 2012 West Paris car accident that killed two in which she was the driver.
Perhaps his most famous client, though, was Brent Matthews, a Lewiston man who gained national attention after he was accused of rolling a pig’s head through a city mosque in 2006. The pig is considered filthy in Islamic culture. Matthews died by suicide after a brief standoff with city police later that year.
If Howaniec enters, he will probably be seen as a longshot for his party’s nod, joining an already crowded Democratic field with two higher-profile names: State Sen. Emily Cain of Orono and Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash are the favorites for the nomination and Alden Smith, a former naval officer from Sangerville, is also running.
“While I think Emily and Troy are better known in Augusta and in political circles, they may not be as well-known in the general public as past Democratic nominees,” Howaniec said.
In 1994, Howaniec ran in a similarly crowded primary for the 2nd District seat. That election had the same flavor as this year’s, with a large field looking to replace a longtime incumbent.
That election was for the seat of eight-term incumbent Olympia Snowe, who was running for the Senate. She won easily and served through 2012 before retiring. Michaud is in his sixth term.
However, Howaniec finished fourth in a seven-candidate primary won by John Baldacci, then a Bangor state senator. He served four terms in Congress before returning to Maine by 2003 to serve two terms as governor, leaving office in 2011.
In 1994, Howaniec got 14 percent of votes with no broad appeal statewide. Nearly half of his 6,300 votes came from Lewiston. He ran on a shoestring budget, raising less than $10,000 from individual donors and giving himself a $25,000 loan, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Cain and Jackson have long since outraised that. She reported $300,000 in contributions by the end of 2013, while he had $72,000 by the end of September. Jackson’s campaign has said it will release updated figures Friday, when they’re due to the election commission.
Democrats will face a stiff challenge for the seat from the Republican nominee, either former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin of Oakland or former Maine Senate President Kevin Raye of Perry. Belfast conservative Blaine Richardson is running as an independent.
Poliquin, a wealthy businessman, got more than $370,000 in contributions by the end of 2013, but $100,000 of it came from him. Raye had $90,000 by the end of September, and hasn’t released updated totals.
None of the 2nd District hopefuls have returned their nomination papers to the state, meaning they don’t yet have ballot access. To get on the ballot, party candidates must get at least 1,000 signatures and return the papers by March 17. Most typically do so within days of the deadline.