Turns out the man who triggered Gov. Paul LePage’s racially charged comments about drug dealers is a New York City comedian – not a New York businessman.

In a post on the Vice website posted Wednesday titled “How I trolled Maine’s racist governor into an ugly public meltdown,” Brooklyn-based writer and comedian Andrew Ritchie describes attending a town hall meeting last week and posing as a businessman to ask LePage how he could bring a company to a state with a toxic environment created by the governor’s comments about race.

The question prompted LePage’s assertion that 90 percent of people arrested for heroin trafficking in Maine are people of color, and led to a weeklong uproar over the comments and an obscene voice mail the governor left for a lawmaker he thought had called him racist.

Ritchie, who is black, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he went to the town hall meeting intending to ask LePage a tough, direct question. Ritchie said he lied when submitting his question for screening in order to get a chance to confront the governor. He admitted that his actions had the elements of a stunt, but said his intent was to press LePage on important issues.

“To be honest, I didn’t really come in with expectations, I came in with the goal to ask a question that was both critical and a real issue and see what happened,” Ritchie said. The resulting controversy was unexpected but welcome, he said.

“In terms of what followed, I would say it was wildly successful,” he added.

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, declined to comment on Ritchie’s Vice essay in an email Wednesday.

Ritchie, who also works as a software developer, was visiting college friend Jamie Roux of Freeport when he attended the North Berwick town hall. Roux has frequently clashed with LePage in the past and has been escorted out of previous town hall meetings for being disruptive.

Ritchie said he does stand up and sketch comedy in New York and some of his material focuses on race issues. He also worked for the Obama presidential campaign and a labor union in New York.

“I was in Maine looking to relax, get away from New York and spend some time on the beach drinking beer. But while I was there, I got the chance to attend a town hall meeting presided over by LePage, and I couldn’t resist giving him the chance to put his foot in his mouth,” Ritchie said in his Vice post.

The essay referenced a comment LePage made in January, when the governor said out-of-state drug dealers often “impregnate a young, white girl before they leave” the state.

“I looked forward to being able to confront a man who repeatedly accuses people of color of being the problem in his 94 percent white state,” Ritchie wrote. He said Roux suggested attacking LePage on his inability to grow the economy or stop a brain drain of educated Maine residents leaving the state.

Ritchie says in the post that since he owns a business in his day job as a software developer, he decided “How could I bring business to this state?” would be a great question to ask the governor.

Ritchie explains in the essay how he sat apart from Roux during the town hall, wrote down a “softball” question, lied about being from Lebanon, Maine, and gave his phone number with a 207 area code in order to get permission from Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, to ask his question.

“I wasn’t afraid about the lies I had to tell to get to that point where I can ask a critical question of the governor of Maine,” Ritchie said during a phone interview Wednesday. “The fact that I had to lie to get to that point is embarrassing. I was just doing what you have to do to get an audience with the guy.”

When he got a chance to speak, Ritchie asked Lepage, “Given the rhetoric you put out there about people of color in Maine, calling them drug dealers, et cetera, how can I bring a company here given the toxic environment you create?”

LePage’s response – that he keeps records of those arrested for drug trafficking in a three-ring binder and 90 percent of them are black or Hispanic from New York City or Connecticut – ignited a political crisis in Maine after the governor left a expletive-laced voice mail for a Democratic House Member who criticized his remarks.

Ritchie said he tried to press LePage with more questions, but was prevented by Bennett. He was eventually escorted out of the town hall along with Roux.

In an interview Wednesday, Roux confirmed Ritchie’s account of what happened during the town hall event, but said the Vice essay was unexpected.

“I think it shows the effects of going to these town halls and engaging with the governor,” Roux said.

In the days following his encounter with LePage, Ritchie worried that his real identity might leak out and shift media attention away from the governor’s remarks.

Ritchie doesn’t believe that being from out of state and creating a ploy to get LePage’s attention makes the result less legitimate.

“The fact that I’m not from Maine isn’t as important as the fact that he’s terrible. He thought I was from Maine and he said it anyway,” Ritchie said.

“I just wanted to hold an elected official in the United States accountable for the things he has done and said that are an embarrassment.”


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