LEWISTON — Embattled Mayor Shane Bouchard abruptly resigned Friday morning in the wake of revelations that he covertly received a political rival’s emails and shared racist and sexist jokes with the woman who sent him the emails.

Bouchard cast himself as the victim in a hastily called news conference, blaming the media for reporting on the disclosures by Heather Everly Berube that she had sent him internal emails from his opponent during the 2017 mayoral campaign. Berube also released more than 150 texts she and Bouchard exchanged, including one in which he told a racist joke and another in which he seemed to compare a meeting with his fellow Androscoggin County Republicans to a Ku Klux Klan gathering.

“Several allegations have arisen in the last few days, some of them very personal,” Bouchard said at the news conference. “It has become clear to me that the media does not acknowledge personal space and reports on nothing more than rumor in many cases.

“In this political climate where the media does not discriminate between facts and rumors, it is hard to be a public figure.”

Bouchard has admitted that he got Ben Chin’s internal emails from Berube when she worked on the Democrat’s campaign. Bouchard denies, however, that he sent the emails to Jason Savage, the executive director of the Maine Republican Party and the owner and operator of the Maine Examiner, the website that published excerpts from the emails. Savage also denied that he received the emails from Bouchard.

In one of the emails published by the Examiner, Chin said that he’d encountered “a bunch of racists” while campaigning, dealing a blow to his campaign a week before the runoff election in December 2017.

Bouchard also admitted that he texted Berube a racist joke and a comment about the local Republican “clan” meeting.

ACCUSED OF CRIMINAL CONDUCT

Berube had gone before the City Council Tuesday night and accused Bouchard of criminal activity and asked the council to vacate his seat. She also said she had an affair with Bouchard, believing he and his wife were in an open relationship.

On Thursday, Lewiston police and the Maine Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into Berube’s allegations of criminal conduct. Bouchard has denied doing anything illegal.

Bouchard said he’s “received an overwhelming amount of support from friends, family and colleagues” and they have encouraged him to “stand and fight.”

“I intend to do just that,” he said. “But I cannot do that effectively from the mayor’s seat. It is not fair to the people of Lewiston.”

Berube responded to Bouchard’s resignation in an email.

“There is no standup resignation without accountability,” she wrote.

Because Bouchard resigned with less than a year left in his term, City Council President Kristen Cloutier, a Democrat, will become mayor under the terms outlined in Lewiston’s charter.

Cloutier said the council didn’t ask Bouchard to resign.

INITIAL REFUSAL TO DEPART

However, minutes before Bouchard’s news conference Friday morning, City Councilor Zack Pettengill made a statement over Facebook Live in which he said he “spoke with fellow Lewiston Republicans last night, who are as troubled as I am with Mr. Bouchard’s behavior, and had discussed formally asking him to resign. To which he refused.”

It was unclear why Bouchard changed his mind.

Pettengill said “Bouchard’s brand of politics is not how we move Lewiston forward.”

Bouchard, owner of Maine Home Recreation and Bouchard Lawn Care, represented Ward 4 for three years on the Lewiston City Council before running for mayor in 2017. He would have been up for re-election in November.

During the news conference Friday, Bouchard admitted that he is “not a perfect person.”

“I have made many mistakes in my past,” he said. “I have also in the past been the victim of some very damaging rumors.”

City Councilor Alicia Rea, a Democrat, issued a statement shortly after Bouchard’s resignation.

“The city is now able to move forward from these troubling allegations and can get back to work for the citizens of Lewiston,” she said. “I look forward to supporting interim Mayor Kristen Cloutier as she completes this term.

“This city deserves a mayor who will look out for its best interests and we will have that in Mayor Cloutier.”

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