LEWISTON — Democrat James Howaniec, a former two-term mayor of Lewiston, is weighing a challenge to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

Howaniec, a well-known lawyer, said recently his mix of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism give him a shot at unseating the longtime Maine Republican who is considered one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in the 2020 election.

Lawyer James Howaniec of Lewiston, shown during a recent court appearance, is eyeing a U.S. Senate race against Republican Susan Collins.

Holding Howaniec back from jumping into the race: Concerns about endless partisan bickering on Capitol Hill and the brutal nature of political campaigns these days.

In addition, Howaniec said, he is busy with his private law practice, including a major case representing Steven Downs, an Auburn man facing murder charges in Alaska.

He said he probably will not decide until autumn whether to jump into the Senate contest. Collins is running for a fifth term, but has said she will announce in the fall whether she will stay in a race for which she has already raised nearly $4 million.

Republican contender Derek Levasseur, a pro-Trump construction worker from Fairfield who calls himself “a common man with common sense,” filed with the Federal Election Commission Monday to take on Collins in a primary.

Saco lawyer Bre Kidman, a Democrat, is actively opposing Collins.

There is also an independent challenger, Danielle VanHelsing, of Sangerville.

Among the other potential Democratic candidates are state House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and lobbyist Betsy Sweet.

Howaniec, 60, was first elected mayor 30 years ago, holding the office during a tough recession

After completing his second term as mayor, Howaniec sought his party’s backing for a congressional race in the 2nd District, where longtime incumbent Olympia Snowe was stepping down to seek a U.S. Senate seat.

In a seven-person congressional primary, Howaniec came in fourth, with 14 percent of the vote, losing to John Baldacci. Lewiston provided almost half of the votes Howaniec collected.

After his defeat, Howaniec focused on his law practice, where he has become a highly visible defense attorney.

He stepped back into the political limelight in 2017 when he chaired the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation, a group that helped defeat a proposal to merge the two cities.

Howaniec said the major reason he might oppose Collins is he enjoyed his stint in public service years ago.

“Being in government was fun,” he said.

Howaniec served first on the Zoning Board, then as a city councilor. In 1989, he easily defeated an incumbent mayor, Maurice Labbe.

During  his four years as mayor, Howaniec helped create a redevelopment overseer for the shuttered Bates Mill complex, pushed The Public Theater project and worked with his counterpart in Auburn, Dick Trafton, to buy a railroad trestle over the Androscoggin River.

He also pushed for gay rights at a time when few in politics would.

“I always felt it was important to state your position on an issue, even if you knew you were going to get beat up politically,” Howaniec said.

The hardest part of his mayoral tenure, though, was dealing with a recession that clobbered New England. Because city revenues sank, he had to preside over big budget cuts.

“Some people still don’t talk to me to this day,” Howaniec said, “but to this day I felt we did the right thing.”

Howaniec describes himself as a C-Span junkie who watches enough committee hearings to wonder if he could take dealing with all the petty politics that come into play.

He said his skin is thick enough for a rough-and-tumble campaign, but he is not sure he wants to subject his family to all of it. He is also unsure he can balance a busy law practice with the rigors of a high-profile political campaign.

But he is giving it such serious thought he recently began keeping “The Considering-a-Run-for-U.S. Senate Blog” on his Facebook page.

Democrats are likely to hold a primary in June 2020 to pick their challenger to face Collins, who may face a primary challenge as well.

People opposed to Collins have already raised $4.4 million in crowd-sourced funds that are set aside for the Democratic challenger who will face the four-term senator in the general election.


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