Casale out: Democratic Party continues to shed its top leaders

“All this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”

OK, I admit it: That’s a line from “Battlestar Galactica.” Forgive the unabashed nerdery, but the phrase came to mind this morning. That’s because the Maine Democratic Party’s executive director, Mary Erin Casale, announced today she is stepping down. The announcement comes just weeks after party chairman Ben Grant resigned.

Grant and Casale’s resignations come after Democrats suffered major electoral defeats this year, losing the 2nd Congressional District, the Blaine House, and the Maine Senate.

If that sounds familiar, it’s for good reason.

Four years ago was also a bad year for the Democrats, when they lost both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s race. And, as is happening now, the party reacted by shedding its top leaders. It was Casale who took the reins when Arden Manning left not only the party but the country after 2010’s drubbing, and Grant who took over for then-Chairman John Knutson.

And so the cycle continues.

Both Grant — who has since been replaced by Phil Bartlett — and Casale said their departures were not a result of the party’s failures at the polls this November, but reflected decisions that had been made long before the election.

“I have been at the party for a while, since 2009,” Casale said in an interview this morning. “It’s a rewarding job, but it’s also encompasses so much of your life. I thought this was a really good time to give the next person the time.”

Casale said that leaving now means the next executive director will have time to “come into their own” before 2016.

In early 2011, when Casale took the executive director’s post, the party was in need of leaders who could reassemble the Democratic coalition and re-energize a base that felt deflated after being steamrolled by Paul LePage and the Republican wave that accompanied him into office.

Casale and Grant worked to shore up the party — both with voters and internally. Electoral victory came in 2012, when Maine went not only for President Barack Obama, but Democrats in both U.S. House Districts. The party also took back control of the House and Senate.

This year, however, belonged to LePage. And U.S. Rep.-elect Bruce Poliquin. And the Republican candidates across the state who took control of the Senate and chipped away at the Democrats’ majority in the House.

“I’m actually very proud of a lot of the work we did at the party, structurally, and where we are professionally,” Casale said. “Obviously the outcome of the last election is not what I wanted. … But it still feels like the right time to me. It’s the right decision personally. It’s not political.”

Maine Democratic Party’s finance director, Jeremy Kennedy, will serve as interim executive director until Casale’s replacement is officially announced in January.

Casale has said she isn’t sure what lies ahead for her, though she’s considering several offers both inside and out of Maine. She said she’d be around to help the next executive director, if necessary, and will continue to be involved in Democratic politics.

Here’s a feel-good footnote: In a rare moment of bipartisan camaraderie, Casale was wished well by her Republican counterpart, Jason Savage.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.