Speaker survives bumpy ride from politics to building housing, wind energy
Rockport — A former Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives has emerged from politics to become a partner in a condominium development for older adults in Rockport.
John Richardson, who was Majority Leader and Speaker during Gov. John Baldacci’s first term, and commissioner of Economic and Community Development in the governor’s second term, is building houses on a hillside overlooking Penobscot Bay. He is a partner with developer Tony Casella of Vermont in the Village at Rockport, a condominium across Route 1 from the Down East magazine building.
Richardson’s road from politics to real estate was a bumpy ride. In 2010, he was a Democratic candidate for governor, who in the minds of many pundits was a favorite because of his political and economic development experience.
Instead, Richardson caused a stir when he announced that he was withdrawing from the race after he reported that two of his volunteers faked registrations for the Clean Elections Act.
“I self-reported, and that denied me public financing,” he said in an interview June 16. “Afterward, I received a lot of support.”
Although he still had his law practice in Topsham, Richardson said the few months after the withdrawal were “tough times.”
He said he began thinking about his experiences in the Legislature and how they could help him make a new start.
“I was always interested in affordable housing and independent energy,” he said. “So I put those two ideas together and started a wind energy company and this housing complex.”
Richardson, 54, is a native of Washington, D.C., who grew up in Maryland. But he also had family ties to Maine and wanted to come to the state to live after law school.
“My grandmother graduated from the former Farmington Normal School [now the University of Maine at Farmington], and spent her whole life as a teacher in Maine,” he said.
Having those family ties helped him understand what Maine people needed when he was in the Legislature, he said. Although he was considered a Progressive Democrat, Richardson said he understood the conservatism that motivates so many Maine families.
“I knew the elderly needed affordable housing and affordable energy,” he said.
He has become involved with a wind power project in Washington County with the Passamaquoddy Tribe.
“It is the first majority-owned tribal renewable energy project in the country,” he said.
He also became involved with a wind company called Exergy from Boise, Idaho, and formed his own company called Native Power.
“In 2010, the Passamaquoddies asked me to help them develop a wind power project on tribal land,” he said, adding that he has been working for a year to put that project on the native trust land.
“Unlike another wind power project here in the state, this one will return the profits to Maine,” he said. “The other one will send money to Massachusetts.”
About 18 months ago, Richardson had an opportunity to realize his dream of building affordable housing for the elderly.
“When you start a business that will create jobs, there has to be a risk involved,” he said. “I put every cent I had into this project,” he said.
So far the Village at Rockport, which offers one- and two-bedroom condominium units and two-story cottages, has been selling ahead of schedule.
“Our condominiums are less than $200,000,” he said. “Some are as low as $139,000. In today’s market, that’s affordable housing.”
The target age for residents is from 55 to 75, and he is building another complex that will have an elevator for those who are physically challenged.
Amenities include a community building for recreational and social gatherings, and a hiking trail through the woods.
The property is on a former 34-acre estate. “We want to keep 30 acres as woods,” he said. “Even though most people say they want the Maine Coast, many also want the woods. It’s the old story that sea captains come from Nebraska. They want something they never had.”
Richardson is not sure whether he will seek public office again. He said he believes the Democrats lost the governorship in 2010 because they were practicing old-style politics, and voters were holding them responsible for 25 years of problems.
New leaders are going to have to attract investments and create jobs, and take risks, he said. “We have created jobs here,” he said. “We hired local people to do the construction, did business with local banks, and bought materials from local suppliers.”
He said he likes what he is doing now, and his days are filled. On Saturday afternoon, on the eve of Father's Day, he made time to go see his son play in a baseball game.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.