By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
WATERVILLE — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has opened a district office on Main Street in the same location that, until recently, was the site of one of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud's offices.
Representatives of both Michaud and Pingree said widespread access to email and social media is unlikely to eliminate the need for such offices, which serve a wide variety of functions, anytime soon.
Michaud closed the office at 108 Main St. last year, when statewide redistricting changes shifted Waterville and Winslow from his 2nd District to Pingree's 1st District.
Over the past month, the office has been occupied by Pingree staffers as equipment and phones were set up, according to Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch.
Ritch said district office costs are paid for out of a standard federal account made available to members of Congress for expenses such as staffing, mailings, office supplies and rent. The amount is the same for each representative, no matter how many district offices they have, Ritch said.
Along with her Portland office, the Waterville office, which is staffed by Waterville native Pam Trinward, brings Pingree's total to two, Ritch said.
Trinward represented Waterville from 2007 to 2011 in the Maine House of Representatives and is a current 12-year member of the Waterville School Board.
Michaud operates offices in Bangor, Lewiston and Presque Isle.
His spokesman, Ed Gilman, said the Waterville office, which is being rented from antique dealer Marilyn Welch, is desirable because it's a central location that is easy to find.
Gilman said the proliferation of electronic communication methods doesn't take away from the value of having a district office.
"Phone calls and emails are great, but they can't always replace face-to-face meetings, which happen quite often," he said.
He said the offices provide meeting places for groups, offer phone bank locations and allow caseworkers to meet confidentially with residents who need help getting access to veteran's benefits, Social Security or other programs.
"The main goal is to provide a one-stop shop for all who need help with the federal government or would like to have their voices heard," Gilman said.
Ritch expressed similar sentiments on Pingree's behalf.
"We get plenty of emails, and people certainly aren't shy to pick up a phone and tell us how they feel," he said, "but an office is a good opportunity for folks to walk in and see a staff person face to face."
Ritch said the location was chosen because "it was pretty clear when we started spending time in Waterville that the Main Street office Mike Michaud had was very important to people in the community."
In a statement, Pingree encouraged constituents in the area to visit the office, which Ritch said is open Monday through Thursday, except when Trinward has meetings elsewhere in the community.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, the majority shareholder of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Morning Sentinel, the Kennebec Journal and the Portland Press Herald.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
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