BRUNSWICK — A “professional advocate” seeking her first elected office in an attempt to unseat the Town Council vice chairwoman is the town’s only contested November election.
Whitney Parrish, 30, of Columbia Avenue, works in domestic violence prevention at Safe Voices in Lewiston. She is challenging incumbent Councilor Kathy Wilson, 72, of Pleasant Street, who is seeking another three-year-term as an at-large councilor.
Council District 5 candidate Chris Watkinson and District 7 candidate James Mason are both running unopposed to fill seats being vacated by Councilors Dan Harris and Sarah Brayman, respectively.
No one is opposing the three incumbents on the School Board who are seeking new, three-year terms.
Absentee ballots are available at the town office and online. Election Day is Nov. 7.
Wilson, who runs a dog-grooming business and for years worked the counter at her father’s lunch truck, Wilson’s Lunch, describes herself as an “old Brunswick person” who wants to take care of the town’s older population without stymying the flow of new people and new growth.
She has been vice chairwoman of the council since January, and serves on the Finance Committee, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, and the Master Plan Implementation Committee.
“It’s a challenge to make decisions that are going to be the best in the long run for everyone,” Wilson said in an interview last week, but one she feels prepared to undertake after spending her first term “getting up to speed.”
So far for Wilson, that challenge has been weighing the benefits of long-term financial investments against calls for short-term relief.
“The tax burden is unreasonable because we’re going to drive citizens out of Brunswick,” she said. “We have to consider the people on fixed incomes when we figure out a budget.”
However, Wilson has supported local financing for costly projects – including the construction of a $28 million elementary school – that she considers necessary investments.
More of those are slated to go before the council as it considers building a new central fire station – which she said she will likely support “because if we keep kicking this can down the road, we put lives in danger” – and how to deal with repairs at Brunswick Junior High School if a pending application for state aid is rejected in the spring.
In making these choices, Wilson said she listens to the majority, but is ultimately persuaded by analyzing all the available information and input she can get.
She summarized her bid for re-election as a desire to “do the absolute best I can to keep Brunswick safe and affordable. And neither goal is easy.”
Like Wilson, Parrish cited the “value in looking at things from different vantage points” as an asset to the council.
She is a community educator and youth advocate at Safe Voices, an agency that works to prevent domestic violence – “dynamic, multi-faceted” work she called good preparation for the council.
“(The at-large seat is) conducive to how I look at things: holistically,” Parrish said. “Being able to look at things through a wider lens is my wheelhouse. How things affect each other? How do we find balance and equity in our community?”
Asking those kinds of questions is the best way to forge trust between the council and the community – something she said may need to be rebuilt in the wake of contentious issues like the sale of 946 Mere Point Road and the ensuing lawsuit against the town.
“From what I hear, there were a whole lot of people who felt their voices weren’t heard,” Parrish said.
She also hopes her presence on the council would create a better balance of perspectives in the panel’s composition.
Parrish, a 30-year-old with two school-age children, described herself as a valuable counter-perspective on the council, which is comprised of mostly retirement-age residents.
“I think inclusively is my approach there – not necessarily singling (myself) out because of age, but including everyone,” she said, agreeing that older councilors may have dealt with the realities of raising children, “but they may not being doing that right now.”
“I think variety is one way to put it,” Parrish said.
This is Watkinson’s second campaign for local office in District 5, after he narrowly lost the election for a seat on the School Board in 2014.
Since then, the 38-year-old Justemere Road resident played an active role campaigning for a new, locally financed $28 million school to replace the over-crowded Coffin Elementary; the new school will be built in his district, on Jordan Avenue.
Despite his past advocacy for primarily school-related issues, Watkinson said in an interview last month that he is not “a one-issue candidate.”
“I think it’s important to have an advocate’s voice for the public school system on the Town Council,” because councilors are “the gatekeepers of budgetary decisions.”
He described himself as a “moderate” equipped to judge issues on a case-by-case basis; in particular, he stressed an interest in reducing the local tax burden and improving relations between the council and the public.
Originally from Topsham, Watkinson is a parent to four school-age children and teaches at and manages the recital hall at Bowdoin College.
District 7 candidate Mason is a criminal defense lawyer practicing in Brunswick. A native of North Carolina, he and his wife moved in 2012 to McKeen Street, where they are raising a 5-year-old.
In an interview last month, Mason, 45, did not identify a specific issue that compelled him to run, and instead cited his “logical way of thinking about issues” as a lawyer and a desire to give back to his community.
“I have a fair amount of professional experience getting people to agree on things that they start not wanting to agree to,” he said. “Part of how I do that is, I’m a nice guy. I stand up for things that I believe in, and I’m a strong advocate.”
As a councilor, he anticipates having to advocate for his district following complaints about persistent noise caused by Amtrak train horns at the nearby layover barn.
He noted that District 7 is also home to Coffin School and the junior high school, the futures of which are uncertain as the town continues to mull the need for repairing and replacing its aging schools. He called himself a supporter of public schools, although he was not active in the recent campaign to replace Coffin.
Mason also said he is interested in waterfront and water access issues.
The composition of the School Board will not likely change after November, with incumbent representatives Jim Grant, Sarah Singer and Billy Thompson running unopposed for re-election.
Grant, currently vice chairman, is one of the board’s longest-serving members. He has represented District 5 since 2008, and before that, served form 1992-2000.
Singer, seeking her second term in District 7, and Thompson, seeking his third at-large term, co-chair the new school building committee to oversee construction of the locally funded elementary school that will replace Coffin.