Brunswick deals with dearth of local candidates

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BRUNSWICK — On Nov. 6, three Town Council candidates and one School Board candidate will be elected without opposition.

Candidates and town officials see several reasons for the apparent lack of interest residents have in running for local elected office.

Barring any successful, last-minute write-in campaigns, incumbent Councilors John Perreault and Suzan Wilson will reclaim their District 3 and District 4 council seats, respectively, and former Maine House Speaker and gubernatorial candidate John Richardson will win the council’s at-large seat.

Chris McCarthy, Bath Iron Works director of integrated services, will take the School Board’s District 3 seat. School Board elections for an at-large post and the seat in Distict 4 are contested.

Town Clerk Frances Smith said that while there may be many factors at play to explain the lack of involvement, most people tend not to pay as much attention to municipal elections as they do presidential, gubernatorial or legislative races.

“I will say the further down the ballot, the less people vote,” Smith said.

But Councilor Ben Tucker noted there is a lot at stake on the town’s local ballot, most notably the quality of life for Brunswick residents – anything from the funding of local infrastructure and education, to the development of projects like Brunswick Landing or Maine Street Station.

“As state and federal government cut back spending … that shifts the burden to the town. That’s the big reason people need to pay attention,” said Tucker, who won two uncontested elections in District 2 in 2007 and 2010. “That means we need to stand up.”

He said it’s especially important for people to pay attention because a majority of the town’s budget goes to the School Department, which can makes a community like Brunswick attractive to families and businesses.

Town Council Chairwoman Joanne King said she is stepping down after 9 1/2 years of public service because she feels that many goals have been accomplished, including the planning and development of a new police station.

“It’s been the experience of a lifetime,” said King, who will be replaced by political veteran Richardson.

She said there are several reasons why not as many people may run for town offices.

While some of the basic reasons may include councilors’ low annual stipend of $2,000 and the required time commitment, King said, it can also be the difficulty of keeping constituents happy and standing up for yourself at town meetings – especially if that means going against the popular vote.

“To stand up for what you believe in, I just think it’s difficult because of the way politics are in this town,” King said, which can make the prospects of serving in local government an intimidating task.

Perreault said “it’s a lot of work for very little pay.”

“I think the reason a lot of people are not running for Town Council is because it’s a very hard job,” Perreault said, adding that sometimes the council has to deal with disappointed constituents on issues after they’ve been decided.

Wilson’s assessment was more blunt.

“It’s a thankless job,” she said. “If you have a good work ethic, you get very little for it because 95 percent of the public doesn’t care about what we do. They’re not terribly engaged.”

In some cases, Tucker said, there are Town Council or School Board races that receive a lot of attention and get a lot of people to vote.

For instance, the council’s 2011 at-large seat, won by Councilor Benet Pols, was sought by three candidates. More than 6,000 people voted.

Pols said this year’s lack of contested races may just be the circumstances, since School Board member Matt Corey of District 3 decided not to seek re-election close to the time nomination papers were due.

He said the uncontested councilor at-large election this year may be because no one wanted to challenge Richardson, who who served several years in the Legislature and as the commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

Richardson said that could definitely be the case.

“There were a couple of people who had considered, and I think once I put my name in it they didn’t decide to go forward,” he said.

He said he only decided to run after King announced she was stepping down and people solicited him to be a candidate.

Tucker said he doesn’t think “it’s inherently bad” that there are few contested races this year, as long as there is a healthy rotation of incumbents and newcomers. But he said it would also be good if more people got involved.

“I would love more people to run for the council,” he said. “That would be great. The more people that are involved, the better it is for everyone.”

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.

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