CAPE ELIZABETH — For the past 12 years, Ted Jordan’s Advanced Placement government class has been hosting annual municipal candidates nights. This year, Jordan said his students were more enthusiastic than ever.
About 50 students – who made up much of the crowd at the televised event – were in attendance.
The night was split into two segments – one for the contested race for two seats on the Town Council and one for candidates running for two seats on the School Board.
The four council candidates – Christopher Straw, Valerie Randall, James Tasse and Peter McCarthy – and School Board candidates Hope Straw and Mohammed Shir fielded questions from students, audience members, and call-ins.
Students Jack Stewart and Sam Berman monitored the council segment.
When asked what their thoughts are on altering the intersection of Scott Dyer/Shore Road and Route 77, Straw said he is in favor of installing a roundabout to alleviate traffic, while Randall said the solution is a traffic light.
“I don’t think a roundabout is the idea … it’s messy,” she said. “I think a traffic light would be very clean (and) enhance the character of the area.”
McCarthy said he doesn’t feel traffic delays are severe enough at the intersection to warrant either option.
Tasse noted that traffic at the center of town is only a problem at peak rush hour, but he would love to see the intersection reconfigured to feel more like a “village center.”
In terms of commercial growth and opportunity, Straw said there are limits because of the geographic, peninsula-like structure of the town.
“We talk about building up the town center … at the end of the day there simply isn’t a demand for it,” he added. Tasse agreed, saying Cape Elizabeth doesn’t have a typical town center.
“Part of Cape’s character is that it maintains a fairly rural quality,” he said. “Opening the doors to … commercial activity may have an adverse impact on (that).”
Randall said she would “cautiously” – but not firmly – be in favor of having chain stores in town. She suggested adding more sidewalks and bike lanes around town to increase foot traffic between businesses, which the other candidates all seemed to support.
When asked what action they would support regarding paper streets, Tasse, Randall and Straw all firmly said they would like the council to maintain the town’s rights to paper streets to preserve access to open space.
McCarthy said there is no rush to vacate paper streets, and a trail on Surfside Avenue/Atlantic Place should be considered separately from one on Lighthouse Point Road.
Straw was the only candidate to say Cape Elizabeth should not accept nonresident tuition students in its schools.
“There’s a false narrative in town that we are losing students at an alarming rate (that’s) simply not true,” he said. “We are not in a situation where we are so desperate for students that we would bring additional students into town.”
On another note, Tasse and Straw were both in favor of charging an entry fee to Fort Williams for nonresidents, while Randall was not. McCarthy said that he does not think it is up to the town to implement a fee.
“I think charging a fee for … greater-Portland residents is essentially saying to people who can’t afford that (fee) that they’re not welcome in the park,” Randall said.
Candidates were split on whether they would be in favor of allowing the cultivation and dispensing of marijuana in town. Tasse and Randall were both in favor, while McCarthy and Straw were not.
Student Tony Inhorn moderated the School Board panel.
Straw opened the segment saying that in the past few years, the town had seen significant turnover in administration that she would like to help reduce, and her priority would be hiring a permanent superintendent.
Shir said while the loss of valuable teachers could be a result of frequent administrative turnover, turnover can be considered a positive thing because it allows for new ideas and challenges.
When asked if candidates were concerned about a decline in student enrollment, and how they would address those concerns, Shir said he thinks schools can improve their websites and update them more frequently to highlight what is going on in the district and hopefully attract more students.
Straw said many families, like hers, moved to Cape Elizabeth because of the schools.
“If we’re doing our job as a board to make the primary goal excellence in our schools, then students will come,” she said.
After the event, Jordan said he was very pleased with the turnout from students and the public.
“(This year’s event) was better than I’ve ever remembered,” he said.
On Election Day, his students will be conducting exit poll surveys throughout the day for extra credit. Polls will be open Nov. 7 from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at Cape Elizabeth High School.