Cohen, Matthews pledge cooperation in South Portland

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PORTLAND — Promising communication and collaboration, Linda Cohen and Richard Matthews were sworn in Monday afternoon as mayor and School Board chairman, respectively.

“We cannot make the city of South Portland the best it can be without collaboration,” Cohen said in a 7 1/2-minute speech following the swearing in of Councilors Patti Smith, Claude Morgan and Brad Fox to three-year terms.

Matthews took fewer than three minutes to outline what the School Board will face in the next year. He said the search to replace retiring Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin while be a top priority, and expressed hope the budget process will continue to be smooth.

“I’ve spent the last six years trying to be the best board member I can be. I want to thank the board for its confidence,” Matthews said.

Cohen, a District 4 Councilor who was elected in 2012, is a former city clerk in South Portland and Portland. Her swearing in was attended by current Portland City Councilor Ed Suslovic and former Portland Councilor John Coyne.

Cohen replaced Jerry Jalbert in the one-year term as mayor and was elected unanimously by her peers.

Councilor Tom Blake was unable to attend the meeting. Jalbert did not seek re-election in District 5 and was replaced by Fox, a political newcomer.

“The last time I ran for anything was in P.S. 213 in Brooklyn,” Fox said. “I won that, too.”

Matthews, of District 3, replaces Tappan Fitzgerald as School Board chairman. His remarks came after at-large members Karen Callahan and Mary House were sworn in to three-year terms. House will also replace Callahan as vice chairwoman for a one-year term.

Cohen said speaking at the inauguration was “only slightly nerve-wracking,” adding she knew where she stood.

“I could make all kinds of promises here about the next year, but I am only one of seven councilors,” she said.

Jalbert’s departure from the City Council ended 20 years of service as an appointed and elected official, beginning with the Zoning Board of Appeals and continuing to the Planning Board before he was elected to the City Council in 2011.

“For anyone who has ever considered considering being appointed, running for office or being on any kind of committee, I encourage you to do so,” Jalbert said. “Once you are actually sitting down, making decisions, you realize it is not that daunting. You just have to be a person who follows your conscience.”

Smith, who is a former mayor, is serving her last term before the city term limit of three consecutive terms requires her to step down.

Morgan was mayor in 2007 while serving one council term that ended in 2008. He said he decided to run again because of his desire to promote sustainability and to redevelop the city’s waterfront.

“I am a firm believer the decisions we make in the next three years will change the landscape for the next 50 to 100 years,” he said.

Cohen said the focus for the next year will include revisiting parking and traffic patterns on Ocean Street and in the rest of the Knightville neighborhood, the probable sale and redevelopment of the South Portland Armory, development of Thornton Heights, and the renewed fight to ensure revenue sharing is not cut or eliminated during the next biennial state budget.

“It feels amazing, but it feels right,” she said of her election as mayor.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements


South Portland Mayor Linda Cohen, left, and former Mayor and City Councilor Jerry Jalbert share a laugh Monday, Dec. 1, as Cohen displays a portrait of Jalbert that marks the end of his service on the council.

City Councilors Claude Morgan, left, and Brad Fox take their oaths of office from city Licensing Administrator Jessica Hanscombe on Monday. Obscured by Hanscombe is Councilor Patti Smith, who was also sworn in.

South Portland School Board members Mary House, left, and Karen Callahan take their oaths of office Monday from city Licensing Administrator Jessica Hanscombe. House was elected vice chairwoman of the board, replacaing Callahan.

South Portland School Board member Richard Matthews was elected board chairman on Monday.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.