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3 candidates compete to replace Soule on South Portland City Council

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3 candidates compete to replace Soule on South Portland City Council

SOUTH PORTLAND — City Councilor Jim Soule will not seek re-election in November, opening up a three-way race for his District 3 seat. 

Councilor Maxine Beecher, however, is running unopposed in District 4.

Soule said his decision was based on a desire to pursue other ambitions, like developing athletic and transportation inventions.

"I have a number of personal goals that have been on the back burner for a while," he said. "I want to devote time to achieve these personal goals."

Although his Whitworth Drive home is for sale, Soule said he does not have plans to leave South Portland. 

Soule is completing his third term in the council. A frequent critic of the state's education funding formula, who claims it punishes commercially rich communities like South Portland, Soule made waves last year as mayor when he suggested that southern Maine succeed from the rest of the state to protest what he called "Robin Hood" tax policies. 

His last year on the council got off to a tumultuous start last December, with Soule digging in his heels during the mayoral caucus. Seeking the largely ceremonial post for a second consecutive year, Soule refused to break a council deadlock between Councilor Linda Boudreau and Councilor Tom Blake, the eventual winner, who at the time was completing his first year on the council. Boudreau later withdrew her nomination, calling the process "most disgusting" she had witnessed. 

What followed was a divisive year marked by in-fighting and split votes. Divisions within the council reached a crescendo during the budget process, when five longtime employees were laid off and a city department head was placed on administrative leave amid two separate independent investigations. Soule repeatedly called on the council to intervene and reinstate the employees, but never got any support. 

The council remained divided as Soule repeatedly sought to review the city manger's job performance and eliminate the council's health-care benefit, which costs the city $70,000 a year.

Soule, however, said the battles over the last year did not play a role in his decision to step down. 

"People are going to think I'm retiring out of frustration, but I'm not," he said.

That didn't stop him from lobbing a few parting shots.

Soule accused Blake of withholding important information from the rest of the council and said City Manager Jim Gailey is consolidating his control of city government by restructuring City Hall departments. 

"Starting last year, there has been an erosion of the necessary checks and balances within our city," Soule said. "Time after time, the mayor has not reported the city manager's plans and actions to the rest of the council, and the city manager continues to make autocratic unilateral decision-making."

Soule suggested the council choose someone with experience to lead the council as mayor next year. "Whenever you have an inexperienced city manager and an inexperienced mayor, you had a recipe for the type of year we had, very divisive." 

Gailey could not be reached by phone or e-mail on Wednesday. 

Although Blake would not discuss Soule's comments, he said, "Publicly, I would like to thank (Soule) for his nine years of service and wish him luck in his future endeavors. I'm pleased there are three people seeking his seat."

The three candidates to represent District 3 (the area between Cape Elizabeth, Pleasantdale, Lincoln and Evans streets, and Cottage Road, Boothby Avenue and Ocean Street) are Buttonwood Street resident and former Councilor Rosemarie DeAngelis, Tanner Street resident Gary Crosby and Cottage Road resident Christopher Kessler.

DeAngelis, a registered Democrat defeated by Soule in 2006, will try to regain the seat she held for three years. The 57-year-old is an instructor at Southern Maine Community College, a part-time speech pathologist, a guardian ad litem and family court mediator. Since leaving office she has been active in the Knightville Mill Creek Neighborhood Association. 

Crosby will take his third shot at being elected to the council. Crosby, who also unsuccessfully sought a seat in the state House of Representatives, is a real estate investor and owns the Neighborhood Laundromat on Broadway. The 49-year-old led the effort to bring the question of dog access on Willard Beach to a citywide referendum this fall.

Kessler, who was laid off in June from his job working with special education students at Spurwink Services, said he is hoping to start a home cleaning business. The 27-year-old is a member of the South Portland Dog Owners Group, which opposes the referendum promoted by Crosby.

City Councilors earn an annual stipend of $3,000 and have the option of buying into the city's employee health insurance plan through the Maine Municipal Association, a benefit currently valued between $7,000 and $15,500, depending on the plan. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net