SOUTH PORTLAND — United by shared criticism of two sitting councilors, all seven candidates for City Council said the council’s performance has played a role in their decision to seek office.
The crowded ballot for two at-large seats includes incumbent Councilor Maxine Beecher – who is seeking a fifth term – along with School Board member Richard Carter, former School Board member James Gilboy, former Councilors Louis Maietta Jr. and Michael Pock, community activist Susan Henderson, and fundraising specialist Katherine Lewis.
Several candidates have complained publicly about the behavior of Councilors Eben Rose and Brad Fox in the last year. The candidates have also said Fox and Rose push their own agendas, rather than act in the best interests of the community.
Three candidates – Carter, Maietta and Pock – cited their frustration with the sitting councilors as one of the primary reasons they are seeking election.
Maietta, when asked at a forum if he would bring a personal agenda to the decision-making process, vowed to represent his constituents and to bring “balance” to the council.
“My thing is anybody that wants to go on the City Council that has a personal agenda should not be on there,” Maietta said last week.
“We have a couple of councilors that seem to be on their own agenda,” Carter said at an Oct. 5 forum. Last week, he said he felt like those councilors “are listening only to those who agree with them.”
Beecher agreed that the dynamics of the council need to change, and said the “horror” of Fox’s and Rose’s behavior contributed to the decision by longtime City Manager Jim Gailey to resign earlier this summer.
But as much as “I didn’t want to play this game again because it’ll just eat you alive, just watching and hearing and knowing what’s going on,” Beecher said, “this community means that much to me.”
Other candidates didn’t point fingers, but agreed there is ample room for better communication and unification.
Gilboy, who served nearly four terms on the Board of Education and resigned with six months left in 2015 due to a conflict of interest, said the city is at a “crossroads.”
“Our representatives on the council need to take in everyone’s issues and concerns and not just their own personal agendas, or their own personal groups that they are a part of,” he said last week.
Other issues that matter to the candidates include continuing to work for more environmentally conscious solutions, including open space; building a more diverse tax base; and working to come up with creative solutions to complicated issues, like the increasingly high cost of living.
Beecher said she is passionate about the city continuing in a sustainable direction. As a beekeeper, she supported the ban of synthetic pesticides passed by the City Council earlier this summer, and was in favor of the taking a closer look at preservation of open space around the city.
She gave preliminary support to energy benchmarking proposals brought before the council earlier this week, which would track energy use in some buildings in the city, and use the data to help mitigate the city’s carbon emissions.
Beecher also wants to reach out to the city’s under-represented and under-served senior citizens, who she said often have “too much pride to ask for help.”
Ensuring that the needs of the city’s elderly population are met will require more of an outreach effort by the council, she said, but one that’s well worth it.
“We’ve got to set up (a way) to actually go to them,” she said, rather than wait for them to ask for help.
Beecher wants to continue as as council liaison on the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, to which she has devoted several years of service.
“I have worked hard, I have been committed to the city, (and) I don’t sit on my hands,” she said. Beecher said she “feels very privileged” to have served the city for so long and wants to continue.
Having been the chairman and a member of the School Board for a dozen years, Carter ran for City Council in a special election in 2013 and lost to Michael Pock by two votes.
His term on the School Board expires in November.
Carter believes his experience will help bring balance and a middle-of-the-road perspective to the council.
“I have a great concern that we could be facing a City Council that wouldn’t truly represent the majority of South Portland,” he said.
Carter, a retail operations manager and father of two adult sons, said he will operate without an agenda and give everyone equal attention.
“There will always be people who won’t agree with something I vote for, but I’ve always been a person, whether it’s a coach or a School Board member, who will sit and listen to everybody,” he said.
Carter said he is running because “for the first time, the tone and direction of the council itself is detrimental to the city and needs to be corrected.”
Gilboy, another veteran School Board member, is running for council for the first time.
He said he wants to “be that go-to person for voters or people who live in the city who have concerns.”
The biggest obstacle facing the city is the ongoing litigation with the Portland Pipe Line Corp., Gilboy said.
Citing disagreement with the Clear Skies Ordinance in 2014, which led PPL to file a lawsuit a year later, Gilboy said with the “corporation suing the city, it’s the taxpayer that’s going to be on the hook,” both for the legal costs associated with the lawsuit and for the potential commercial damage caused by the city, he said.
Gilboy believes he would be an asset to the council because he would work to represent everyone, which, he said, is “listening to everyone’s concerns and just asking questions.”
“It’s a balancing act,” he said. “I think I can represent the city well and set the tone where things get done, rather than some of the fighting that’s been going on in the past.”
Henderson is a retired nurse and professor who has lived in the city for almost 40 years.
Having been involved in the Comprehensive Plan implementation process, and as a member of Protect South Portland, Henderson said the three biggest issues she supports are the economy, environment and affordable housing – not new issues, she said, but ones that can determine the city’s future.
“I would hate to see our town be only a town for rich people,” Henderson said. Part of what makes South Portland valuable is that “moderate- and lower-income people can live here.”
More, it’s imperative that the city continue to “develop and diversify” the tax base, “so that as things change,” like if Fairchild Semiconductor closes, she said, the city will be able to absorb that shift, rather than allow it to “devastate” the tax base.
But as the tax base is expanding, it’s also necessary to balance other needs, like preserving open space and ensuring a variety of housing options continue to be accessible. One of the solutions to housing could be enacting a variety of rent stabilization measures, she said.
“I think there could be ways to keep rents down, other than rent control,” she said. But the solution might have to involve private and public sector creativity and collaboration, she said.
Henderson did not want to criticize sitting councilors, but did say, “I think there’s a lot of social change (happening), and it’s not easy to sort out,” but “valuing all people,” is necessary.
“If the minority is really hurt by the decision, then I think we have to look at that and be concerned about that,” Henderson said, adding it’s about “really caring” and believing that “everybody has equal value.”
Lewis, director of development for Greater Portland Landmarks, has lived in South Portland for a decade.
As she has “watched the city grow change and grapple with important issues,” Lewis said she represents a constituency that has an underrepresented voice in city government – “working parents with children in the school system.”
For those groups of underrepresented residents, she hopes to be the “communication bridge and conduit of information.”
Lewis said having a working parent on the council will be necessary as the city scrutinizes whether to combine Mahoney and Memorial middle schools or keep them separate.
Even though she will represent a certain constituency, however, Lewis said she’s a “communitarian,” and has no agenda other than to serve the community.
“One of my strengths is working with different types of people to get large goals accomplished,” said Lewis, who has a background in fundraising for major capital projects. “You have to build consensus, and I can bring that to this council.”
Lewis said she also supports a “forward-looking economy,” but one that grows the tax base by providing incentives for business owners without sacrificing the goals of open space, sustainable living and the health of residents.
For the most part, “I haven’t seen that we’ve made those decisions in most cases in the last 10 years,” she said.
Lewis, who is the vice president of the South Portland Land Trust, wants the city to continue recognizing the value in preserving open, usable green space.
“We really need to consider the importance of the spaces that give our neighborhoods character, that encourage development (and) make this a great place to live and work,” she said.
Having served one prior term on the council and as a state representative, Maietta, a landlord and developer, said earlier this month that he wants to bring balance back to the council.
He disagrees with the Clear Skies Ordinance and the pesticide ordinance, which was passed earlier this summer and will prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides.
Maietta said he knows a lot of residents are upset about those ordinances, and that what’s passed by the council should better reflect the desires of all constituents.
“I’d like to be a part of trying to change what’s there now, versus what’s been going on,” he said.
Maietta also said he doesn’t believe the city is doing enough to encourage establishment of new businesses, noting the proposal to build a new Martin’s Point Health Center at the corner of Sawyer and Ocean streets last year ultimately failed.
“The doors need to be open,” he said. “I don’t think we’re doing enough; we’ve got to be open-minded. I think they should feel more entitled to come here, as opposed to being driven out of here.”
“It’s a rippling effect,” Maietta said. “People think South Portland is too hard to deal with, so they’re going to go somewhere else.”
Pock, of Grand Street, served as city councilor for one year, after being elected in the 2013 special election.
Pock believes he would bring more balance to the council and help “calm the rhetoric.”
“I’m trying to get somebody in there who’s on the other side, or neutral,” he said.
Pock criticized the pesticide ordinance, which he called “Orwellian,” and said it “has no teeth at all.”
He’s also against rent stabilization or rent control. “We can’t tell businesses what they can and can’t do with their private property,” he said. “Supply and demand will control the market.”
The best solution to the housing crisis is for the “city to make more land available for housing,” he said.
Another issue that Pock wants to address is the school budget, which he said is “inflated.” He said there “should be pretty much no increase” in school spending, year to year.
If elected, he said he would encourage the city to pay more attention to the elderly and provide them with more services.
Absentee ballots are available now, and in-person absentee voting is taking place weekdays through Nov. 3 at City Hall.
Polls on Election Day, Nov. 8, will be open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m.:
• District 1, Boys and Girls Club, 169 Broadway.
• District 2, American Legion, 413 Broadway.
• District 3 and District 4, South Portland Community Center, 21 Nelson Road.
• District 5, Redbank Community Center, 95 MacArthur Circle West.