SOUTH PORTLAND — Barring any last-minute jockeying by another candidate, City Councilor Tom Coward will be the next mayor of South Portland.
Coward, who has served on the council for a year, earned the unanimous support of his fellow councilors in a workshop Monday night. A formal vote will be taken Dec. 7.
Coward was the only councilor nominated in the caucus, a stark contrast to last year when three councilors fought openly and through e-mails for the largely ceremonial position. At last year’s caucus, Councilors Linda Boudreau and Tom Blake each earned three votes, while Council Jim Soule nominated himself. Boudreau eventually withdrew her nomination.
Boudreau said she tested the waters for mayor again this year, but decided against seeking the position to avoid another drawn-out, contentious process. Although the city will ultimately have a difficult budget year, Boudreau said she is very comfortable with council’s unanimous decision.
“It’s going to be a tough year,” she said. “The council is going to struggle with its decisions, but we’re going to be fine.”
Although the role of mayor is largely ceremonial, the position requires a city councilor to work closely with the city manager to set meeting agendas and drive the work of the council. The mayor also leads meetings and moderates council discussion.
“It’s a tough job,” Coward said. “I think I can do it well and to the advantage of the city.”
The 55-year-old said he expects the council will be busy dealing with revenue shortfalls in both the municipal and school budgets, possibly asking voters to approve a bond to rebuild the high school, and implementing the environmental restoration plan of Long Creek, an urban-impaired stream. He said he does not expect to propose any new initiatives.
“We’re going to have a lot on our plate right out of the gate,” Coward said.
Coward said he hopes to be able to keep taxes down while making budget cuts in a way that doesn’t create more problems – an apparent reference to the uproar that came after the layoffs this year of five veteran employees. Getting the library back on sound footing is also a goal for the coming year, he said.
Councilor Patti Smith said she nominated Coward because he brought “a layer of depth” to the council and has shown the ability to hear both sides of every debate before making a judgment.
“It’s been a tough year for a lot of us,” Smith said. “I think (Coward) has helped balance us (with) fairness and equity really well. (He) really tried to weigh the pros and cons of issues.”
Even though Coward has only been a councilor for one year, Mayor Tom Blake said he was the “community’s best choice for mayor.”
“From day one, he has made an impact,” Blake said. “I also think Tom has a really good pulse on the community. He’s very progressive and understands where the community is going.”