CAPE ELIZABETH — Four candidates are running to replace two town councilors in November’s municipal election.
Councilors Katharine Ray and Patricia Grennon are not seeking new three-year terms. Vying for their seats are Peter McCarthy, Jim Tasse, Valerie Randall and Christopher Straw.
The School Board has uncontested races for two seats being vacated by Joanna Morrisey and Barbara Powers. Running for the three-year terms are Mohammed Shir and Christopher Straw’s wife, Hope Straw.
When asked about potential concerns voters may have about electing a married couple, Chris Straw said “the School Board and the Town Council have distinct roles. … My wife is her own distinct person and has her own opinions and I have mine.”
“Anyone who knows Chris and I know that we do not always agree on things,” Hope Straw added. “We take town business very seriously and it is a source of frequent, lively debate in our house. The two of us holding the same opinion on a matter is not a foregone conclusion.”
Tasse, McCarthy and Shir said they have no reservations about the Straws’ candidacies.
“We would have to see how that works out,” Tasse said.
Randall said the Straws’ candidacies struck her as “odd” at first, but she hopes personal and professional lives can be kept separate.
Voting will take place Nov. 7 from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. at Cape Elizabeth High School.
McCarthy, 76, worked for Western Electric Co. for 32 years before retiring and moving to Cape Elizabeth in 1996. He has volunteered for the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Portland Museum of Art, and Service Corps of Retired Executives.
He said he believes that the top priority of the Town Council and its subcommittees should be improving transparency by sharing more information with the public to keep them involved.
An example of this, he said, is the school budget.
“I think (the budget) looks Greek to me and I think it looks Greek to most people,” he said. “The School Board needs to make a greater effort to expand their explanation of what’s going on in the schools and what the (budget) means.”
He also said more money should be put into classrooms and teachers, rather than administration.
McCarthy said one of the main issues facing Fort Williams Park, where the town is considering establishing a park manager, is a lack of clarity around who is in charge.
“I think the best way to get started on assessing (an increase in use of the park) is to bring someone in and put together a business plan, treating the fort like a business,” he said.
McCarthy said he believes a paper street on Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place should be addressed separately from the paper street on Lighthouse Point Road.
McCarthy, who lives on Balsam Road off Lighthouse Point Road, said he has seen an increase in traffic caused by tourists and thinks developing a trail on the paper street would only add to the problem.
When asked how he feels about spouses running for seats on the town council and the school board, McCarthy said he has no reservations.
“The voters will decide that,” he added.
Before moving to town in 1996, McCarthy said he and his wife would visit at least once a year since 1965. He said watching how the town has grown and developed over the years would make him a valuable asset to the council.
If not elected, McCarthy said he would spend more time with his children and grandchildren and tackle home improvement projects.
“I might play more bridge,” he added.
Tasse, 54, moved to Cape Elizabeth from Vermont 10 years ago. He works for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and is chairman of the town’s Conservation Committee.
For Tasse, the top priority of the town council should be making Cape Elizabeth a safer place to walk and bicycle, primarily to satisfy the needs of the elderly population.
“Cape Elizabeth is getting older, not younger,” he said. “It’s important to create facilities and services that enable people to safely age in place.”
Because of this, Tasse was in the pool of voters who, in June, approved the school budget, but in a follow-up question, said they still felt it was too high.
“I’m a huge supporter of public education,” he said. “But, the school enrollment in Cape Elizabeth is shrinking, not growing, and we should be thinking more about balancing the needs of our school system with the needs and services that we need to provide for older, aging-in-place adults as well.”
If elected, Tasse said he hopes to clearly argue the Conservation Committee’s stance – as a voting member rather than advising – that the town should maintain its rights to paper streets rather than give away a “valuable asset” that could never be regained.
He also said a $2 to $3 charge for every car that enters Fort Williams Park would be reasonable.
“We’re providing a great asset to the tourism industry in Maine on the backs of the Cape Elizabeth taxpayers,” he said.
Working with many municipalities across the state as the assistant director of the Maine Bicycle Coalition, Tasse said he has learned a lot about town processes and organization.
Tasse said that so long as it is not prohibited under state law or local statute, he has no reservations at the time regarding spouses serving on both the town council and school board.
“It remains to be seen if it (would) work out or not,” he said.
This, he said, gives him unique experience with town government that would be “immediately useful on the town council.”
Tasse said he would spend more time biking and surfing if not elected.
Randall, 32, grew up in Portland and moved to Cape Elizabeth four months ago. She is an attorney at Rioux, Donahue, Chmelecki & Peltier, and is one of Maine’s Legal Advocacy Project’s 120 lawyers on the Pro Bono Immigration Panel.
Randall said she doesn’t have one issue she plans to push if elected, but would advocate for “cautious change.”
“All of our issues seem to come from one place, which is growth and change,” she said. “We don’t want our town to get stuck in the past, but (we want to progress) cautiously to preserve the values that (exist in town).”
This “platform,” Randall said, would be her basis for each issue facing the town.
She hopes to gain a better sense of opposing sides of the debate around paper streets, but generally feels the town “need(s) to be very careful about preserving natural spaces and access to shorelines.”
“We don’t want to deprive any residents of access to green space,” she added.
Similarly, Randall said she does not think Maine residents should be required to pay to visit Fort Williams Park, because she wouldn’t want that fee to affect area residents and their access to town assets.
She would, however, support increased enforcement of tour bus fees.
When asked how she would address resident’s concerns regarding the school budget, Randall said that although the school budget may be high, she thinks education in Cape Elizabeth is of such high value that the budget would have to be addressed very carefully.
Randall said she thinks she would be a good councilor because all of the skills she has acquired in her career are “relevant to local politics.”
“My job is essentially all day, every day negotiating,” she said. “It’s my job to identify my client’s goals, what does the other side want, (and) where can we compromise.”
If not elected, Randall said she would hope to be involved at the committee level and be an active participant at council meetings.
Straw, 41, is the founder of Downeast Analytics. He moved to Cape Elizabeth in 2008 with his wife, Hope, and their three kids. He is a member of the Fort Williams Park Committee and said he supports the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust and the Lake Environmental Association. He previously served on the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Fort Williams Park Foundation.
Straw is also a parent volunteer for the middle school robotics program and its Xcode programming club.
Straw said his top priority on the Council would be the town’s 2019 revision of its Comprehensive Plan.
“It’s the guiding document that town councilors will look to set policies going forward,” he said.
Straw was on the Board of Zoning Appeals when debates over paper streets began and said he became “intimately involved.”
He said the council made a mistake in July by contemplating vacating paper streets on Lighthouse Point Road and in Shore Acres, and would support building trails only accessible to town residents.
“We’d be giving away millions of dollars of waterfront property,” Straw said. “There’s no justification for abandoning either.”
Straw said he would like to see town residents receive preferential access to Fort Williams Park.
“Either tourists should pay for the park or it should be restricted if it’s a town park,” he said. “… Personally, I think it should be a town park.”
He said a parking lot in the park should to be reserved for residents only, and the town should increase and enforce tour bus fees.
Straw said the school budget continues to rise because of collective bargaining agreements and the only way to offset this increase would be to increase compensation the town is given for district funding from the state.
If he isn’t elected, Straw said he’d spend more time with his kids.
Shir, 47, was born in Afghanistan and was a refugee in Pakistan for 10 years before moving to Portland in 1984. He made the move to Cape Elizabeth 13 years later in 1997.
He is the geographic information systems manager for the city of Portland and serves on the boards of Maine’s Community Foundation and Maine’s GIS User Group. He previously was a member of the Maine Civil Liberties Union board of directors, Waynflete School board of trustees, and the Cape Elizabeth Conservation Commission.
Shir said he moved to Cape Elizabeth for the school system because he wants his children to get the best education he can afford.
He hopes to bring a different and new perspective to the board.
“My heart is really in the community, and especially the schools,” Shir said. “That is the reason I live in Cape Elizabeth.”
Straw, 47, has more than 20 years of experience as an in-house attorney handling human resource matters and contract negotiations. She works full time for Calypso Technology, a financial technology firm.
She decided to run for the School Board to help the schools move through the transition period from having an interim superintendent to a permanent school chief.
With experience negotiating contracts and certifications in mediation and alternative dispute resolution, Straw feels she is “well-equipped to serve on the school board as … the position requires great listening skills and an ability to consider the divergent interests of many parties to reach decisions that best serve the entire community.”