No kidding: Peaks Island Council election generates write-in interest

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PEAKS ISLAND — Last year, the Peaks Island Council seemed doomed.

Four councilors resigned over frustration with Portland City Hall, and no one ran for three other open seats.

Eventually, three residents unwilling to allow the island’s only organized voice in City Hall to go silent waged stealthy, but successful write-in campaigns for the open seats. One received four votes, and the other two won with three votes each.

While they never claimed a mandate to do anything significant, they ultimately succeeded in their primary goal: to keep the island council alive.

The PIC, created during an unsuccessful secession effort in 2007, is an advisory panel to the City Council. But members said they still could not influence city policy, especially as it relates to public safety on the island.

The PIC seemed doomed again this year, when only one resident, Mary Anne Mitchell, turned in nomination papers for one of five open seats.

Stealth write-in campaigns aren’t an option this year, since changes to the City Charter now require candidates to declare write-in candidacies 45 days before Election Day.

Over the last week or so, three island residents have declared their write-in candidacies for the PIC, according to Election Administrator Bud Philbrook.

As of Monday, the PIC write-in candidates were Central Avenue resident Michael Sylvester for a two-year term; Brackett Avenue resident Richard Machlin for a one-year term, and Sterling Avenue resident Scott Kelley for a three-year term. 

If one more person steps forward and declares their interest by Sept. 26 in the remaining three-year term, the PIC could have a full panel.

“So we actually face the disturbing possibility of a full seven-member council next year, if not an outright semi-competitive election,” said PIC member Rusty Foster, who shares the PIC leadership with Eric Eaton.

Mitchell, 66, works with the mentally ill as an employment specialist in Maine Medical Center’s Department of Vocational Services. She moved to the island in 1987.

Mitchell, a member of the Peaks Environmental Action Team, said she is primarily interested in working on environmental and other serious issues. She would also like to have a better working relationship with the city, she said.

Kelley, who was appointed to the council last year, said he decided to run for a three-year term as a write-in candidate simply to keep the council alive.

“With everything that has happened out here over the last year, year and a half, I thought there’d be more people interested in running for the council,” the 48-year-old artist said. “But nobody came forward.”

Kelley said even though the council members rarely took itself seriously, they managed to have a relatively productive year, organizing forums with the Police Department, establishing a ferry pass rebate program and handling other island issues.

“We have lots we want to do,” he said. “We want to make sure things keep getting done, and I don’t think any of us really trust the city particularly to do what needs to be done.”

Last year’s election represented a shift in attitude for the PIC, which launched a Facebook page where councilors and residents opine about island and city issues.

The former council’s earnestness was seemingly replaced with deliberate foolishness, with new councilors promising not to do anything significant and sometimes begging residents to bring cookies to meetings.

Eaton, Foster and Sid Gerard, who resigned from the PIC after the island’s second secession bid from Portland fell flat in Augusta, were all sworn in at the pub in the Inn at Peaks Island, rather than at the community center.

Instead of gavels, the group used beer steins to call the meeting to order.

Even if they don’t take themselves seriously, the members recently delivered on a program to help defer transportation costs for islanders, rolling out at $25,000 rebate program on monthly or annual passes for the Casco Bay Ferry.

While Foster joked that the new interest in the PIC was a result of their “badgering,” Eaton has his own theory about why there are suddenly candidates for four of the five open seats.

“I’m assuming it’s because of our popular Ice Cream Sandwich Thursdays,” he said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings