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South Portland city councilor faces re-election challenge

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South Portland city councilor faces re-election challenge

SOUTH PORTLAND — Three candidates, including incumbent Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis, are seeking two, three-year terms on the City Council.

Opposing De Angelis in District 3 is political newcomer and real estate agent Melissa Linscott. In District 4, where Councilor Maxine Beecher cannot run again because of local term limits laws, Linda Cohen, a former city clerk in South Portland and Portland, is unopposed in her first campaign for public office.

District 3

Beecher has kept her voice in the District 3 race by endorsing Linscott. South Portland Mayor Patti Smith has endorsed De Angelis, who is seeking her second consecutive term and third overall in the district that covers the center of the city near the Casco Bay Bridge.

Linscott, 38, lives on Adelbert Street with her husband, Brian, and their two children. The couple own and operate a Knightville real estate agency.

De Angelis, 60, is unmarried and lives on Buttonwood Street. She works as a mediator and educator at Southern Maine Community College.

Each emphasized their experience outside City Hall as a way they stand out as candidates. But De Angelis said her knowledge of budgeting and city operations allows her to see and achieve short- and long-range goals.

De Angelis said creating the city bicycle and pedestrian committee and opening the farmers market are examples of seeing things to fruition.

Linscott said she would bring "a lot of perspectives" to the council. "I am a longtime resident, a parent of children in schools, a property owner and a business owner," she said.

Linscott said she is not running on specific issues, as much as her desire to see the city move forward. She would like to revise local zoning to better attract and keep businesses, and expand the city tax base.

"Personally, I think we are a very business-friendly community," De Angelis said.

She said it is a question of balancing economic growth with quality of life issues for city residents. That balance, she said, was at the heart of her opposition to keeping angled parking on Ocean Street in Knightville.

Linscott said the initial council decision to allow only parallel parking on the street was made the council appear to be anti-business, and the protracted process of deciding and then reversing the decision did not make the council look good.

"That can put out a negative vibe," Linscott said.

Acknowledging that councilors have limited input on the school budget, both candidates said it is critical to meet early and often with School Board members to better understand how the budget is developed and the board's perspective on its needs and goals.

When serving as mayor in 2010-2011, De Angelis said she met with former School Board Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr. to gauge the board's budget ideas.

"In being a responsible fiduciary, it is my role to ask questions," she said.

Linscott, who serves on the School Department's strategic planning committee, said she favors a stronger focus on programs and curriculum for students, rather than on the department's physical plant.

Both candidates praised the municipal budget process, expressing confidence in City Manager James Gailey and department heads for keeping the city bond rating the best in the state.

They also favor moving the Public Works Department from O'Neil Street to a new location, but have reservations about the current preliminary plans and estimated borrowing cost of $23 million, including interest.

De Angelis, who recently spoke out against some council procedures in executive sessions, said she would encourage more live broadcasts and taping of council workshops, plus contributions from department heads in the online city newsletter, as ways of keeping residents better informed.

Linscott said she did not see any specific issues that reveal a lack of transparency, but vowed to be as open as possible while trying to move issues along.

"I have seen the dynamic get in the way of the process in terms of moving forward," she said.

De Angelis said councilors need to be more willing to discuss differing opinions.

"Disagreement is healthy, a good thing that reflects varied opinions," she said.

Linscott said she is enjoying her first campaign for office.

"I think it is just exciting. You are representing a lot of people and I don't take that lightly," she said.

De Angelis said the biggest reward of serving remains constant for her.

"My favorite part is when we do something that helps the quality of life," she said.

District 4

Cohen, 57, is unopposed in the district that covering the southern and eastern part of the city, bordering Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth. She is a loan officer who lives on Gary L. Maietta Parkway and has one grown child.

"It's something I have thought about for years," Cohen said. "It is all about serving the citizens. I love South Portland and it has been good to me."

Cohen said her philosophy about what makes the city good is basic and unchanged: Keeping good schools, roads and infrastructure, and a reasonable property tax rate. She also supports building a new public works facility.

But she said she also tries to focus on the big picture. "When you get bogged down in one issue, you are neglecting something," Cohen said.

She agreed that joint meetings with School Board members will clarify what the board has in mind for its budget, and will enhance trust and accountability between the council and school board.

"We need to start the process early and be working together," Cohen said. "But I would not be afraid to tell the School Board to take something and rework it."

She said she looks forward to serving with a sense of optimism about the city.

"I don't see a whole lot wrong with South Portland," Cohen said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.