Distinct choices in District 3 for South Portland City Council
The race for District 3 (the area between Cape Elizabeth, Pleasantdale, Lincoln and Evans streets, and Cottage Road, Boothby Avenue and Ocean Street) will present voters with three distinct candidates: Rosemaire DeAngelis, a former city councilor who has remained active in the community; Gary Crosby, an area business man spearheading an effort to ban dogs from Willard Beach during the summer; and Christopher Kessler, a young progressive candidate who claims he'll bring new ideas to the council.
DeAngelis, who was defeated by Soule in 2006, will try to regain the seat she held for three years. The 57-year-old is an instructor at Southern Maine Community College, a part-time speech pathologist, a guardian ad litem and family court mediator. Since leaving office she has been active in the Knightville Mill Creek Neighborhood Association.
Crosby will take his third shot at being elected to the council. Crosby is a real estate investor and owns the Neighborhood Laundromat on Broadway, and previously ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives. The 49-year-old led the effort to bring the question of dog access on Willard Beach to a citywide referendum this fall.
Kessler, who was laid off in June from his job at Spurwink Services, said he is in the process of starting a environmentally friendly home cleaning business. The 27-year-old is a member of the South Portland Dog Owners Group, which opposes the referendum promoted by Crosby.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, at all four polling locations throughout the city. District 1 votes at the Boys & Girls Club, 169 Broadway; District 2 votes at the American Legion Hall, 413 Broadway; Districts 3 and 4 vote at the South Portland Community Center, 21 Nelson Road, and District 5 votes at the Redbank Community Center, MacArthur Circle West.
Crosby said he is running for council on his 25 years of business experience. He has started and sold several businesses, including an excavation company and a cleaning company. He said he has no preconceived agenda and believes the city is well-run and not facing any imminent crises.
The Tanner Street resident said the city should be doing more to promote economic development by making it easier for "mom-and-pop" stores to survive and attract new businesses to the city. "Without businesses, we've got nothing," he said.
Crosby complimented the city manager for assigning economic development duties to the assistant city manager, but would like to see those part-time duties expanded, possibly to include a full-time economic development director. Meanwhile, the city should consider reviewing the city code, which he called complicated and cumbersome, to clarify the requirements of establishing and operating a business in the city, he said.
"We need to make sure that whatever (businesses) need, we're there to provide it to them," Crosby said.
Crosby said current budgetary pressures, which would only increase if voters statewide approve TABOR II and reducing the excise tax, could be solved by better management of the city's resources. That would include enforcing a strict no-idling policy for city vehicles (excluding police, fire and ambulances), keeping a close eye on contractors hired to do city work and making sure city employees are working while on the clock.
Crosby said he would scrutinize every city expenditure, especially new vehicle and equipment requests, as though it were coming out of his own pocket.
Crosby said he firmly believes that when layoffs are needed, it is up to the city manager to make the decision. He also supports the city's efforts to help establish an energy company, but does not support the city having a large role in the operation and management of the company. Instead, he said, the city should assist a private group with permitting, licensing and funding through tax increment financing.
"I wouldn't want the city to own it," Crosby said. "I believe the role of government should be limited."
DeAngelis said she is running because she believes people should be involved in their government and she would like to be a clear and forceful voice for the people, rather than for the city administration. The Buttonwood Road resident said that many residents are disenchanted with the council following the layoff of five veteran employees.
"I raised some questions at council meetings during that process," DeAngelis said. "Was the council or any individual councilor sure that they were really representing the will of the people and not defending the voice of management? I just think that became really muddy during that process and I was sorry to see that."
Although she believes the council should not micromanage personnel issues, DeAngelis said it is the council's responsibility to hold the city manager accountable for his decisions and ensure decisions are not being made unilaterally.
"I do think the City Council has a role to work with the city manager to figure out what in the budget should be cut and evaluate the decisions of the city manager," she said.
If Question 2 on the excise tax, and Question 4, TABOR II, pass, DeAngelis said the city must make a concerted effort to hold public forums in each district to ascertain what the community values most for services, so it can make informed decisions about cuts, if they are needed. However, she cautioned against looking at the municipal budget in a vacuum, since two-thirds of the city budget funds the schools.
The city should rethink how the city and School Department work with each other, she said, especially when the council presides over the School Board to set the bottom line for school spending.
"It always looks like some sort of power play," DeAngelis said. "That scenario and configuration sets up an us-and-them picture and that's not how I see us. I see us as needing to sit on the same level, the ground floor with the council and School Board working together."
Although officials say the city budget is "bare-bones," DeAngelis said there is room to reduce spending in order to pay for road and building maintenance projects that have been cut from previous budgets, although she offered no specifics.
"Every budget has places where it can roll back, except those living on fixed incomes," she said.
DeAngelis said she would need to learn more about the city's efforts to establish an energy company before deciding whether it is consistent with the city's mission. However, she said that the company may be an area where "there is the potential for the city to stray off course."
Meanwhile, DeAngelis said that, if elected, she would use her position to encourage people to volunteer more of their time to "contribute to social capital."
"Bureaucratic layers keep us from being good, kind and caring citizens," she said. "What can we do to break down those barriers and get people in each other's homes again?"
Kessler said he is running for council to represent not only the voice of residents, but the voice of his generation. Since he's new to politics, the 27-year-old said he will be able to bring a fresh perspective to city issues.
"I'm just running to be representative of the people; I'm not a politician," Kessler said. "I'm fresh on the scene and I think that helps me look at issues from a different perspective."
Rising unemployment and increases in the cost of living are providing challenges for cities, and Kessler said the city should re-examine how it uses federal grants to make South Portland sustainable and resilient. Although residents are increasingly embracing the local food movement, Kessler said the city should examine using community development grants to help residents establish "hoop houses," or small greenhouses to grow food locally.
Kessler also said he believes the city could save a substantial amount of money on computer software licensing fees by switching to an open-source platform. He said the city spends upwards of $80,000 every few years on licenses, which would not be necessary with open-source software.
The city's infrastructure should be a top priority, Kessler said, but the city shouldn't necessarily raise taxes to pay for it. Instead, a careful, detailed analysis of the budget is needed to look for opportunities. He did not give specific areas where spending could be reduced, because he said the city budget does not offer an outsider enough detail.
"It's more of making sure we have the right priorities and making sure we're allocating our resources appropriately," he said. "That's going to take a pretty big magnifying glass."
The city should also invest more into its parks and open spaces, Kessler said, because they "one of the greatest gems in the city." Facility needs at the public library should be given a high priority, he said.
The Cottage Road resident said citizens should have a voice when it comes to layoffs, which he believes could be avoided by seeking concessions from all city employees, rather than targeting a single department for cuts. As a major employer, the city should be looking to create more jobs, rather than reducing them, he said.
Kessler said he "wholeheartedly" supports the city's efforts to establish an energy company, because it would reduce the city's reliance on coal-powered electricity by producing electricity from natural gas, which is less harmful to the environment.
"We need to do everything we can to make South Portland a sustainable and resilient community," he said. "To have our own power company is a step in the right direction."
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org