Scarborough councilor makes unusual, public bid for leadership

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SCARBOROUGH — A town councilor last week announced her candidacy for council chairwoman, giving the public a rare peek into what is traditionally a behind-the-scenes selection process.

Beginning her third consecutive three-year term on the council after receiving the most votes in the recent council election, Vice Chairwoman Carol Rancourt stated during last week’s Town Council meeting that it was her “plan to run for chair.”

“I’m not pressing the flesh tonight, just stating that I will be, for the third time, trying to be chair,” she said.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Rancourt said it is important to “be up front” about her intentions. And with women now in the council majority – a first for Scarborough – Rancourt said the time may be right for the first woman in more than 10 years to be elected to the leadership position.

If successful, Rancourt said she would carry on the tradition of asking councilors their preference for service on committees and make her decisions accordingly. But with only three seats on each committee, councilors don’t always get their top choices.

In the past, chairmen have at times come under scrutiny for their selections to the Finance Committee. If all seven councilors express interest in that committee, Rancourt said prior experience and new ideas would weigh equally in her decisions.

“I am not out to have a revolution,” she said. “What I’m out to do is to protect the best interest of the town.”

But despite Rancourt’s public announcement, vote-counting is going on in private. And the biggest unknown is newly elected Councilor Jessica Holbrook.

Holbrook defeated incumbent Councilor Richard Sullivan. In addition to changing the majority gender, the speculation of many councilors is Holbrook will pull it further to the left. But no one appears to be quite sure.

Though she did not indicate her intention during a phone interview this week, Holbrook said she appreciated knowing Rancourt is interested in being chairwoman.

“It’s good to know somebody would want to have that position rather than shove it onto somebody,” she said. “I would hope if somebody else is interested they would just kind of throw it out there.”

Councilor Shawn Babine said in his six years on the council, he’d “never heard of a councilor announcing they’re running or making their intention known.”  But he added, while unusual, he didn’t see anything wrong with that.

Before last week’s election, several people had asked Babine to consider the chairmanship, he said. But after the election the “dynamics changed,” he said, and he asked someone else to run. Though he wouldn’t name names, he did state that it was not Rancourt.

Rancourt’s actions during the Pine Point land swap discussions disappointed several councilors and contributed to their hesitation in supporting her as chairwoman.

Babine said the issue is not her decision to vote against the swap, but what he called her “lack of respect” for a motion to reconsider. A councilor must have voted with the majority to move to reconsider a vote. But Rancourt was allowed to put a vote for reconsideration of the land swap on the agenda last August, and Babine made the motion on her behalf.

But Rancourt did not speak to the motion and the subsequent vote upheld the decision to carry out the swap.

“After we reconsidered it, she said nothing, which shocked me because that was her opportunity to change our minds,” Babine said. “This was political gamesmanship; that’s not what I want to see in a chair.”

Councilor Ron Ahlquist said he would support Rancourt, even to create the impression that the council is unified behind one candidate.

“I expected Carol (Rancourt) to do the right thing and vote for Jeff (Messer) in the past and she refused to do it, so now she wants us to do it for her?,” he said. “I don’t think so.”

Two years ago, at the start of Messer’s last year on the council, Rancourt ran against him unsuccessfully.

Praising current Chairman Mike Wood for his “awesome job,” Ahlquist asked why anyone would choose not to reinstate Wood as chairman. But he said he would also support Babine or, possibly, Councilor Judy Roy. His support of Roy would be a departure from what his comments in the past have indicated, but Ahlquist said this week that he thought she did an excellent job this past year.

Roy said Wednesday that she has been asked by a couple of councilors to consider running for chairwoman, but said she “kind of” supports Rancourt.

“It doesn’t matter to me who’s chair as long as they do a good job,” she said. “I guess I do (support Rancourt) – I’ve got to talk to the other councilors.”

Roy stressed the chairman must have the time available  that the position requires. Regular meetings and communication with the town manager, projects that come up and certain scheduled events all take a lot of time and energy, she said.

Councilor Karen D’Andrea said the town is “screaming” for change and she is pleased that Rancourt is running for chairwoman and plans to support her.

“I think she would bring with her an ability to really communicate well with the citizens,” D’Andrea said.

Though she doesn’t always agree with Rancourt’s decisions, D’Andrea said Rancourt is “honest and open.”

In what he called a “nice conversation” this week, Wood said he gave Rancourt his impressions and feedback about her performance over the past year.

While he said he “wouldn’t turn it down,” Wood indicated he is wary of running once again for chairman after being advised it would be a tough position, since he would likely be in the minority. This past year, when seeking the position of chairman – the first chairman since Messer was termed out – Wood said he fought hard to shed the label of being Messer’s proxy.

“At the end of the day, I at least was able to convince them a unanimous vote showed the council was committed to serving the public in a way that was professional and had proper decorum and  proper respect for each other,” he said.

Wood said he hoped the vote would be unanimous this year, but added that he does not think that will be the case.

“There is nobody on the council that I would be so opposed to seeing in the chairmanship that I wouldn’t vote for them,” Wood said. “It’s not about an agreement as to style or philosophy. It’s more in my view about the fact that we’ve got to conduct the town’s business and there’s not a lot of value for me to support someone who will not have the necessary votes.”

The council will swear in new members and elect a chairman and vice chairman at its next meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or