South Portland council candidates pledge to mend divisions

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A 90-minute forum featuring the four City Council candidates provided a venue for each one to promise to heal the city after the bruising fight over the proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance.

While Mayor Tom Blake is the only ordinance supporter in the field that includes former Councilor Maxine Beecher, current Board of Education member Richard Matthews and former Planning Board member Carol Thorne, all said residents and business owners must come together after the election for the good of the city and its future.

“If I have to bring your hands together to unite you, I will do that,” Matthews said.

Blake, who signed the petition creating the citizen’s initiative to amend Chapter 27 of the city code by banning expansion of petroleum-related facilities and infrastructure in the Shipyard and shoreline areas of Commercial city districts, said the ordinance shows “great vision.”

“I am convinced no jobs will be lost and no businesses will be closed,” Blake said.

Beecher and Thorne have opposed the ordinance from the time it was discussed in City Council and Planning Board hearings during the summer. But Beecher said something must still be done to prevent importation of diluted bitumen “tar sands” oil into the city.

“I think we need to meet with citizens and pass some kind of ordinance,” she said.

Thorne said she is optimistic tar sands could be blocked without having a wider impact on petroleum-related businesses.

“A good, workable ordinance can be created,” she said.

Matthews, for what may have been the first time, clearly stated his opposition to the WPO during the Oct. 24 forum, but said the trouble it has caused between neighbors and families is more distressing than the ordinance itself.

“I did not expect to lose friends over this,” he said. “I did not expect to be shunned over this.”

The candidates unanimously supported a $14 million bond to construct a new facility for the city Public Works, Transportation and Parks and Recreation departments off Highland Avenue.

Thorne’s support came after initial indecision, which she said will be indicative of her approach to listen and study issues carefully.

“I had no idea (the existing facility) was as bad as it is,” she said. “I am now going to be in strong favor of this bond.”

Asked about how well councilors and School Board members communicate on budget and other issues, Beecher said there have been improvements over the last several years that she will to continue.

What should be understood, she said, is councilors cannot have line-item budget control because the education budget is subject to state laws.

“I think the good news is there is and has been for a long time some strong School Board members,” she said.

Blake and Matthews agreed the bodies recently have had a better understanding of the budgets and wider perspective of municipal finances.

“There is no ideal model out there for school and municipal relationships,” Blake said. “I’m convinced the City Council and Board of Education knows what the issues are.”

The forum was sponsored by the South Portland/Cape Elizabeth Community Chamber of Commerce and moderated by chamber board member Mike Vaillancourt. Candidates were asked questions submitted by the public.

Polls will be open Election Day from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. District 1 voters cast ballots at the Boys & Girls Club, 169 Broadway; District 2 polling is at the American Legion Hall, 413 Broadway; District 3 and 4 residents vote at the Community Center, 21 Nelson Road, and District 5 residents vote at the Redbank Community Center on MacArthur Circle West.

Absentee ballots can be obtained online or at City Hall until 6:30 p.m. Oct. 31, and must be returned by 8 p.m. on Nov. 5.

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

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.