South Portland's new mayor calls for unity, community

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis on Monday called on city citizens to put down their cell phones and computers and rededicate themselves to the concept of community.

De Angelis then announced a series of community initiatives she would like to pursue over the next year, including establishing a farmers market, community gardens and monthly community awards.

De Angelis’ inaugural address came after the City Council elected her by a 4-3 vote.

Councilor Maxine Beecher, who challenged De Angelis for the leadership role in a November caucus, answered an emphatic “no” during a roll-call vote. Councilors Tom Blake and Alan Livingston, who were each sworn into three-year terms, also voted against De Angelis.

The split vote was in contrast to the ceremony’s evocation, led by diverse group of students from Southern Maine Community College. Each student, some of whom come from war-torn lands, took turns reading lines, first in their native language and then in English.

The students called for peace, forgiveness, acceptance, respect, kindness and unity, among other things.

“You’ve survived war and genocide and even forgiven those who have killed members of your family,” De Angelis said. “If you can survive all that, I can surely survive a less-than-unanimous vote from my fellow councilors.”

De Angelis said the position of mayor, which is largely a ceremonial post, is not about power. She invited any councilor into her weekly agenda-planning meeting with the city manager.

“Each of us who serve on this council were elected by the same constituent group,” she said. “Not one of us has more than one vote and no one should wield any greater control.”

“I have great dreams for the world, but small goals in my role as mayor,” she added.

De Angelis used much of her 16-minute address to call on citizens to put down the technology that separates people, and recommit themselves to community to make “deep and meaningful connections” with on another.

She said she would support efforts to establish a farmer’s market, build community gardens and eliminate the use of pesticides on city land.

She suggested the city host a naturalization ceremony at SMCC and expressed interest in presenting monthly awards to residents and businesses.

She also promised to spend “at least half a shift” working in each of the city departments, including police, fire, rescue, planning and cable television, inviting other councilors to do the same.

Prior to turning over the gavel to De Angelis, Councilor Tom Coward honored Councilor Linda Boudrea, who has served on the council for 18 years and couldn’t run in November because of term limits.

School Board

Newly minted School Board Chairman Ralph Baxter called on residents to show their “Riot Pride” over the next year, which he said will present several challenges.

Among them, Baxter said, is planning for the $47 million renovation and expansion of South Portland High School to make sure the project is completed on time and under budget.

Baxter said the district will also oversee the implementation of a new preschool program, which he called a “very proactive way to students off to a better start.”

A restructuring of Kaler Elementary School that emphasizes more hands-on learning is also on the horizon, he said, noting the board would meet in January to discuss the new program. 

Baxter also downplayed perceived rifts between the board and the council, which sets the bottom line for school spending.

“To the City Council, it has been said we don’t play well in the sandbox,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s as bad as some perceive. I know we can improve.”

Baxter suggested the two panels meet on a monthly basis to build on the cooperation displayed during discussions that led to the passage of the $41.5 million high school bond.

Richard Carter, Sara Goldberg and Richard Matthews were sworn into three-year terms on the School Board.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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After being elected to lead the South Portland City Council by a 4-3 vote, Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis, left, takes her seat next to City Clerk Susan Mooney on Monday night in the council chambers at City Hall.

School Board Chairman Ralph Baxter delivers his inaugural address in South Portland on Monday night.

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