Uncontested elections fill South Portland ballot

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Six candidates. Six uncontested elections.

It’s a breezy election year, where the winning city councilors and School Board members will likely take office without debates or competition.

Incumbents occupy most of the city ballot. The others candidates are not exactly unknown names, either.

Barring an unannounced, successful write-in campaign, here’s a look at who the winners will be on Nov. 8.

City Council, District 1

Incumbent City Councilor Thomas Coward is seeking a second term.

Coward, 57, lives on Woodbury Street with his wife, Deborah. He has lived in South Portland since 1982, and his three adult children all graduated form South Portland Schools.

Coward is a licences Realtor, legal director for Keller Williams Realty and runs his own law office. He serves on the South Portland High School Building Committee and the Comprehensive Plan Committee, and served one term as mayor two years ago.

“I’m interested in strategic, long-term planning,” Coward said, “not temporary, stop-gap fixes for problems as they arise.”

Coward said he’s happy to continue serving with a mostly unchanged council.

“We have a very effective council at the moment,” he said. “Everyone is really active. We work well together.”

City Council, District 2

Incumbent City Councilor Patti Smith is also seeking a second term.

Smith, 49, is director of strategic initiatives, domestic sales and operations at Planet Dog in Portland. She and her partner, Susan Chase, live on Parrott Street and have been South Portland residents since 2008.

She said her experience with municipal government was sparse before she ran for the council in 2008, and that the learning curve her first year in city government was steep. Before moving to Maine, Smith was the women’s field hockey coach for 19 years at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“That type of leadership experience, understanding what motivates people, how to bring a group together, are now things I’m strong in,” she said.

Smith said she plans to continue advocating for open space in South Portland, and said she is proud of the work she’s done to help advance more funding to purchase land in the city for that purpose.

“We live right across the bridge from a compact, dense city in Portland,” she said. “People choose to live in South Portland because there’s a little more breathing room.”

City Council, District 5

Gerard Jalbert is running uncontested for the council seat now held by Councilor Jim Hughes. Hughes is termed out of office.

Jalbert, 54, is a 50-year resident of South Portland and a loan officer for MetLife Bank. He is serving his first term on the Planning Board and on the Long Creek Watershed District. Before that, he was on the Zoning Board of Appeals for 12 years. He lives with his wife, Laurie Holtzman, on Rhode Island Avenue.

He said he’s not running for the council to champion any particular cause, but is worried about making sure the city can balance its checkbook, metaphorically speaking. He said he’s concerned about fiscal responsibility.

“The ability to pay, in particular for the things we really need, is going to be a big issue at least for the next 10 years,” he said.

“We need to have a strategy on how to pay for all of this while keeping reasonable property tax rates and keeping other services at expected outcomes. Part of my business experience can lend to that.”

School Board, at-large

Incumbent Karen Callaghan and newcomer Jeffrey Selser are running uncontested for two at-large seats on the School Board. Selser will take the seat currently held by Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr., who decided not to seek another term.

Callaghan, 54, has served two terms on the School Board. She is a 27-year resident of South Portland, where she lives on Alfred Street with her husband, Patrick. Her two children both graduated from South Portland schools. She works on the circulation desk at the public library.

She said it’s her goal to get all South Portland residents involved in decisions about the school system, and to protect the district’s budget.

“I feel schools are the one place you can’t slash and cut,” she said. “There has to be enough to give the kids the best education they can have.”

Callaghan said she’s honored to have the chance to serve another term.

“Being on the school board is a privilege,” she said. “I’m giving back to a community that I’ve gotten a lot out of.”

Selser, 40, is a newcomer to political elections in South Portland, but not the school district. He’s served as spokesman for Renew South Portland High School, a politcal action committee formed last year to advocate for the $41 million bond to renovate the high school. He also coaches soccer and lacrosse.

Selser, an attorney at Verrill Dana in Portland, lives on Summit Street with his wife, Julie, and their two daughters – one at Small School and one at Mahoney Middle School.

He said his goal on the board is to involve residents in the budget process from the beginning. Currently, public comment sessions are held after the board drafts a budget. Selser said he thinks the board should see what residents want out of their schools first.

“The school system is part of this great social compact,” Selser said. “When we’re in school, the people who are not in school pay for us. After we are out of public education, we have an obligation to pay for the people after us, to make sure they get the education they deserve.”

School Board, District 5

Incumbent Tappan Fitzgerald, 43, is a lifelong resident of South Portland. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters on Massachusetts Avenue.

He’s running to finish the last year of the District 5 vacated by Alan Livingston, who served one year on the School Board before being elected to City Council. Fitzgerald was appointed to fill in for Livingston until the next election.

Fitzgerald, a community relations specialist for Hannaford Bros., said he’s excited to jump in and tackle the upcoming budget, which he says will be a tough one because of expiring federal stimulus money.

“We are actually going to be starting at a significant deficit over where we started last year,” he said. “That’s where the tough decisions are going to come in. It’s literally hundreds of thousands of dollars we got this year that we won’t get next year.”

But Fitzgerald said he’s confident the schools can find creative ways to handle the cuts, since they’ve been able to plan for the decrease in outside funding.

Still, “it’s going to be an interesting year,” he said.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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