Tuesday, March 11, 2014
AUGUSTA — Four candidates for two city council seats made their case for election at a forum Wednesday night at Cony High School.
Two of four seats representing the entire city on the council are up for election Nov. 5. Cecil Munson is running for re-election and incumbent Daniel Emery isn’t running. The spots will go to the top two vote-getters in the citywide election.
Wednesday night’s event was run by an Advanced Placement government class at Cony in the school’s auditorium. About 50 people attended, about half of them students, and candidates were given questions posed by a moderator ahead of time.
Munson, 76, of Riverside Drive, is a retired VA Maine Healthcare System-Togus employee who owns a computer consulting company.
He said Augusta weathered a decrease in state aid better than many other cities and towns statewide, resulting in a property tax increase of only 3.4 percent earlier this year. By contrast, Hallowell taxpayers, for example, got an 8.9 percent hike.
“Augusta is headed in the right direction. The future is bright,” he said. “I wanted to finish the job I started.”
Among those also running are a former councilor, a longtime state political insider and a political newcomer.
Mary-Mayo Wescott, 73, of Graybirch Drive, a pro-business television show host who served on the council in the 1990s and early 2000s, counted her experience on the council and leading the nonprofit Friends of the Flatiron group’s efforts to save the old Cony High School building as reasons voters should pick her.
The building has been vacant since 2006, and earlier this year, a developer got a grant for nearly $600,000 to turn the building on Cony Circle into senior housing.
“What I’ve done for the flatiron, I can do for the whole city,” Mayo Wescott said.
Dale McCormick, 66, of Court Street, a former state senator, state treasurer and head of Maine’s housing authority, said she wants to boost the city’s creative economy in part by working to expand Lithgow Public Library.
Earlier this year, the city spent $50,000 to match the same amount in private money to hire an architect for a planned $8 million expansion and renovation of the Winthrop Street library.
“It will bring people downtown,” she said. “It will be an engine of the economy.”
Tom Connors, a 54-year-old state worker and political newcomer who lives on Duncan Road, said fresh ideas are needed in city government.
“If you come around Augusta on a weekend, you don’t even have to slow down when you get into a rotary,” Connors said. “How do we draw people back to Augusta? I think it’s infrastructure.”
All candidates said they opposed a recent Dunkin’ Donuts proposed at the intersection of Stone and Davenport streets that was rejected by the City Council earlier this month.
Virtually everyone in the residential neighborhood opposed the idea, except David Labbe, a plumber who was going to sell his 1 Davenport St. home to the developer. When the council rejected the restaurant, the deal died and he responded by putting toilets on his lawn in protest.
“I have always stood with the neighbors because neighborhoods are the souls of the community,” said Mayo-Wescott, whose daughter lives on Davenport Street.
McCormick said encroachment into neighborhoods is a wider problem for constituents in other parts of the city, such as with sex offenders.
McCormick and Connors referred to an October Kennebec Journal story that explored reasons why Augusta has become Maine’s largest per-capita home for registered sex offenders.
Some of the reasons included availability of housing and access to social services, and the story revealed that some corrections officials refer inmates to Augusta landlords to get housing after they leave jail. McCormick said she’d push corrections officials to look for landlords in surrounding towns.
Connors said between sex offenders and patients at Riverview Psychiatric Center, Augusta finds itself taking care of many people who wouldn’t be in Augusta under normal circumstances.
“I think Augusta should serve those people that are from Augusta,” Connors said. “I think we really need to advocate for the people who come to us from Portland and Bangor and Aroostook County and York County, when they’re ready to leave, to go back to their community of origin.”
Munson, however, who said he placed many patients in communities in his career at Togus, said there are many other things city residents should be concerned about besides supervised patients and offenders.
“There are civil rights,” he said. “The key to this is to make sure that it’s safe.”
Michael Shepherd— 370-7652
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