BANGOR — In a contentious vote Monday, Richard Stone was elected to replace Gerry Palmer as the city’s next mayor, a ceremonial title for the City Council chairman.
The 5-4 vote — and the discussion that preceded that vote — showcased an ideological division that the nonpartisan council hasn’t seen in recent years. Five councilors supported Stone, a staunch fiscal conservative, while four supported Susan Hawes, who is more progressive.
Voting for Stone were: himself, David Nealley, Richard Bronson, Geoff Gratwick and newcomer Cary Weston. Voting for Hawes were: herself, Palmer, Pat Blanchette and Hal Wheeler.
Shortly after Monday’s vote, Stone pledged to hear all voices on the council during the next year, but also acknowledged division within the ranks.
“Each of us has our own definition of success, individually, as a council and as a community,” he said. “By working together to ensure that we are successful in accomplishing our individual highest priority, we will guarantee our success, both individually and as a group working together for a better Bangor.”
Two councilors who supported Hawes were vocal in their endorsement and, by doing so, were somewhat critical of the other side.
“She has no personal or political agenda,” Wheeler said of Hawes. “She’s not from the old school of politics. She has the courage to stand up for what she believes.”
Blanchette agreed, calling Hawes the fairest person she knows and the best choice for Bangor. Blanchette also expressed disappointment with the political maneuvering that resulted in the selection, which she described as a pervasive “good old boy” attitude.
“As far as I’m concerned, she’s the only candidate running for chair,” she said. “She’s the only one who asked for my vote.”
Blanchette was the only councilor who didn’t stand and applaud when Stone officially was named the council’s chairman.
Nealley, who nominated Stone as chairman, said Stone’s finance background and fiscal nature were the reason for his vote, but Nealley called both Stone and Hawes extremely capable candidates.
Most votes for council chair were decided several weeks, and in some cases months, ahead of time, according to councilors. The difference between Hawes and Stone is largely philosophical, and the result could be an indication of what’s in store for the coming year — a year Stone referred to as transitional.
Stone said he would work hard to increase efficiencies in the city and pledged to keep the tax rate steady, as the council did this year. One area Stone has been vocal about supporting is Bangor working with Brewer, its neighbor across the river, an idea Brewer voters approved last week, reversing an earlier decision by its own council. Stone also addressed the council’s recent decision to part ways with City Manager Ed Barrett after 22 years of service.
“We must work on setting a timeline and structure for filling the pending vacancy of the city manager’s position,” the new council chairman said. “For this process to be successful, we must be able to articulate a vision of what kind of Bangor we want to live in, what we are looking for in a new manager and what the final selection process will look like.”
If Monday’s fractured vote is any indication, a new vision for Bangor may not find an easy consensus on the City Council.
Hawes admitted she was disappointed in the slim majority’s decision to back Stone, and she even suggested that backroom politicking played a role.
“It’s hard when you believe you have the conviction to move the city forward,” Hawes said before Monday’s vote.