BANGOR, Maine — Ask the eight candidates running for three open City Council seats what their priorities will be if elected Nov. 8 and the answers are almost uniform.
Public safety and security, education, infrastructure growth and business stimulation top the charts when it comes to each candidate’s hot-button issues.
Councilors Rick Bronson and David Nealley are running for re-election against challengers Joe Baldacci of Cedar Street, Scott Davis of Laurel Circle, James “Jamie” Gallant of Wing Street, Frances Loring of Wiley Street, Megan Shorette of Norfolk Street and Ben Sprague of Broad Street.
Nealley and Bronson both are seeking to extend their three-year runs on the council. Baldacci is the most politically experienced among the new faces as he served two terms on the council from 1996 to 2002. None of the remaining five has held public office.
Baldacci has instant name recognition as a member of one of Bangor’s most politically connected families and brother of Maine’s former governor.
The 46-year-old Bangor native and his wife, Elizabeth, have two daughters. Since graduating from the University of Maine Law School in Portland in 1991, Baldacci has operated a general law practice in Bangor.
“I have a record of service on important issues, like keeping Bangor’s city nursing home open and strengthening the airport and Fire Department,” Baldacci said. “Beyond that, one of my issues is fighting for Bangor, with the Dorothea Dix hospital and calling for Bangor to start up a regional committee to review its possible closure because it affects hundreds of families.”
Baldacci says it all boils down to finances.
“I think Bangor people want pragmatic problem solvers,” he said. “And it’s always going to be jobs and economic development. That issue is going to be present in almost every discussion we have, whether it’s keeping businesses we have here, attracting new ones, or keeping property taxes.”
Bronson, 64, was born in Portland, moved to Veazie in 1949, and has lived in Bangor for the last 42 years. He owned and operated Bronson Productions — a sound, lighting and security company — for 35 years and was a Brewer firefighter for 36 years. He has drawn upon his experience in the private and public sectors as the council’s financial committee chairman the last two years. He and his wife, Angelia Levesque Bronson, also own rental property and are licensed realty agents.
The father of two daughters and grandfather of four boils his priorities down to two things that affect everything else: finances and budget.
“Regarding the future, my priority is to see the completion of the new Bangor arena and continue to promote the ancillary things that go with it, like the bandstand, skateboard park, and the Waterfront Pavilion, along with the rezoning of lower Main Street and promotion and development of business,” he said. “In the last three years, Bangor has become the largest municipality in Maine to have a female as its head. If the voters let us, we’ll become the largest municipality to join a regional dispatch agency. With the arena, we’ll be the only municipality to build its own arena in the modern era. I’m pretty proud of Bangor that we’ve accomplished these things and I’d like to keep it going.”
Davis, 50, is a physician and Suboxone internist specializing in opiate addiction who moved to Bangor with his wife, Rebecca, and two daughters from Palm Desert, Calif., more than 18 months ago.
While he says he’s a neophyte in the political arena, he’s not immune to having to play politics as former inpatient medical director at the Betty Ford Clinic.
“I think my ability to bring people together and facilitate discussions and collaborate on projects and policies would be valuable,” Davis said at a public forum last month. “And an issue near to my heart in Bangor now is the problem with substance abuse, specifically bath salts. Substance abuse and addiction leads to unemployment and unemployment leads to a sluggish economy.”
Davis works at Penobscot Community Health Care as director of addiction.
“The school system is a reason why my wife and I decided to move to Bangor,” he said. “Bangor is not going to grow with the values we want to see if we don’t include education, which is high on my list of where to invest money and effort. Law enforcement is another high priority for me. Building our infrastructure, specifically improving our airport to attract bigger birds here, is very important, along with encouraging tourism.”
Gallant, 31, is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, attended the University of Maine, and earned a master’s degree in business from Husson University. He’s engaged and operates Gallant’s Lawn Care. He also owns an apartment house on Pearl Street.
Gallant echoed the other candidates’ priorities when it comes to emergency services, the school system, and the Public Works Department, and also includes the Parks and Recreation Department and Bangor Public Library among his primary interests.
“I think I can bring an understanding about the city of Bangor’s many assets, such as a two-mile-long runway, 19.2 miles of Penobscot River frontage, our central location in the state and position three hours away from Canada,” he said. “I’d also like to see us improve the city’s Parks and Recreation Department by expanding its programs and support the public library to help it serve as more of a resource for Bangor citizens.”
Loring, 68, is originally from South Thomaston and attended Rockland schools. She and her husband, Frank Booker, have been living in Bangor for the last 15 years. She recently retired after a 25-year nursing career, most of which was spent with Eastern Maine Medical Center. She started as a staff nurse and retired as patient care administrator for women’s and children’s services.
“Small-town values have served me well, and as a hospital administrator, I had to manage large budgets and do so wisely, weighing the real needs of our employees and patients against the amount in that budget,” Loring said at a recent informal candidate forum. “My priorities would be public safety and security first, including substance abuse, education, infrastructure and investing in R and D to build a stronger, resource-based business community and do whatever we can to attract new businesses.”
Nealley, 50, is another Bangor native whose family has deep roots in the community. He works for Maine Media Consulting and publishes Maine Seniors magazine. He previously was an investment manager before becoming general manager of Bangor’s own Snow and Nealley Co.
“We have to look under the hood and find great efficiencies for taxpayers without sacrificing quality. The dispatch center consolidation proposal is an example of that,” he said. “Inevitably, this is going to be the challenge moving forward and that’s why it’s good to have people in place who are familiar with the process and the current challenges.”
The Bangor High and University of Southern Maine alumnus, who has been with his fiancee, Bridget O’Donnell, for eight years, served a three-year council term from 2001-04.
“Back then we were talking about waterfront development,” he said. “This term, we’ve made a lot of progress on waterfront development and the arena and other exciting businesses, attractions and amenities. A lot of that groundwork was done well before these last three years, and I want to continue what was started.”
Shorette, whose age was not immediately available, is a Skowhegan native who earned a child development-family interaction degree from the University of Maine in 2006. She founded KahBang Arts last January after earning a certificate in grant writing and nonprofit management from the University of Southern Maine in Portland.
“I decided I want to be here for a long time to raise a family and take advantage of the great school systems,” said Shorette, who has been living in Bangor for six years. “To be here is to be involved and I don’t think there’s any sense in living somewhere if you’re not willing to share your ideas and visions and help develop your community.”
Shorette has worked for Maine Autism Spectrum, a UMaine resources center, and assisted with behavioral counseling for nonprofit agencies such as United Cerebral Palsy and Eastern Maine Testing and Counseling.
“I’d like to try to help bring any new ventures and businesses to come here and raise our expectations for Bangor and how far it can go,” she said. “For me it’s all about coming up with reasons for keeping our younger citizens here.”
Sprague, 28, graduated from Bangor High. The Harvard University political science graduate worked three years as a tour guide and scoreboard operator for the Boston Red Sox and taught English as a second language, computer and citizenship night courses for four years.
“The school system includes more than 50 percent of the city budget,” said the Bangor native. “So I think we need to start looking at citizens’ taxes as an investment in our city and think about how to best maximize those investments by looking at ways to encourage people to not only stay here after graduating but to lure more people to come to Bangor.”
Sprague has been a financial adviser for Ameriprise Financial since 2009 and published a book — “Buy Hold Sell: A Disciplined Guide to Investment Success.” He also helped run the Boston Marathon with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in 2007 and 2008.
“My priority is to bring more permanent, high-paying, 21st century jobs to Bangor. I think Bangor is a service-based economy and that has served us well for the last 100 years,” Sprague said. “Also, we need to continue to market Bangor’s brand better and more widely because we have a lot to offer here.”