BANGOR, Maine — The City Council chambers were packed as the eight candidates running for three open council seats fielded questions and shared their visions for Bangor at the League of Women Voters candidates forum Wednesday night.
Incumbents Rick Bronson and David Nealley and challengers Joe Baldacci, Dr. Scott Davis, James Gallant, Frances Loring, Megan Shorette and Ben Sprague each introduced themselves, answered three questions and told residents there and watching on public access TV why they should vote for them.
Candidates first were asked to describe their ideal Bangor in the year 2035 and what council-related steps would be taken to get it to that position.
“My vision of Bangor is safe and infrastructure sound as everyone says, but the only way we get there is economic development,” said Bronson, owner-operator of Bronson Productions for 35 years and a Brewer firefighter for 36. “The new deal is lifestyle. The old deal is drawing a business here to get workers. … Our library, the waterfront, Bangor Symphony Orchestra, the Bangor Band, and the school system are all examples of those things that draw.”
Sprague, 28, is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High and Harvard University. The Ameriprise financial adviser had a six-point answer.
“Enact a tax code encouraging business; review code enforcement so it doesn’t allow businesses to do whatever they want and instead holds them to code, at least by reviewing codes and streamlining them; continue to support schools and teachers; call for a summit from various colleges, universities, businesses and students to find out how to keep young people in the community via internships and co-ops; enact an infrastructure promoting arts and culture with a leadership role by council; and have a newsletter to keep people informed on issues of public debate.”
The second question concerned Bangor’s label as a “service center” and whether that was a blessing or a curse.
“We also have burdens as a service community in terms of providing more services than many other communities and they are burdensome on property tax payers,” said Baldacci, a 46-year-old lifelong Bangor resident and general practice lawyer who has served two terms on the council. “This is a challenge for councilors, making sure services serve Bangor’s interests and not just the county’s.”
“We are a service center, and a social service center as well,” said Davis, a 50-year-old physician, director of addiction medicine at Penobscot Community Health Care, and California transplant. “I don’t believe we can only just manage it and move along. Bangor has an image problem as being the drug-addicted capital of the nation and we cannot grow our services and improve our economy if we can’t help these people with addictions.”
The third query had to do with economic development, the abundance of labor and what types of jobs the candidates would like to focus on attracting to Bangor.
“Brain drain is an ugly term, but you see more often than not our most valuable resources [young people] leave to create other businesses or add to them. We need to keep them here and contribute,” said Shorette, a 27-year-old Skowhegan native and University of Maine graduate who works three part-time jobs and has lived in Bangor for six years. “We need more arts and more of a music scene here, a law school or even an arts college would certainly encourage younger people to come here or stay.”
Gallant is a 31-year-old Bangor native and Husson University graduate who owns a lawn care business and an apartment building.
“I think we have to analyze what are concerns with current business owners. Personal property taxes are a lot of red tape,” he said. “We’re not Boston or Silicon Valley. We’re Bangor, so let’s take a look at what we have for assets: A 2-mile runway, Penobscot River, our public schools, Husson University with an enrollment approaching 4,000 … Once we get the train going, people will come on board.”
The councilors also took turns providing reasons why they deserve a vote on Nov. 8.
“I’m last on the ballot, but like Ed Darling used to say, check anyone else first and check me last,” Nealley, 50, a Bangor native who is a former investment adviser and general manager of Snow & Nealley Co. now working with Maine Media Consulting. “We met the challenges by holding the budget flat along with a lot of help from the school committee and we’ve done some things that needed to be done, including changing city managers, possibly consolidating public dispatch, and building a new arena that haven’t been universally agreed upon, but have had a positive impact on Bangor.”
Loring, 68, borrowed on her experience as a hospital/nursing administrator and lifelong registered nurse from South Thomaston.
“Coming out of health care, we attracted highly specialized physicians, which we have to have to provide a full-service medical center, from all over the country to this area and we did it by promoting the lifestyle here,” said the 15-year Bangor resident, who retired as Eastern Maine Medical Center’s patient care administrator for women’s and children’s services. “I’m running because I have the energy, skills and commitment to do the job.”
Correction: According to David Nealley, he said, "check anyone else first and check me last, " not "check everyone else first and check me last," and "we’ve done some things that needed to be done," not "we’ve done some things that didn't necessarily need to be done," as reported in a previous version of this story.