BELFAST, Maine — The stakes are high. The acrimony about past political decisions is bitter. And the choice offered by the two candidates running for the contested seat is stark.
The long-fought battle for the American presidency? Nope. The fight for a soon-to-be-vacated position on Belfast City Council.
Local real estate agent Mary Mortier is vying against Bath Iron Works employee Chris Knight for the Ward 1 seat that current Councilor Marina Delune is vacating after serving two terms. All Belfast residents can vote for every ward.
Knight said that he is a fourth-generation resident of Belfast who moved home after spending some time away so he can raise his family here. In a recent candidate’s forum hosted by the Bangor Daily News and broadcast on Belfast Community Television, Knight said that he wanted to get involved in city politics because he has seen how hard it is for residents to find work and pay property taxes. He also was inspired to participate in politics by this summer’s flap over noisy motorcycles in downtown Belfast.
“I want to be the voice of people who have been here their whole lives,” he said.
A lot of those people, Knight asserted in the forum, have not forgotten the controversy generated more than 10 years ago when people in Belfast hotly debated whether to allow big-box stores such as Walmart to come to the community. A voter referendum to limit the size of such stores to 75,000 square feet was passed, and the Belfast City Council years later created a zone for such stores to be located off Route 3.
But Knight said that he and others in Belfast recall that the council stood in the way of development.
“The majority of people voted to have these things come to Belfast, yet the council opted to not have them come in,” Knight said in the forum.
Mortier, who moved to Belfast full time in the 1990s and works as a Realtor for GRF Real Estate, said that Wal-Mart’s decision to not come to Belfast can be more correctly tied to the global recession that began in late 2007.
“I think there are pockets of thriving and pockets of not-thriving, and plenty in between,” she said of the current state of affairs in Belfast. “We are in need of more jobs at many different skill and salary levels in Waldo County and in Belfast.”
Knight suggested that as a city councilor, he would like to increase business and development in places like the routes 1 and 3 corridors outside of downtown.
“There’s plenty of property that could be developed,” he said, adding that he would like to see Belfast become more of a service center community for people who live within a 20-mile radius of the city.
Mortier, who also has served as the primary organizer of the city’s New Year’s By the Bay celebration for the last 14 years, said that she has the experience to help Belfast find the right businesses to fit in the community. She also said that she is a proponent of the Belfast Harbor Walk project, which she said could provide a huge economic development opportunity for the city.
“I believe this is a case of you build it and they will come,” she said. “I think that the time is now.”
She supports it even though the city will need to borrow some of the money because some promised state-bond money for the project is being withheld by Gov. Paul LePage.
Knight said that he disagrees with the idea of borrowing money for such a project. He also said that if he is elected to City Council, he would work to curb what he called municipal overspending, though he did not give details as to where he would try to make cuts, aside from the Harbor Walk.
“I’m here to fight for your rights,” he said. “I’m tired of seeing generations move out of the area because of lack of work. I’m here to support you.”
Mortier said that if she is elected, she has been very involved with the community and will be able to “jump in with both feet.”
“I love Belfast. I love Waldo County,” she said. “My husband and I could have chosen anywhere to move to and live, but this was the place that we chose.”