BANGOR, Maine — The six candidates for a trio of Bangor City Council seats pitched themselves to city voters during a Thursday night forum, largely lauding the city’s growth in recent years, but urging a carefully thought-out approach as it continues to evolve.
Council candidates, in order of their appearance on the ballot, are Josh Plourde, creative strategist at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center and member of Bangor’s Commission on Cultural Development; incumbent city council chairman Nelson Durgin; Gibran Graham, marketing coordinator at the downtown book and toy store Briar Patch and board member of the Downtown Bangor Partnership; Victor Kraft, a Bangor-based private investigator and former police chief of Indian Island and Thomaston; Hal Wheeler, a former councilor who served from 1983 to 1986 and again from 2007 to 2010; and current first-term city councilor Charlie Longo.
The first question at Thursday’s forum: Where will Bangor be 20 years from now?
Plourde said, “Bangor will be a leader in energy efficiency and sustainability, and will have discovered its fullest cultural and economic potential.” He also said the city needs to use the “huge untapped resource” of roughly 17,000 college-age adults in the Bangor area by getting them involved in the community and giving them the opportunity to call Bangor home after they graduate.
Durgin said he has created a “solid working relationship” with city staff and gotten heavily involved in exploring the city’s financial standing. He said Bangor, a service center for the region, should continue to strive to be the envy of other municipalities in the state
“In the three years I’ve been on council, we’ve had steady growth,” he said, adding that he’d like to continue that trend into another term.
Graham said the city needs to continue to “strengthen and encourage economic development,” but do so with a “strong vision and planning by the entire community.” He said he wants this city to be a place his 15-year-old daughter will want to return to after college.
Wheeler stressed his desire to use his past experience on the council to continue the city’s progress in the wake of a new arena and hotel construction, but he stressed that he, if elected, would keep a close eye on the city’s level of debt as it pushes for continued expansion and improvement.
Longo said he has challenged himself by balancing a retail job and school with his first-term role on city council and called himself “one of the hardest workers on the council,” citing his strong attendance record. He said he has enjoyed working on issues as small as potholes or as large as the new Cross Insurance Center.
Waterfront Concerts was on the minds of several forum audience members, who asked candidates to weigh in on the economic impact of the concerts and how they hoped to address noise concerns raised by some Bangor area residents this year.
Kraft, an outspoken opponent of Waterfront Concerts, said he felt the city needed to be cautious in its negotiations with Waterfront Concerts and not get “stuck.”
Most other candidates stressed the economic and cultural benefits of the concerts, but Kraft argued the city should be getting more income from each concert. He also attributed an increase in crime and drug use to the concerts series, even referencing a Bangor triple homicide last summer in which three victims were found burned inside a car.
Candidates said the city should continue to work closely with Waterfront Concerts to find some way to address noise concerns.
“I would not be running for council if I thought they were doing a good job,” he said. Kraft said that tightening regulations on or shutting down Waterfront Concerts is the only serious issue he is running on.
During discussion about candidates’ views on zero-sort recycling, Kraft also referred to “the Nazis” who picked up his trash.
One resident brought up past censures by City Council of both incumbent Councilor Charlie Longo and former councilor Hal Wheeler, asking why he or she should vote for Longo or Wheeler after their fellow councilors reprimanded them for past actions.
Wheeler was censured after secretly recording a conversation with several city officials in 2010. Longo was censured in June after he said during a council meeting that “folks say [Maine Gov. Paul LePage] hits the bars pretty heavy.”
Prior to their recent censures, it had been more than 20 years since the council had formally chastised one of its own. Both men later apologized for their actions and reiterated that they learned lessons.
“I feel that honesty and being up front with the community is important,” Longo said. “It was a lapse in judgement to say that publicly.”
Wheeler also called his actions a “terrible lapse of good judgement” and that “we all make mistakes, and believe me, I learned from that one.”
The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Bangor Public Library. The library also will host voter registration from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24.
To watch the full video from Thursday night’s council candidate forum, visit www.bangormaine.pegcentral.com or the city’s government access channel, where it will be rebroadcast on a regular basis up until the Nov. 5 election at Cross Insurance Center.
Correction: A previous version of this story requires correction. Graham’s daughter is 15, not 17 as originally stated.