BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s newest city councilor said he plans to listen and learn during his first few weeks sitting in council chambers. Then he wants to get down to business.
Sean Faircloth, a five-term state legislator who was selected to serve as majority whip in his final term in 2008, will be sworn in during a ceremony 10 a.m. Monday in Council Chambers on the third floor of Bangor City Hall, as will Councilors Joe Baldacci and Ben Sprague, who were re-elected to serve another three years.
“I was very pleased to be elected alongside two very strong incumbents,” Faircloth said during an interview Friday.
In the Nov. 4 election, Faircloth earned 5,234 votes, beating out Justin Freeman and former Councilor Gerry Palmer to take over the seat of former Councilor James Gallant, who did not seek re-election. Sprague received 7,092 votes, according to unofficial election results, just 29 more than Baldacci.
Faircloth was a Bangor-based legislator in the Maine House from 1992 to 1994 and Maine Senate from 1994 to 1996 before returning to the Maine House for three terms, from 2002 to 2008.
Among the bills he played a role in was the “deadbeat dad” child support law of the early 1990s, which allowed the state to revoke the licenses of fathers who didn’t pay child support. At first, the proposed legislation was rejected by the Judiciary Committee. Faircloth helped redraft the language of the bill to get it passed.
In 2003, Faircloth proposed a bill to ban sodas from vending machines in Maine schools. He also was a strong advocate of modernizing the sex crime registry in 2004.
More recently, Faircloth was based in Washington, D.C., serving as executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. During that time, he wrote a book titled “Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All — and What We Can Do About It,” which was published in early 2012.
Since then, Faircloth has spent time traveling around the world, talking about his book and about issues surrounding separation of church and state. A speech he delivered in Turkey, which focused on whether secular government could survive in a Muslim nation, has gained traction with nearly 200,000 online views, he said.
Today, Faircloth is working on his second book — a children’s fantasy novel meant to teach kids about geography by placing characters in real-life locations that seem fantastic — think Lac Rose, the “pink lake” in West Africa.
Faircloth joins a nine-member board facing a litany of challenges in the coming years. The city’s department heads sat down with council members Thursday night to set priorities and talk about critical issues for the coming term.
One concern city officials have stems from a report released last legislative session that suggested Maine could be home to one or two more casinos, depending on size and location. That spurs concerns about the bottom line of Maine’s first major gaming operation: Hollywood Casino in Bangor. After Oxford Casino opened, Hollywood Casino saw its revenues drop by about $9 million. With further drop in revenues, there’s a chance the facility might ask for a decrease in valuation — leading to a decrease in tax payments, according to Ben Birch, the city’s tax assessor.
The city is in the middle of major infrastructure projects in the heart of its downtown and along Main Street. Bangor International Airport is in the middle of a $10 million modernization project. A firm has been chosen to study traffic flow on Broadway, one of the city’s most congested areas.
The last council placed an unprecedented focus on cracking down on residents with back taxes — some of whom had not made a payment on their accounts in 20 years. This has sprouted into an effort to tear down or rehabilitate abandoned and dangerous buildings scattered across Bangor.
Also on the radar will be the continued development of the Bangor Waterfront, including improvements to the Waterfront Concerts venue.
All of this work, and much more, will need to be done with limited funding. City officials expect state and federal dollars coming to the city to continue to decline, meaning the city will need to continue to dig for its own revenue sources and budget cuts to prevent putting the burden on taxpayers.
Faircloth said he hopes his experience in the Legislature will allow him to help the council connect with lawmakers and ensure Bangor’s voice is heard, even though the state’s own fiscal challenges mean nothing is guaranteed.
“I’m certainly going to throw myself into it,” he said.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.