BELFAST, Maine — More and more campaign signs for a contested Belfast City Council seat are sprouting up around the city as the race heats up.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Belfast residents will choose between incumbent Eric Sanders, who has served four terms on the City Council, and challenger Ryan Harnden, who recently served four years on the board of directors of Regional School Unit 3.
One campaign issue that has emerged on social media and been overheard in conversations around the community is the perceived changing identity of Belfast. Harnden, who moved to Belfast in February from the neighboring town of Waldo, said he wants to represent the people who have lived here for decades.
“I hear a lot of people saying over and over that they feel we are losing the identity of the community, that Belfast is changing and making them feel they’re not part of the community anymore,” he said.
The 32-year-old project manager at Mathews Brothers window manufacturing firm has a 15-month-old son with his wife, Mallory.
Sanders, 55, moved to Belfast 12 years ago because he and his wife, Courtney, felt it would be a good place to raise their three children. He works at Bank of America, served on the SAD 34 school board for five years and has been a volunteer coach for Cal Ripken baseball, youth travel basketball and soccer.
During his tenure on the Belfast City Council, Sanders said he is proud of his ability to facilitate debate amongst the councilors. He also is excited about the long-shot proposals that have become realities in that time, including the Belfast Harborwalk, the Rail Trail and the Front Street Shipyard.
“In Belfast, there were 42 empty shops five years ago,” he said. “I don’t think there are any empty ones now. I’m really pleased with how the city has gone over the last six years. I’m a small part of that.”
Harnden said his experience on the RSU 3 school board and its finance committee should stand him in good stead as a councilor.
“I enjoyed really talking to people,” he said. “I was on the budget battles. I enjoyed getting my hands dirty and always working to find savings. There are places where money can be better used.”
In 2008, Harnden worked for the Maine Senate Republican Committee. The following year when he searched for another campaign job, he was hired to be the grassroots director for Stand For Marriage Maine, the coalition group that worked to overturn legislation allowing same-sex couples to legally marry in Maine.
“I was too young to know what I was getting myself into,” Harnden said, adding that he now regrets taking the position with Stand For Marriage Maine and that he left the job after a few months. “I learned a very valuable lesson: you don’t do things you don’t believe in.”
Harnden said he wants to be on the City Council because he is a “fresh voice.”
“I think there’s a lot of people out there who view the City Council as an old boys’ club,” Harnden said.
Sanders said he is running again because he loves the city and feels there is still work to do.
“Do I think that Belfast in the last six years has changed? Yes,” he said. “The question is, ‘Has it changed for the better?’ … I don’t think it has changed for the worse.”