There will be at least two newcomers on the Ellsworth City Council next month — and possibly three — after the Nov. 5 election.
Marc Blanchette, the current council chairman, is running for another three-year term on the seven-seat board, but two other incumbent councilors — Gary Fortier and Dawn Ihle Hudson — have opted not to seek re-election. Fortier has served on the council for 25 of the past 28 years, while Hudson is finishing up one term on the board after first being elected in 2016.
Gene Lyons, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2017 and again in 2018, is running this year while three other candidates are making their first attempt: Edward “Mathias” Kamin III, Michelle R. Kaplan and Robert P. “Bob” Miller. In all, there are five candidates running for three available seats. Aside from Blanchette, none has held prior public elective office.
All five candidates told the Bangor Daily News that they support continuing development in Ellsworth, which is a regional service center for communities throughout Hancock County and parts of Washington County, but they differ slightly on how the city could support economic growth.
Each said the city needs more housing to keep pace with the city’s business growth, which has been dominated over the past 20 years by retail development but more recently includes the opening of a Jackson Laboratory mouse reproduction facility, where more than 300 people are expected to work by the end of the year. All but Kamin cited the local school system as an important piece of the city’s overall economic health, and three candidates — Blanchette, Kaplan and Miller — said the city should consider expanding vocational education programs at Hancock County Technical Center to help support local business growth.
“I believe we are beginning to see what will become a growth rate of seismic proportions,” Blanchette said.
Kamin, Kaplan, Lyons and Miller all cited the need to keep property taxes in check, though Blanchette — like the four other candidates — said he supports the proposed solar power facility on city property as a way to reduce the city’s electrical costs. Lyons, however, expressed doubt over the long-term prospects of solar development.
“What happens when [the] solar fad is done?” Lyons said. “Who cleans up the solar panels?”
All five candidates say they favor building or expanding more recreational and walking trails in the city, while Kamin and Miller specifically said the riverfront along Water Street should be improved and made more accessible to the public.
“Our waterfront could be a great draw for tourism,” Miller said.
Kaplan, Lyons and Miller each said the city should focus more on improving infrastructure such as roads and sewer and water lines. Blanchette and Kaplan said that the city should do more to help improve vehicular traffic flow through the city’s urban center.
“The traffic patterns have changed since the closing of the Bucksport mill and there are more people coming from that direction” into downtown on Route 1, Kaplan said. “Additionally, the lack of a [traffic signal] at the end of Route 179 will ultimately end up in a major accident.”
Lyons, an Army veteran and concrete plant manager, and Blanchette, a former Bangor Daily News photographer and retired local furniture business owner, each spent most or all of their formative years in Ellsworth, while Kamin, Kaplan and Miller are relatively new to the city. Kamin, who works at a local brewery, moved to Maine from upstate New York two years ago. Kaplan, a physician’s assistant, has lived in Ellsworth since 2012 while Miller, an Air Force veteran and pharmacist, has lived in Ellsworth since 2004.
Kamin, 32, is the youngest candidate in the field and Blanchette, at 62, is the oldest. Kaplan, Lyons and Miller are each in their early 50s. Lyons and Miller each live off Route 179 on Graham Lake, while Blanchette, Kamin and Kaplan all live in the city’s more developed urban center, within walking distance of Main Street downtown.
Kamin is the only candidate in the field not registered with a political party. The other four all are Republicans including Kaplan and Miller who describe themselves as having moderate or centrist views. Kaplan said she has previously registered as a Democrat.
More than one candidate pointed out that the City Council is a nonpartisan body in which party affiliation plays no role in how the council functions, unlike with Congress or the state Legislature, where members of a political party caucus together to strategize, or chair committees depending on which party holds a majority.
Kamin went a little further, however, saying the de facto two-party system, dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties, is “undemocratic.”
“I deeply believe neither of the two major parties represent my views,” Kamin told the BDN.