The eight people running for three open seats on the Bangor City Council mostly agreed on the topics that came up during a candidate forum Tuesday night, including that local police should be adequately funded, that a more coordinated effort is needed to help the city’s homeless population and that the city should do what it can it to welcome people from a variety of backgrounds.
But with the ongoing economic damage from the coronavirus, the candidates offered subtly different takes on how the Queen City should try to keep funding services while overcoming projected revenue shortfalls and supporting its economy in the coming years.
All the candidates — whom the BDN plans to profile in more detail in an upcoming article — participated in a virtual forum Tuesday night hosted by the Bangor Public Library and the Bangor League of Women Voters.
Only one of them, Clare Davitt, is an incumbent member of the council — and the panel’s current chairperson. The other seven candidates are Kimberly Boucher, Stephen Brough, Sarah Dubay, Joseph Leonard, Jeff Solari, Jonathan Sprague and Dina Yacoubagha.
They are competing for three seats held by Davitt and outgoing councilors Ben Sprague — the son of candidate Jonathan Sprague, who is termed out — and Laura Supica. Each seat will come with a three-year term.
Boucher, who does fundraising and grant writing for public health initiatives across Maine, said her work experience could help the city seek more grant funding to help pay for programs in the coming years. She stressed the need for people of various races, ethnicities, gender identities and other backgrounds to feel welcome in Bangor.
Brough, who works for a commercial tire company and has defined his political views as Libertarian, said the city needs to seek clear guidance from residents about what they can afford to pay in local taxes, then make sure to keep the annual budget within those limits. He encouraged a wider array of neighborhood-based projects that would be funded directly by community members, rather than through taxes.
Davitt, who works for the Bangor Public Library and is finishing her first term on the council, was one of several candidates to urge state lawmakers to provide the full amount of state tax revenue that’s owed to cities such as Bangor. She expressed hope that a number of initiatives started during her first term — including improvements to public transit, the expected creation of a diversity and inclusion committee, and research into a municipal broadband network — would continue and entice new residents and businesses.
Dubay, a business development officer for First National Bank, said her work experience would help the city address its most pressing needs in a manner that’s “good for the pocket book.” She suggested the city do more to be “business friendly” to help develop the economy and expand the local tax base. She suggested the city try to help the city’s homeless population by convening a leadership board similar to the one that has focused on addressing the opioid crisis.
Leonard, a University of Maine graduate who spent seven years in the military, said the city should leverage technology as a way to address many of its challenges. He was one of several candidates to suggest that the city keep giving businesses flexibility to safely operate during the coronavirus pandemic, such as by allowing them to set up tents outside, and he noted a municipal broadband network could help draw new businesses and workers.
Solari, who runs a sports broadcasting business and restaurant, also said his work experience would help the city to keep property taxes in check while supporting local police, schools and other services.
Sprague, who runs his own health care consulting business, said the city will have to make “strategic investments” and boost its coordination with other businesses and organizations in the coming years to address difficult problems such as an apparent uptick in homelessness in Bangor. He suggested that nonprofit groups that account for a large number of jobs in the city — but are exempt from paying property taxes — be asked to help the city in other ways, such as by helping develop solutions to some of those issues.
Yacoubagha, who has worked for local nonprofits such as Food AND Medicine and Partners for Peace, said that her experience would help her address some of the pressing social problems in the city. She suggested that the city look to grant-funded programs to help tackle homelessness and substance abuse. While the city did hire a homeless outreach worker last year, she said it may need to create a team of people to do that kind of work.