Eight Bangor residents, including just one incumbent, are competing for three open seats on the Bangor City Council this fall.
The top three vote-getters will each serve three years on the nine-member council, as the city addresses a seemingly growing homeless population and a pandemic that has curtailed operations at the types of businesses that account for a large chunk of municipal revenue, including casinos, retailers, restaurants and concert venues.
City officials have also been trying to respond to cases of intolerance that have come to light in recent months, including racism against Black students in local schools and the vandalism of concrete barriers downtown that had been painted to celebrate LGBTQ pride.
The three open seats are currently held by Council Chairperson Clare Davitt, who is seeking reelection, and outgoing councilors Ben Sprague and Laura Supica. Sprague is termed out after serving three terms, and Supica is running as a Democrat to represent Maine House District 126.
Election Day is Nov. 3, but because of health precautions related to the coronavirus pandemic, the city is urging residents to vote as early as possible by mailing in an absentee ballot or completing one in person.
After early voting started this week in Bangor City Hall, it will move to the Cross Insurance Center beginning Monday and last until Oct. 30. Voters will also be able to request absentee ballots at the Maine Secretary of State’s website until Oct. 29 or by calling 207-992-4220.
The candidates are shown in a randomly selected order.
Sprague, 69, is a health care consultant for hospitals and community health centers, with a focus on rural health. As a city councilor, he said he can make a real contribution with his business skills and experience in setting priorities.
Sprague, a Bangor native and the father of current Councilor Ben Sprague, is not enrolled in a political party. He described himself as a moderate.
He said Bangor needs to develop a plan that involves different organizations within the city and beyond to combat homelessness.
“Bangor is absorbing the need to deal with that problem for many people who aren’t from Bangor,” he said. “It’s not just a council responsibility, it’s a community responsibility. And we need to find ways of better aligning the assets that we have available.”
To ensure people of color in Bangor are treated fairly, Sprague said, it is important to listen to their experiences and identify the barriers to achieving social justice for everyone. He cited recent school committee actions to provide diversity and equity training in schools and form an advisory committee on diversity, equity and inclusion as positive steps.
He said he hopes the committee considers social justice issues in its search for a new superintendent.
Dina Yacoubagha, 48, has a background in social work. She works for Faith Linking in Action, a partnership involving Bangor-area religious organizations that work with the Brewer-based nonprofit Food AND Medicine to address poverty and food insecurity and provide services such as child care to low-income families.
“Bangor gave me a lot. People supported me and were welcoming, so it became home for me,” she said. “Getting involved in the community gave me a sense of belonging I haven’t felt anywhere else, and I want to give back to this community.”
She wants to help improve city services so it’s easier to access child care, public transportation and other services.
Yacoubagha said she would like to see a more collaborative approach with other towns and the state to address the needs of the city’s homeless population. Buying land in surrounding towns where real estate is cheaper to add affordable housing, and helping homeless people not only find housing but receive ongoing support so they can eventually become financially stable are two ideas she wants to work on if elected, she said.
Racial equity and inclusion are priorities for Yacoubagha, and she wants to see more diversity in hiring city and police department employees.
Dubay, 44, held leadership roles at Penobscot Community Health Care before becoming a business development officer at First National Bank last year. Given her various work and board experiences, she said she can offer a balanced understanding of how to address the social and public health issues facing the city while keeping its spending in check and recognizing businesses’ needs.
“I kind of see it as having a foot on each side of the fence,” she said.
She’s a registered Republican, but said she is a moderate who has been registered as a Democrat in the past.
She suggested “a systematic” approach to addressing the needs of the city’s homeless population. She also called it “really concerning” that Bangor has to pay so much more in general assistance funds to help that population when nearby communities could chip in.
Dubay credited work the city has recently done to address the needs of marginalized communities and also to loosen restrictions on businesses that want to operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. To spur more economic activity, Dubay said the city should continue to be flexible in its zoning and regulation of new and existing enterprises.
Leonard, 30, works as a manager for the downtown restaurant Evenroods after retiring from the military.
He decided to run for City Council after Bangor police issued a resident a criminal trespass order in August as he erased a local church group’s chalked messages from Pickering Square. The church’s members have held signs declaring homosexuality an abomination, and their chalk messages often tell people to repent for their sins.
“We need someone who’s actually going to be a fighter for equal rights, that’s not going to back down and that’s going to stand up for people when they can’t stand up for themselves,” Leonard said.
Leonard registered as a Democrat to vote for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary. If elected, he said he will push for Bangor to offer free high-speed internet to all residents. Leonard also said he wants to collaborate with University of Maine scientists to build 3D-printed houses to address homelessness.
Leonard said he wants to see the Bangor Police Department act more as a resource for “community assistance.”
“We can try to reorganize their training structure so that they actually have a better way of understanding how to deescalate the situation, rather than training them to become a more militarized force,” he said.
Solari, 50, owns Kostas restaurant in Brewer but has previously worked in media and for the Rudman Winchell law firm in Bangor. He is running to focus on the fiscal issues Bangor will face due to the pandemic and its impact on businesses.
“I think we need to run the city a little bit more like a business,” he said. “I think the eye has been taken off that a little bit.”
Solari is not enrolled in a political party. He described himself as “relatively fiscally conservative and somewhat socially liberal.”
He wants to help the city create new revenue streams by attracting new businesses and residents so it can avoid raising property taxes. He also wants to redirect funds to support the city’s police and fire departments and schools.
Solari said the city has so far done well addressing homelessness. To offer more support, he said, Bangor needs help from surrounding municipalities and the state.
An advisory committee on diversity, equity and inclusion that the city expects to form is a good first step to addressing racism, he said, and more steps can be figured out later.
Brough, 50, does sales, service and other work for a commercial tire company. As a registered Republican with “a strong Libertarian streak,” he said Bangor must keep its tax rate down so businesses won’t be deterred from locating here and so that lower- and middle-income residents don’t have to choose between other necessary expenses such as medication.
While the city should adequately fund “core services” including the police and fire departments, Brough said, it should determine what tax rate residents are able to pay, then distribute cuts across the remaining programs to stay within that limit. He suggested that neighborhoods around Bangor could choose to pay themselves for less essential programs — such as community gardens — rather than use city tax revenue, and that the city could use its purchasing power to help them do so more affordably.
He thinks the city should try to create more partnerships with private organizations around the region to address the needs of the city’s homeless population. The city has already taken sufficient steps to address racial inequity, he said, including the expected creation of an equity and inclusion advisory committee.
“We have in place laws already to ensure non-discrimination,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s necessarily the role of government to be involved in that.”
Boucher, 37, now works as a philanthropy officer at Northern Light Health after a “circuitous” early part of her career that included teaching chemistry and physics as a Peace Corp volunteer in West Africa, doing smoking prevention work in Aroostook County and pursuing a master’s degree in business administration.
She’s running for City Council because she’d like to “give back to the city” and thinks her various skills would be an asset.
Boucher, a Democrat, thinks the city should try to attract and retain new businesses and workers by continuing to ensure that people from marginalized backgrounds — including racial and ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ community — feel welcomed and that they’re being treated fairly in areas such as housing and employment.
To house the city’s homeless population, she thinks the city needs to improve its coordination between a number of different groups and work to address other systemic problems such as shortages of affordable housing and behavioral health services. While she understands that taxes can be a challenging expense for some residents, she said that it’s important to recognize the value of well-funded schools and services, which can help draw families to the Queen City.
Davitt, a Democrat who has chaired the council for the past year, said she is seeking reelection to keep making progress on initiatives that have started during her first term, including improvements to the public bus system, work to encourage more affordable housing, the proposed equity committee and research into the creation of an affordable municipal broadband network.
“I feel like the city is really in the midst of a reawakening of what we are and who we are,” said Davitt, 40, who works for the Bangor Public Library. “I feel like I want to be a part of that. I feel like I’m able to hear from folks across the board.”
Davitt recognizes the economic hurdles before the city, but she doesn’t have a clear sense how the local budget could change and said state lawmakers should finally honor a law that requires more revenue sharing with municipalities. While Bangor has more work to do to find housing and shelter for its homeless population, she also expressed hope that surrounding communities whose residents end up on the city’s streets would contribute to the solution.
Davitt said that ensuring people from underrepresented backgrounds feel welcome in Bangor will be essential to attracting more of a permanent workforce to drive the economy. She gave the example of immigrants who come here for jobs at the region’s health care providers but decide to leave if they don’t feel safe or represented.