2014-03-07 / Community

Dems go head to head for House seat

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – The upcoming party primary elections promise something fairly uncommon in South Portland politics — an actual contested race.

Former City Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis and political newcomer Tim Smith have both taken out papers seeking the Democratic Party nomination for State House District 33. That constituency, currently known as District 124 and served by Democrat Bryan Kaenrath, covers the western part of the city, including the Pleasantdale and Red Bank neighborhoods, the Maine Mall commercial district, and the northern parts of Cash Corner and Thornton Heights.

Kaenrath came out the worse for wear in the city’s only contested primary race in 2012, when he lost a fight with Cape Elizabeth’s Rebecca Millett to succeed Cynthia Dill, who vacated State Senate District 7 to launch a bid, ultimately unsuccessful, for the U.S. Senate.

Kaenrath was able to get on the ballot as a replacement candidate for his old seat when Democrat Andrew Capone- Sprague withdrew from the race. He then went on to defeat Republican Kevin Battle in November.

However, having now been elected to four consecutive terms, Kaenrath is barred from running a fifth time, due to term limits imposed by Maine voters in 1993.

At the Democratic Party caucus, held Sunday at South Portland Community Center on Nelson Road, Kaenrath said whoever fills his shoes as the Democratic Party standardbearer will have a tough row to hoe.

“We will literally have a battle on our hands,” he said, referring to Battle, the presumed Republican opponent.

“I won with just 52 percent of the vote last time, so this is a district that could go either way,” Kaenrath said.

“This race is considered a top priority by the state Democratic committee,” said Matt Beck, who was re-elected Sunday as chairman of the municipal Democratic committee.

On Tuesday, state Democratic Party chairman Ben Grant, of Portland, said it’s too early in the election cycle to name District 33 a “top priority,” but the race is one his side is keeping an eye on.

“We are heavily invested in keeping our majority in the House, so we will be closely watching District 33,” he said. “South Portland has been very well represented by Rep. Kaenrath and we want to make sure it stays Democratic going forward. This is an important seat, since we maintain strongholds in Portland and South Portland. We won’t want to see any GOP inroads made in those areas.”

Even so, the state party is not placing its chips with either De Angelis or Smith, betting on either as the best opponent to face Battle.

“We are not taking a position in this primary, and very rarely do in any primary,” Grant said. “As for resources, that is a decision we make much later in the year, once we have some evidence in hand of the need in this district versus other districts.”

On Monday, Republic Party State Chairman Rick Bennett, of Oxford, said his side also has yet to dedicate dollars to key races, but said he likes Battle’s chances, deeming the House 33 race a “can win,” if not a “must win.”

“There is no question that 2012 was a terrible year for Republicans statewide, but Kevin proved that even in a difficult year, he could be a formidable opponent. With things that are happening nationally, and with Gov. (Paul) LePage and (Sen.) Susan Collins at the top of the ticket, we think this is going to be a good year.”

Battle, 56, said Monday he already has collected the requisite number of signatures needed to get on the ballot, and only needs to turn them in to be validated.

Asked what he would do differently this time out, Battle said he needed to “knock on more doors,” although a bum knee worn free of cartilage from a career in the Coast Guard, plus 27 years as a South Portland beat cop, make getting around hard, even when all goes well.

“It was interesting. I did get a couple of doors slammed in my face last year as soon as they asked what party I was running for,” he said. “But most people were very nice. I learned a lot and, as a first-time candidate, I think I did OK.”

Battle said he “absolutely maybe” can win in November, and hopes only that he and his eventual opponent can “keep in friendly and not make it personal.”

“That’s what Bryan (Kaenrath) and I agreed to last year,” Battle said. “He’s a very nice guy and we didn’t attack each other at all. I’d like to see that be the case again this year. I don’t think people in Maine want any of the nastiness.”

However, before Battle, who still works as a deputy harbor master for Casco Bay, can get the chance the initiate peaceful proceedings, the Democrats will have to decide which candidate will meet him on the field.

De Angelis, 61, of Buttonwood Street, has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Maine at Orono. She has worked as a guardian ad litem and family court mediator since 2001, and has been on the adjunct faculty of Southern Maine Community College since 2002, prior to which she logged 30 years teaching in the public school system. She served two terms on the South Portland City Council, from 2003-2006 and from 2009- 2012. She was the city’s mayor in 2011.

Smith, 25, also attended the University of Maine, earning his undergraduate degree with a double major in history and philosophy. A Lewiston native, he has lived in South Portland for nearly three years, on Fillmore Avenue, and currently works as a Realtor for Maine Real Estate Network.

“Rosemarie has been good for the city, but I think the party will come out and select the best candidate for the seat,” Smith said. “I’ve always been interested in politics and it’s always been a dream of mine to get into the Legislature to help the people of Maine. I think our society at large is best served by a populace that’s enriched by programs that help them get ahead, so they can contribute to the community, rather than just doing away with the social safety net that we’ve developed.”

Describing himself as an “ardent environmentalist,” Smith said, “I would like the people to South Portland to know that I am here to fight for their interests energetically in the state Legislature, to keep health care here, to keep our environment clean and to keep jobs — clean jobs — coming into this city and the state.”

Smith said he sees his age as a positive factor in the upcoming campaign.

“Being somebody who is fresh and knows lots of young people in the area, I’d really be able to reach out to those who may be feeling disenfranchised from both parties, to be their advocate and to help them get ahead,” he said.

De Angelis, who is known for her work with young people, particularly young immigrants, through the Color of Community project, said she was urged to run by Kaenrath.

“He actually texted me to consider it because he wants there to be a good, strong candidate in there,” she said. “I think I understand the Democratic platform and I think I represent the issues of the Democratic Party. But I’m also an independent thinker enough to make decisions on my own.

“I worked at the local level for a long time,” said De Angelis. “I really loved local politics and being able to resolve things for constituents locally. This is the first time that I’ve really given any serious consideration to working at the state level. So, this would be a new venture for me. I would love to have the support of the people of South Portland and I am happy to meet with anybody to flesh out issue and concerns, to learn and know the ropes.

In her presentation to party members Sunday — about 35 people attended South Portland’s Democratic caucus — De Angelis listed her priorities as “protecting marriage equality, promoting universal healthcare and ensuring funding for education,” as well as working to “save the environment” and “support religious freedom.”

“I also think strengthening our economy and energizing our workforce are two top priorities, overall, to preserve this seat for Democrats,” said De Angelis. “We need a strong Democrat who knows this community well. I’ve lived here for 20 years and worked in this community for over 35. I am very committed to South Portland.”

“Although I grew up in Lewiston, both sides of my family are from South Portland,” said Smith, “ and I chose to move back to this great city immediately after college.

“Things in the Blaine House have been backwards to say he least for the past four years and I am running to be a voice for South Portland, to rally against the governor’s decisions on health care and revenue sharing. It’s a tough enough economy as it is for working people like myself to get by.”

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