2014-10-17 / Front Page

Educators square off in council race

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The race to replace Mayor Jerry Jalbert on the South Portland City Council pits two career educators against one another for the District 5 seat.

Rollins Way resident Brad Fox, 66, got into teaching as a second career. The New York City native initially worked at his own video production company when some riot footage he and two friends shot ended up on the local news. That led to several years of producing news segments on a freelance basis, with clients that included CNN. But when his partner took a job with a cable news company, Fox returned to school to finish his degree. He ended up teaching, but within a year turned to the administrative end, logging more than 20 years, first as an assistant principal, and later in the top job. Fox spend his last three years as head of the  Juvenile Court and Community School in Solano County, California, a facility very similar to the Long Creek Youth Development Center. Since moving to Maine five years ago, he has served as an education consultant, but worked primarily as a substitute teacher in the local school system.

Fox says he jumped into the city council race in order to serve as an advocate for the west end community, made up largely of people, like himself, who are renters.

“I got very involved in my community, but always felt like we were another planet over here,” he said. “We have a very diverse population, and part of what I want to do is get my community more involved in civic activity. I’m good at coming up with ideas and getting them implemented, so I thought maybe from the council I could help come up with ways to get the west end more connected with the rest of South Portland.

“I want to bring the communities together somehow,” he said, noting that some 60 languages are spoken in South Portland. “I’d like to maybe set up a diversity committee on the council to start looing at outreach and ways of connecting people for the betterment of the community. We can all learn from one another.”

By contrast, Fox’s opponent, Sandy Hill Road resident Alan Livingston, 64, says he has no particular goals, if elected. A SoPo resident from age 5, serving on the council is simply a way to serve the city he loves. Apart from a few years pursuing higher income in sales, Livingston has logged his entire career in education as a math teacher, first in South Portland and, for the past 17 years, at Cheverus High School in Portland. Livingston spent one year on the South Portland Board of Education before winning election to the city council in 2010. He stepped down after one term, however, saying he wanted to focus more of his time on Cheverus.

Livingston says he always planned to return to local politics after retirement, assuming he’d step back into the ring once Jalbert termed out. However, Jalbert’s surprise decision to retire after a single term changed the timetable and Livingston threw his hat back into the race just days before the filing deadline.

“The city has been good to me, and if I can give back, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I’m not coming in with any set agendas, I just want to do what’s best for the city.”

“I’d like to think there’s something more we can do, whether we freeze seniors’ taxes at some point, or something like that,” he said.

The District 5 race initially had a third candidate. However, after qualifying for the ballot, freelance photographer Adrian Dowling withdrew from the race, citing “personal reasons.”

Tar Sands

The big issue in South Portland, having both local and international implications, has been the effort by environmentalists to block diluted bitumen, or “tar sands” from entering the city via the Portland Pipe Line connection to Canada.

Fox, who has been endorsed by activist group Protect South Portland, says he voted for the Waterfront Protection Ordinance and is a supporter of the Clear Skies Ordinance.

“I want to make sure that we keep the skies clear and that we keep moving South Portland in that kind of environmentally friendly direction,” he said. “I think we need to move toward solar and wind and all the alternative forms of energy. I think that’s an easy thing to see, unless you have a vested interest in the money.”

However, Fox said he does not yet know enough about the long-term recommendations of South Portland’s Draft Ordinance Committee to offer an opinion.

“I can’t answer that,” he said. “I still have a lot of catching up to do on some of the issues.”

Livingston, who was on the council when it adopted the post-WPO moratorium, says he supports the resulting Clear Skies Ordinance.

“From what I understand,it just prevents crude oil from being exported from South Portland, which of course includes tar sands. That’s it,” he said.

However, Livingston also said the city council “did the right thing” by holding off on long-term recommendations that would have rezoned property belonging to Portland Pipe Line.

“It almost seemed like that was directed right at the pipeline, as if saying, ‘We’d like you to leave the city,’” he said, adding he felt the Draft Ordinance Committee went beyond its initial charge by the council.

“They did a great job and the process was very transparent, and I’m happy with what they did, but I’m glad the council said no, we’re not going to go that far.”

Marijuana

Livingston says he opposes the referendum on the November ballot to decriminalize possession of marijuana for recreational use in South Portland.

“It all comes down to the family unit,” he said. “I have to believe that if parents are smoking it, that will influence the kids.”

More importantly, Livingston says, he’s interested in pursuing a charter change that would have let the city council deny the citizen’s petition that got the marijuana issue before voters. York was able to deny a similar petition presented there, and South Portland should have had the same power to deny an ordinance change that conflicts with state and federal law, he said. In the end, Livingston sees the local initiative as a means to manipulate a planned statewide referendum in 2016 by promoting success on the municipal level.

“That’s their game plan,” he said. “And the thing is, you get these smaller elections and you can get people voting who weren’t intending to vote. You can get carload after carload of people brought to the polling stations to register that day and vote on that one issue. I’ve seen that happen in South Portland in other elections and that bothered me. That’s why I don’t want South Portland to be a proving ground for issues that people want to take to other parts of the state.”

By contrast, Fox said he supports the marijuana measure.

Prohibition laws have not worked, said Fox, who thinks that  Maine should follow the lead of other states, such as Colorado, which have legalized the drug. “So far, I have not seen nor heard any real negatives about that,” he said. 

“I’ve had so much experience dealing with drug and alcohol problems in the schools,” he said. “But the bottom line for me is that, while I don’t want to see drugs in the schools, I also don’t want to see kids or parents get arrested for marijuana use, creating hardships on those families. So, I’m going to vote yes.”

School spending

The largest chunk of local spending, accounting for more than 60 percent of local property tax bills, is dedicated to public education. Control of the various line items is the purview of the school board, but the city council does have the final say-so over the bottom line, which has led to some testy meetings between councilors and school directors in the recent past. Asked where they would draw the line on future spending hikes, neither candidate would give a number, although both promised their experience would help them to know too much from just enough.

“One thing the voters will get from me is someone who understands school budgets,” said Fox, who said he’d hope to serve as the councils “expert” on the topic.

Fox described himself as “pretty pragmatic,” while still supporting education.

“If you’re going to put money into programs, you want to make sure those programs work well for kids,” said Fox, adding that he’d be able to help his fellow councilors separate “wants from needs” in the school budget.

Although Livingston says it’s not why he’s running, he admits to being “surprised and disappointed” by the 3 percent tax increase in South Portland this year, driven in large part by a $1.5 million increase in school spending.

“I’m in favor of the schools, but in the same token I’m not in favor of waste,” he said. “Obviously, I’m a teacher. I would like to see our educational system be the best it can be, but I do have some concerns, that I have expressed in the past, with the leadership over there and with how money is being spent, although I understand there are a lot of fixed costs that can’t really be addressed by the board.”

Development

Livingston supports redevelopment of the public works complex on O’Neil Street as a housing development. The armory, he says, would best serve the public as a recreation center or public ice arena. The next neighborhood that should be redeveloped by the city should be Pleasantdale, he said, although he favors first waiting to gauge the impact of the Main Street rebuild in Thornton Heights. A parking garage or high-rise building might get his support, he said, “in the right place.”

“I’m not closed-minded about anything” he said.

Fox said he supports redevelopment work done in Knightville and now ongoing in Thornton Heights, and hopes the city will next turn its attention to Redbank and Brick Hill areas in hopes of giving those areas more of the village feel enjoyed by the more historic neighborhoods on the city’s east end. He also is “very excited” about the greenery being planted near the mall in hopes of mitigating damage to the Long Creek watershed and said he’d like to see an expansion of community gardens.

“My idea for the armory is for a huge, organic, fresh food marketplace, although I know the Public Market in Portland did not last,” he says.

Governor’s race

City council races are non-partisan, but with a gubernatorial race also on the ballot, political leanings are in evidence.

Fox, a registered Democrat who calls himself “a pretty strong Franklin Roosevelt liberal,” said he supports Mike Michaud in the Maine gubernatorial race. “I’d probably put a sign up if I had any place to put one,” he said, acknowledging that he voted for Eliot Cutler in 2010, but is not this year out of fear the Cape Elizabeth attorney could again act as a spoiler, leading to Paul LePage’s re-election.

“I think Mike Michaud is a pretty good, solid candidate and would be a good governor,” he said.

Livingston, an Independent not registered in either major party, describes himself as a “conservative moderate.” He’s currently torn between Gov. LePage and Eliot Cutler.

“I’m so tired of the two-party system,” he said. “I wish we could start an American Party, or another party that just says, let’s do what’s right. It’s this ridiculous voting on party lines that bothers me tremendously. It’s sad. There’s so much that could be done if we’d all get along. But no, we’re so proud of being part of a party and thinking everything about our party is right and therefore yours is wrong. It’s sickening, I think.”

Still, Livingston thinks LePage “deserves another chance.” “We gave President Obama another chance. And LePage has made some tough decisions to fix things that he was left with John Baldacci, to be honest. We all agree that LePage is not a great public speaker, but I respect a lot of what he’s actually done, as far as paying things down and not running up the debt.”

Elevator pitch

Asked to give their best “elevator pitch,” or short, pithy reason why voters should choose him over his opponent, both candidates declined to sling mud, confessing they don’t know each other at all.

“I would be a voice for people who may not have been represented in the past,” said Fox. “My understanding is that no one who is a renter has ever been on a council. I want to come at things in a positive way of getting more people involved in the city. 

“What voters would get from me is a positive attitude,” he said. “That would be my main pitch, and also protecting South Portland from environmental damage and furthering the recent good work that’s been done.”

Meanwhile, Livingston said he is a known quantity.

“I’m not a rookie. I know what I’m getting into,” he said. “The learning curve will not be difficult for me because I’ve done it. I’ve lived in South Portland most of my life and had success in leadership roles.”

 

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