2014-11-07 / Community

Anti-tar sands group makes good council showing

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The big winner in local elections Tuesday may have been Protect South Portland, the grassroots advocacy group that has lobbied for the past year in opposition to diluted bitumen, or “tar sands.”

Not content to rest on July’s passage of the Clear Skies Ordinance, which bans tar sands form the city by preventing the loading of crude oil onto ships along the waterfront, Protect South Portland sought to reinforce its position by supporting a slate of city council candidates.

All three, including Claude Morgan (District 1), Patti Smith (District 2), and Brad Fox (District 5) won by healthy margins at the polls Tuesday.

“If you think about it in terms of most council elections, which are fairly laid back, I suppose we did campaign somewhat aggressively, but we wanted to protect the ordinance that was passed,” said Protect South Portland spokesman M.J. Ferrier. “So we identified people who would do that and we got behind them. We put people on the street and on the telephone, and we dropped literature and did all of the things that canvassing people do.”

“I think we got good people, but they’re good people to begin with,” Ferrier added.

Morgan, a former councilor and one-time mayor, secured the widest margin of victory, capturing 62.9 percent of the vote against incumbent Michael Pock, who cast the lone vote against the Clear Skies Ordinance.

Fox, a political newcomer, defeated former city councilor Alan Livingston by a far closer margin, 4,988-4,680, while Smith ran unopposed.

“I’m really excited tonight,” said Smith, now heading into her third and final cycle before term limits kick in, and force her to sit out at least one year. “I’m really excited to be working with my new councilors. I think it’s an exciting time for South Portland. I feel as though the voters have really spoken in terms of what they’re looking for in terms of representation.”

According to Morgan, the next three years could see a host of new initiatives under the triumvirate of candidates.

“I heard door-to-door from folks that they really want the council to start taking a long vision of a progressive city — not just fixing things for a matter of three or four years, but really long term picture, and getting out in front of the problems before they dictate our conversations,” he said.

Still, despite the clear victories, each council race saw voters cast between 2,518 and 3,183 blank ballots. Very few voters skipped the governor’s race (83 blank ballots) or the question of legalizing marijuana (374 blanks), but more than 20 percent of the 12,455 ballots cast passed over council races.

South Portland allows voters to weigh in on all city council races, regardless of what district they live in. Some speculated this causes voters confusion, but City Clerk Sue Mooney said it’s more likely voters simply skip races in which they have no interest.

“I would think that most people know that if they see something on their ballot, they can vote on it,” she said. “A lot of people are only interested in the stateside races and don’t pay too much attention to local politics.”

Even so, the blank vote actually won in the school board race. With three people running for two open seats, each voter could cast two ballots, for 24,910 possible votes. Of those, 11,641 (or, 46.7 percent) were left blank. However, that doesn’t mean the school board will leave one seat empty at every meeting for the next three years. Instead, incumbents Karen Callaghan and Mary House will return to the school board, with 4,987 and 4,821 votes, respectively, to the 3,296 cast for newcomer Christopher Hershey.

In other contests, South Portland voters gave the OK (7,782-3,689) to borrowing $3.5 million to complete sewer system upgrades to the Thornton Heights area, where construction has been underway since spring.

Two charter amendments failed, however. A drive to remove residency restrictions on council appointments to the Board of Assessment Review and the Civil Service Commission failed, 4,572-5,800. The council removed similar restrictions last summer on all boards and committees not specifically mentioned in the charter. Going forward, councilors can only pick residents of their districts to fill seats on the Assessment Review and Civil Service groups. For all others, they can choose any city resident, so long as there is no more than three residents in the same district.

Voters also rejected a change of polling places. Although Districts 3 and 4 currently vote at the South Portland Community Center, which is in District 3, the city charter requires a polling place in each district. A proposal to eliminate that rule and allow the council to set polling locations at their discretion fell 3,841-6,913. If approved, the proposal also would have switched election wardens and ward clerks from elected to appointed positions.

In races for state Legislature, representatives Scott Hamann (District 32) and Terry Morrison (District 31), both Democrats, sailed to victory unopposed.

However, in District 33, the seat flipped parties, with Republican Kevin Battle beating Democrat Rosemarie De Angelis by 65 votes, 1,470-1,405.

In 2012, Battle lost to Bryan Kaenrath, who was forced out this round by term limits.

“I’ve won, and I’ve lost. Winning feels better,” said Battle, who thanked De Angelis and Green Party candidate Andrew Reddy, who captured 329 votes, for waging “a very polite campaign.”

De Angelis could not be reached Tuesday evening for comment. It is unknown if she will request a recount.

Meanwhile, the race for State Senate District 29, which covers both South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, went to incumbent Democrat Rebecca Millet. She’ll head to Augusta for a second term with 53.5 percent of the vote under her belt. Republican William DeSena won 35.3 percent while Green Mark Diehl captured 11.2 percent.

Meanwhile, in Cape Elizabeth, State House District 30 will once again be served by Democrat Kimberly Monaghan-Derrig. She locked up 63 percent of the vote against Republican Pauline Wilcox.

Finally, in the governor’s race, South Portland went all-in for Democrat Mike Michaud. He lost in the statewide result, but scored big in South Portland against Republican incumbent Paul LePage, 7,237-4,216. As in most local races, the more conservative candidate lost by a wide margin in easternmost District 1, (where Michaud won 67 percent of the vote) then gained traction as districts moved inland to District 5 (where Michaud’s margin was less than a majority, at 48.9 percent).

Independent Eliot Cutler, despite “releasing” his supporters a week before the election, still racked up 1,219 votes in South Portland.

Cutler also lost the town where he lives, getting 780 votes in Cape Elizabeth, to 2,986 for Michaud and 1,793 for LePage.

In local races, incumbent Kathy Ray and newcomer Patricia Grennon will take seats on the town council, a predictable prospect given two candidates for two open seats.

On the school board, former Cape superintendent Barbara Powers clocked her incumbent rivals, capturing 3,417 votes to 2,231 for Joanna Morrissey and 1,503 for Elizabeth Scifres. With just two seats available, Scifres lost.

Thomas Memorial Library will finally get a much-needed makeover. Despite a 2007 report that listed 102 deficiencies in the structure, parts of which date to 1,859, voters in 2012 rejected a $6 million renovation bond.

This time out, a smaller $4 million request won favor, 3,587-1,798. The approval also provides $200,000 for a “contingency account” and $150,000 to create a temporary library during reconstruction.

According to Town Clerk Debra Lane, 5,500 people voted in Cape Elizabeth, although she was not able to provide a turnout percentage by deadline for this week’s Sentry.

In South Portland, Mooney put the turnout at 66 percent, easily besting recent gubernatorial elections and increasing a trend, from 57 percent in 2006 and 61 percent in 2010.

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