2015-11-06 / Front Page

Residents elect both new and familiar faces

Election 2015
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH/SOUTH PORTLAND – In municipal elections held Tuesday, Nov. 3 it was a good year to be an incumbent, or to have significant name recognition.

In South Portland, Mayor Linda Cohen won re-election to the District 4 seat on the city council, fending off a challenge from local Realtor Andrew Snyder, capturing 71 percent of the vote (2,785 to 1,127).

“I think the turnout could have been higher, but I think it was a little higher than what the state average might have been,” Cohen said Tuesday, referring to the 22.7 percent of registered voters who cast ballots.

“I’m just very excited to go back to the council and continue the good work we’ve started,” she said.

Meanwhile, Snyder said Wednesday morning that while he would have liked to have won, he would have been “frankly, very surprised” had he been able to knock off Cohen, the sitting mayor well-known for decades of service as city clerk in both South Portland and Portland, from her perch.

“All I can say about the election is we did a good campaign,” he said. “Obviously, we were not successful, but it was always going to be an uphill battle. I am sad that only 22 percent of the population of South Portland was motivated enough to come out to vote. Still, I’m glad I ran. There were a lot of positives. A lot of people seemed to resonate with my message that South Portland needs to tighten up its game and run more efficiently.”

Meanwhile, in District 3, Eben Rose, who has made a name for himself as a regular at the council rostrum in recent years, bested local business owner Ernie Stanhope Jr., taking 62 percent of the vote (2,476 to 1,500). Rose walked away with the race in the easternmost wards (Districts 1 and 2) where he won by as much as 70.1 percent. However, in combined voting for the central wards (Districts 3 and 5, both of which vote at the community center) the tally was much closer, with Rose on top by 54.3 percent. Meanwhile, in westernmost District 5, Rose took the prize with 59.5 percent of the ballots.

Participation dropped considerably as the polling places moved west. Nearly 1,000 people voted in Districts 1 and 2, while an average of 742 weighed in at Districts 3 and 4, but in District 5, home to the city’s poorer and immigrant communities, 361 residents cast ballots.

Neither Rose nor Stanhope returned multiple calls Tuesday night requesting comment.

In balloting for the South Portland Board of Education, unchallenged incumbents Richard Matthews and Tappan Fitzgerald sailed to wins in Districts 3 and 5, respectively.

In the one contested race, which featured a battle of political newcomers, Key Bank branch manager Libby Reynolds squeaked out a victory over advertising executive Matthew Perkins. Reynolds prevailed with 53.4 percent of the vote (1,898 to 1,637).

Cape Elizabeth

Across the border in Cape Elizabeth, there was a hotly contested race for three seats on the town council, with a pack of seven candidates vying for the voter nod. However, the three winners broke away from the rest by a wide margin, with incumbent Jessica Sullivan (1,372 votes) and former councilor Sara Lennon (1,273) besting the lot, closely followed by marketing executive Jamie Garvin (1,262).

Rounding out the field were Ralph “Alex” Miller (764), Victoria Volent (596), Imogene Altznauer (486) and Roger Bishop (445).

Lennon, who returns to the council after a previous stint from 2006 to 2012, said she, too, noticed the disparity between the haves and the have-nots in the vote totals.

“It’s a wider divide than I’ve seen before,” she said. “To be honest, I was very surprised when I looked at it and I really can’t figure out why there was such a big gap. I guess I’m going to speculate name recognition played a part, to a certain degree.

“But I’m grateful to all the people who came out to vote today and I’m looking forward to working collaboratively with a great group of councilors,” Lennon said. “And, as I promised in my campaign, I am going to solicit views from the public and try to represent the views of all the people who live Cape Elizabeth.”

Garvin expressed similar sentiments.

“I’m obviously very excited and very appreciative of the support from a wide range of residents in town,” he said. “I’m eager to get working with my fellow candidates who won and the other members of the council.”

Garvin said the three winners in Tuesday’s vote represented “an interesting mix of the new, the old, and coming back again.”

“I don’t want to read too much into it, but maybe the voters wanted something familiar along with someone with a fresh perspective as well,” he said. “I like to think I had a message that resonated with folks in terms of my approach and some of the ideas I have.”

Garvin credited his breaking away from the pack to a strong social media campaign on top of such traditional tropes of Cape Elizabeth politics. And, like Lennon, Garvin supposed name recognition helped, given that his wife is a native Caper and his inlaws still live in town.

“I’m guessing that I had some broad recognition across a couple of large demographic groups because of that,” he said.

Still, fourth-place finisher Alex Miller said Garvin simply out-hustled his fellow candidates.

“I think Jamie Garvin ran a suburb campaign,” he said. “I think he simply wanted it the most, he worked really hard, and the electorate rewarded him for that.”

Miller declined to express any disappointment.

“I really got a lot out of running,” he said. “I learned a lot and it was really fun for me to get close to the issues in town. I congratulate the three who won and I think the fact that there were so many people running is a great sign of the people’s interest in the town and its future.”

The school board race was much closer. Three seats were open there as well and the forth place finisher, William Gross, fell short by 66 votes.

Winning the election were yoga teacher and classroom volunteer Heather Altenburg (with 1,618 votes), former school board member Elizabeth Scifres (1,594) and John Voltz (1,306), who came to prominence this past spring when he circulated a petition to oppose council cuts to the school budget. Gross, a retired engineer who has volunteered in physics classes at the high school for the past seven years, received 1,240 votes in his third attempt at office.

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