2015-12-11 / Community

New South Portland mayor old hat in position

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


South Portland Mayor Tom Blake, inaugurated into his third term Monday, stands in front of his portrait, which hangs on the wall of council chambers alongside those of other recent mayors, including current city councilors Maxine Beecher, Claude Morgan and Patti Smith. (Duke Harrington photo) South Portland Mayor Tom Blake, inaugurated into his third term Monday, stands in front of his portrait, which hangs on the wall of council chambers alongside those of other recent mayors, including current city councilors Maxine Beecher, Claude Morgan and Patti Smith. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — For the third time in the past seven years, the person holding the mayoral gavel in South Portland is Ferry Village resident Tom Blake.

The unanimous choice of his peers on the city council, Blake took office to start his one-year term during inauguration ceremonies held Monday afternoon at city hall.

“It is not every day that one has the privilege to serve as their community’s mayor. To have that honor for a third time truly humbles me,” he said.

Blake is just the fourth person in the past 30 years to serve a third term as mayor of South Portland. Other recent triple-hitters were Ralph Howard in 1988, 1990, and 1992; Linda Boudreau, who was mayor in 1996, 1999 and 2004; and James Soule, elected in 1991, 1993 and 2008. Blake previously was mayor in 2009 and 2013.


Above, Richard Matthews, chairman of the South Portland Board of Education, new school board member Libby Reynolds, and returning member Tappan Fitzgerald, are sworn into office during inauguration ceremonies at city hall Monday. Left, city clerk Emily Carrington, right, looks on during inauguration ceremonies as South Portland Mayor Tom Blake presents outgoing mayor Linda Cohen with her official portrait, which will hang on the wall of council chambers. (Duke Harrington photos) Above, Richard Matthews, chairman of the South Portland Board of Education, new school board member Libby Reynolds, and returning member Tappan Fitzgerald, are sworn into office during inauguration ceremonies at city hall Monday. Left, city clerk Emily Carrington, right, looks on during inauguration ceremonies as South Portland Mayor Tom Blake presents outgoing mayor Linda Cohen with her official portrait, which will hang on the wall of council chambers. (Duke Harrington photos) A South Portland native — SPHS Class of 1970 — Blake is a retired city firefighter who logged 27 years eating smoke and saving lives until hanging up his helmet in 2005. Now 64, he has been an adjunct professor at Southern Maine Community College for the past 30 years, founded the paramedic program there in 1995 and served as its director during its first decade. Today, Blake teaches a class in Maine history at SMCC while serving as an at-large member of the city council. He also continues to be an active participant in the Ferry Village Neighborhood Conservation Association, which he helped create in 1985.

Blake has been on the city council since 2007. Following the expiration of this third go-round in the mayoral chair next November, he will be termed out of office, having clocked three consecutive, threeyear terms on the council. He will need to sit out at least one year before potentially running for re-election in District 1 in 2017.

Perhaps unusual for an inaugural address, especially one that marks the looming end to nearly a decade in elective office, Blake told the crowd packed into council chambers Monday that he has no legacy to pursue, and no pet project to push.


Posing for their 2015-2016 class photo following inauguration ceremonies at city hall Monday are members of the South Portland City Council and the city’s administrative leadership team, including, front row from left, Linda Cohen (District 4), Mayor Tom Blake (at-large), and City Clerk Emily Carrington; and, back row from left, City Manager Jim Gailey, Patti Smith (District 2), Eben Rose (District 3), Claude Morgan (District 1), City Attorney Sally Daggett, and Maxine Beecher (at-large). Absent from photo: Brad Fox (District 5). (Duke Harrington photo) Posing for their 2015-2016 class photo following inauguration ceremonies at city hall Monday are members of the South Portland City Council and the city’s administrative leadership team, including, front row from left, Linda Cohen (District 4), Mayor Tom Blake (at-large), and City Clerk Emily Carrington; and, back row from left, City Manager Jim Gailey, Patti Smith (District 2), Eben Rose (District 3), Claude Morgan (District 1), City Attorney Sally Daggett, and Maxine Beecher (at-large). Absent from photo: Brad Fox (District 5). (Duke Harrington photo) “For the upcoming year, I envision no new major initiatives,” he said.

Instead, Blake told his fellow councilors that, rather than look for new courses to add to an existing buffet of legislative needs, their job over the coming year should be to instead clear a few things off of their collective plate.


Members of the South Portland Board of Education, along with new Superintendent Ken Kunin, bottom right, posing following inauguration ceremonies at city hall Monday, include Richard Matthews (District 5), bottom left, re-elected as board chairman, and, back row from left, Sara Goldberg (District 2), Rick Carter (District 1), Karen Callaghan (at-large), Libby Reynolds (District 4), and Tappan Fitzgerald (District 5). Absent from photo: Mary House (atlarge). (Duke Harrington photo) Members of the South Portland Board of Education, along with new Superintendent Ken Kunin, bottom right, posing following inauguration ceremonies at city hall Monday, include Richard Matthews (District 5), bottom left, re-elected as board chairman, and, back row from left, Sara Goldberg (District 2), Rick Carter (District 1), Karen Callaghan (at-large), Libby Reynolds (District 4), and Tappan Fitzgerald (District 5). Absent from photo: Mary House (atlarge). (Duke Harrington photo) “We have a lot happening right now in South Portland that we need to focus on to assure successful completion,” he said. “In fact, we have a backlog of workshop items that need our attention. Councilors, we need to roll up our sleeves and work hard to reduce that list.”

Still, after ticking off 13 outstanding items that need to be addressed (see sidebar), Blake did make one new proposal. As mayor, Blake said he intends to form an ad-hoc committee charged with brainstorming ways to solicit greater involvement by young people in city government — a demographic he said is woefully underrepresented on South Portland’s many volunteer boards and committees.

“I’ve looked around at some meetings and realized, I’m the youngest one there,” he said. “Here we are, planning our future without the involvement of the people we are planning it for — our youth.”

Blake said he has already reached out to representatives from Southern Maine Community College, Kaplan University, the South Portland School Department, and City Clerk Emily Carrington, for ideas on how to involve young people in the pubic process.

“All are excited to tackle this charge and to bring a recommendation back to this council for possible action,” he said. “You will be hearing more on this exciting and necessary initiative.”

Blake also noted two key staffing decisions that need to be made, one of which is a direct-hire of the city council. City assessor Elizabeth Sawyer has given her resignation, while Fire Chief Kevin Guimond served his last day Nov. 20. In the past year, South Portland has seen new faces come on board in the roles of city clerk, assistant city manager and superintendent of schools. The council also this past year authorized creation of a new sustainability coordinator job to lead green initiatives.

Unfinished business

The punch-list of items tallied off by incoming South Portland Mayor Tom Blake during his inauguration speech given at city hall Monday, Dec. 7, which he said the city council needs to address and complete during the coming year, included the following 13 bullet points:

 “Immediate establishment” of a waterfront advisory committee,

 Continued to oversee development of the new Public Services Complex being built on Highland Avenue,

 Determine a future use for the current public works complex on O’Neal Street,

 Complete a host of property acquisitions and public access projects, including Old Joe’s Pond, Dow’s Woods, Main Street Park, the Greenbelt to Hinckley Park connector trail, and Barberry Creek Woods,

 Address issues of homelessness and spiraling housing costs within the city,

 Adopt regulations for “pesticides, plastics and polystyrenes,”

 Enhance the city’s fiber optic network in order to pursue business development opportunities,

 Develop a plan replace Memorial Middle School, including the possibility of merging it and Mahoney Middle School into a single new building,

 Support the efforts of a new coalition formed to reduce substance abuse in South Portland,

 Improve pedestrian and bicycle lanes through the city, including a proposed overpass at Broadway and Waterman Drive,

 Manage with the legal fallout from passage of the Clear Skies Ordinance that banned tar sands from the city, and work to assure all petroleum companies in South Portland have the financial means to clean up after any closure or spill,

 Accept and support a new economic development plan now in the drafting stages,

 Explore recommendations of the city’s conservation commission to reduce energy and further shrink South Portland’s carbon footprint.

“These are great opportunities for our community,” Blake said of the new hires. “Let us continue to search wide and far for the best possible candidates so that we can remain ahead of the curve and keep South Portland on our current path.”

Meanwhile, on the topic of going green, Blake addressed continued strife in the city between South Portland’s petroleum-based portside economy and environmentally conscious residents, many of whom are relative newcomers to the city. During his last term as mayor, Blake was a leader in the drive to ban diluted bitumen, more popularly known as tar sands, from entering city ports. However, while he remains a staunch environmentalist, Blake noted in his inaugural address how that effort crated a rift within the city — not to mention an ongoing lawsuit. That’s a division he said the council must now work to heal.

“Our populace has asked us to continue on our sustainable path, a path where we are leaders in the state,” Blake said. “Standing in our way is a conflict that continues to be an ongoing struggle and a handicap in our community.

“Over 100 years ago, our forefathers decided the best future for South Portland was based on a retail, commercial and industrial path. Their vision was correct for the time. But today, we are seeing a revolving conflict between residents and industry. From the Irving Oil conflict in the ’90s, to the tar sands issue, to the current propane issue, these conflicts are expensive, time consuming for staff and the council, and they pit citizens against businesses, and even citizens against citizens.

“We simply cannot continue to be progressive without a greater attempt in conflict prevention,” Blake said. “I do not have the answer, but councilors, we have got to do better. I challenge this council to think outside the box, and to work with the entire community so that we may develop a long-term solution to this reoccurring problem, because, as terrorism is a cancer in America, this conflict is a cancer in South Portland.”

Finally, on a fiscal front, Blake famously issued a call in his 2012 inaugural address for an annual tax increase of no more than 1 percent. The council nearly met that goal, at least on the municipal end, but this time around Blake was not willing to be so bold. Instead, his charge was that next year’s tax hike not exceed the average of the past three years — 1.8 percent.

“This is much lower than the surrounding area and is a credit to our talented staff,” Blake said. “But it is my sense that our taxpayers cannot pay more. This will be our great challenge, doing more with less.”

Whether the city council will be able to hold the line on taxes remains to be seen. However, there is no question the current council lineup does not lack from experience. While two members are relatively new — District 5 representative Brad Fox is entering his second year, while Eben Rose, newly elected from District 3, was sworn in this his first term Monday — each of the five remaining councilors — Maxine Beecher, Linda Cohen, Claude Morgan, Patti Smith, and Blake — have all served at least one year as mayor of South Portland.

That is believed to be a council record.

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