2016-11-11 / Community

Newcomer wins South Portland city council seat

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — In heavy voting traffic fueled by a hotly contested race for U.S. president, South Portland residents propelled political newcomer Susan Henderson to a seat on the city council alongside incumbent Maxine Beecher.

The two triumphed in a seven-way race for two at-large seats on the council in a race that saw turnout top 75.6 percent of registered voters.

“With a field of seven, I wasn’t sure if I could win, quite honestly, because the vote is so split, and because we have so many factions that are at work in this city,” Beecher said at city hall, moments after fi- nal results were announced by City Clerk Emily Scully.

“It’s just a lucky day, that’s all,” she said, adding that of her five campaigns for city council, “I worked harder in this one than I have in any of them.”

“I’m just grateful for everything and everyone who came out to vote,” Beecher said. “Thank God it was a beautiful day. I feel very fortunate.”

While Beecher was at city hall awaiting results, Henderson took returns amid a crowd of supporters at the Hillside Avenue home of Linden Thigpen – a group that included Councilors Brad Fox and Eben Rose.

“She hasn’t been sworn in yet, so this isn’t an illegal meeting,” Rose joked.

“I’m really very excited,” Henderson said of the results. “I want to thank the voters for their confidence in me and I plan to repay them by being an excellent advocate for all of them.”

A retired professor in the department of nursing at Saint Joseph’s College, Henderson was running her first race for public office.

“It was an amazingly busy experience,” Henderson said, noting that she got invaluable advice from supporters in grass-roots advocacy group Protect South Portland, including Thigpen, Rachel Berger, and MJ Ferrier, among others.

“I really had no idea what to do and they were able to say, well, you need to do this, and this, and this,” Henderson said.

As an example, Henderson said she’d initially tried to save money by having her campaign signs printed only on one side. Her advisers pointed out that yard signs work best when placed so they can be read when approached from either direction.

On the subject of signs, Beecher pressed fellow candidate Louis Maietta Jr. in the moments after results came in to donate his. A semi-retired beautician who now spends much of her time as a backyard bee keeper, Beecher said the signs could be recycled for use in bee hives.

“The Cumberland County Beekeepers Association can really use them,” she said, having already turned to new campaigns.

Maietta, who placed second in combined District 3 and 4 balloting at the South Portland Community Center, finished fourth overall.

“I’m glad it’s over,” he said. “The city couldn’t lose. There were seven good candidates. So, I feel good about it. And I’m not walking away. I’m still going to be involved. There are plenty of committee positions that are vacant.”

Kate Lewis, who came in third, trailing Henderson by 58 votes, said she also is not walking away from public service following her first run for office. Lewis said she plans to run next year for the District 2 seat now held by Patti Smith, who will be forced to sit out the race due to term limits, after three consecutive terms.

“I feel like for somebody who has never run for office and has only lived here for 10 years, that I had a pretty good showing,” Lewis said. “I thought it was a great race. I loved getting out into every neighborhood in South Portland. I am very grateful to the hundreds of people who put me on the ballot and the thousands of people who voted for me.”

Lewis said that despite the loss, she found the experience of running for office to be a rewarding one.

“It felt really good to have interactions with thousands of voters who were really paying attention to what the issues were, and to what the stances of the candidates were,” she said. “I feel like people really were thoughtful about their votes. It was very obvious to me that democracy is alive and well in the city of South Portland. I met a ton of people and made several new friends and learned a lot more about my city. I would not take back any minute of it.”

Before her next race, Lewis will be serving the city in other ways. At the annual meeting of the South Portland Land Trust on Wednesday, Nov. 16, Lewis is slated to assume presidency of the organization.

Rounding out the field Tuesday were current and former school board members Rick Carter and James Gilboy, with former city councilor Michael Pock trailing the pack. All three technically finished behind an eighth name that showed up in the final results, “Blank Ballots.”

South Portland had a perennial problem with its city council races. Residents living anywhere in the city can vote in all city council races, but many often believe they can only vote on races in their district. The five voting districts are used only to limit who can run for each position, not who can vote. That wasn’t the issue this year that it usually is, with both seats being at-large and open to candidates living anywhere in the city. However, when there are multiple candidates on the ballot, some voters don’t realize they are able to cast more than one vote. For example, residents could vote for two of the seven at-large candidates, but many only have checked one box. That, compiled with those who took a ballot out of interest in other races and referendum questions, but did not weigh in on the city council race at all, left 3,656 potential votes on the table – enough to have tipped the scales in favor of any one of the seven candidates.

Meanwhile, there were 157 write-in votes. However, Scully said who drew write-in honors will not be known until a final hand count of the ballots, which are initially tabulated in counting machines.

One race that will be carefully checked for write-ins, Scully said, is the race for the District 1 seat on the South Portland Board of Education. Carter gave up that position to run for city council and no one else filed nomination papers to seek the job. That prompted Jennifer Kirk to stage a formal write-in campaign. Kirk, who works as youth services provider at the South Portland Boys and Girls Club, said she stepped in out of a sense of civic duty, because she felt people should also have someone to vote for.

“I did not want people thinking no one in District 1 cared,” she said.

According to Scully, there were 1,411 write-in votes, far more than the usual amount for a school board race, making it probable that Kirk will win the seat. However, that would not be known for certain until sometime Wednesday evening, after the deadline for this week’s Sentry.

In one other local race, Otis Thompson walked away with the District 5 seat on the school board, as the only candidate on the ballot.

Beecher, Henderson, Thompson and most likely Kirk will be sworn in during inauguration ceremonies Monday, Dec. 5 at city hall.

Cape Elizabeth

The school board race in Cape Elizabeth

was similarly uncontested, with two candidates running for two open positions. Incumbent Susana Measelle Hubbs and newcomer Kimberly Carr will both join the board, which announced in late October that it plans to re-open the search for a new superintendent, with advertisements for the job going out this month.

According to school board chairman Elizabeth Scifres, the new board is expected to begin interviewing applicants in January, with the goal of naming a new superintendent by late March.

Howard Colter, recently retired superin- tendent of the Mount Desert Island school system has been filling in since July 1, after the board’s chosen finalist to replace Meredith Nadeau, who left for a job in New Hampshire, declined the offer.

There was an odd man out in Cape’s town council race. In a three-way race for two open seats, Shannon Auritt finished third with 1,817 votes, behind incumbent Caitlin Jordan (4,142 votes) and Penny Jordan (3,940 votes). The two Jordans are unrelated, but both happen to operate family farms in town and both will now be part of the council’s own search process, as it seeks to replace retiring town manager Michael McGovern, who is scheduled to depart his post at year’s end, after 31 years.

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