A closer look at local election, referendum results

Last week, Nov. 5, Maine’s residents voted on two statewide referendum questions. Question One addressed Maine’s infrastructure, asking residents if they were in favor of a $105 million bond issue, the proceeds of which would go toward Maine’s roads, bridges, railroads, airports, transit, and ports. If the Question were to pass, the federal government would contribute an extra $137 million. 

When put to a vote, Question One passed in a landslide. Over 75 percent of voters supported the measure.

Question Two concerned an amendment to the Constitution of Maine that would expand the civil rights of persons with disabilities. If a majority voted in favor of Question Two, then they would grant persons with disabilities the option to sign petitions in an alternative manner. Like Question One, Question Two captured over 75 percent of the vote, passing by a significant margin.

 In Waterville, approximately 1,900 people voted on the statewide questions. Nearly 80 percent of residents voted in favor of both Question One and Question Two.

Several mayoral elections also took place in some of Maine’s largest cities. In Portland, four candidates pursued the mayorship. Kathleen Snyder clinched the election with 7,100 votes, a bit under 40 percent of the total vote. Lewiston saw three candidates vie for its mayoral position. Mark Cayer earned the win with over 50 percent of the vote. 

In Auburn, Jason Levesque won, as did William Doyle in Saco. Levesque captured 60 percent of the vote, while Doyle secured just under 55 percent.

In the municipal elections, Waterville had 15 positions up for grabs: four city councilor positions, three board of education positions, seven charter commision positions, and one Kennebec Water District Trustees position. 

The Ward 2 City Council race presented the first upset. Flavia Oliveira defeated incumbent Phil Bofia to secure the City Council spot. With 151 votes, Oliveira got 57 percent of the vote. Incumbent Margaret Smith ran unopposed for the City Council position in Ward 3, the ward in which Colby’s campus lies. 

In Ward 5, Richard Foss upset incumbent Jay Coelho by a sizeable 20 point margin. Leading up to this election, Ward 6’s City Council position remained vacant (Colby’s downtown apartments lie in Ward 6). Claude Francke filled the seat after securing more than 55 percent of the vote. 

Following this election cycle, Waterville’s City Council, which has seven seats, will see a total of three new councilors. In the Ward 2 Board of Education race, incumbent Greg Bazakas handedly defeated challenger Shaun Caron. Incumbent Joan Phillips-Sandy ran unopposed in Ward 3 and garnered 195 votes, while incumbent Julian Payne collected 292 votes in Ward 5. 

The majority of positions voters chose were Charter Commission spots. Catherine Weeks ran unopposed and earned the Ward 1 position. The Ward 2 Charter Commission spot was the most contested race of the election cycle. Phil Bofia defeated Maureen Austrook by seven votes. John Robertson, the race’s third candidate, acted as a potential spoiler, taking home 41 votes. Colby’s own Lutie Brown `22 captured the Ward 3 position, and Hilary Koch defeated Mayor Nicholas Isgro in Ward 4. Along with his Board of Education position, Payne won the Ward 5 Charter Commission seat. R. Arthur Finch won Ward 6’s spot, and Ronald Merrill narrowly beat Robert Vear.

In an interview with the Echo, Payne discussed his Charter Commission victory and his plans. When asked why he ran for the Charter Commission, Payne said, “I’ve been involved in politics for eight years in Waterville, and with many of the problems I see, I’ve been talking about and referring to the charter.” Once it was time for a new person to be elected to the Charter Commission, “it was imperative for me to get on there. I often refer to the City Charter for advice… I really understand the strengths and weaknesses of the charter,” Payne stated. Along with the seven members elected to the Charter Commission in this past election, the City Council must appoint three more members. Payne would like to see Isgro appointed to the commission. “I’d like to see Nick Isgro on there because he’s been navigating beside us for six years as the mayor. I think he knows a lot of the issues well,” Payne noted. 

He also commented on issues he hopes the Charter Commission can address in the near future. He asked, “do we want to keep the Republican and Democrat labels behind the candidates names?” Payne supports the removal of partisan labels from Waterville tickets. 

Another issue Payne identified pertains to the employees of the Waterville school system. “At present, you can be an employee of the Waterville school system and receive health care and benefits and vote on the same budget. And I actually think that hurts the process. It actually casts a shadow of conflict of interest over the process,” Payne said. 

The preservation of Waterville’s ward system is most important to Payne. “The main reason for me to get on the charter was that it’s imperative to keep the ward system for the community, for the residents of Waterville.” In the ward system, “you’re closer to the people you represent. You understand the neighborhood. I’ve been in this community, in Ward 5, for 25 years,” Payne stated. 

On top of that, “the poor neighborhoods often get neglected without a ward system,” Payne added. What scares Payne the most about the ward system’s absence is the essential disenfranchisement of Waterville’s residents. “Colby now has a very strong hold in Wards 3 and 6. As the election just proved in Ward 3, because Colby students could vote in Ward 3, [Lutie Brown] had a massive, massive lead on the other candidate who ran, Neal Patterson. So if you got rid of the ward system you could essentially have the whole city run by Colby students or Colby faculty,” Payne said. He added, though, “that’s not really a reflection on Colby, but it would be any institution that has that much voting power.” 

Payne talked about his fellow future Charter Commission members, too. He believes the dynamic of the commission will be interesting. Some members on the commission tried to recall the mayoral election, while he and other members actively dissuaded the recall. “It will take a lot of calm and a lot of working together to get what’s best for the city from the present bunch of candidates,” Payne said.