Mayoral forum at Hall School

While students at the Waterville Junior High School were wrapping up Spirit Week 2014 with a school-wide assembly on Oct. 24, fourth- and fifth-grade students at the Albert S. Hall School across town were at an assembly of a different nature.

The students had the opportunity to ask questions of the three candidates running for mayor in the city of Waterville. The candidates, Nick Isgro, Karen Rancourt-Thomas and Stephen Aucoin, answered inquiries about sustainability, safety, buildings and construction, education and other personal questions, such as what the candidates like about Waterville and how they hope to improve the city if elected.
Students sat on the wooden cafeteria floor with their teachers and waved at a camera that caught the forum on a video that is available on YouTube.

“First of all, clap if you are excited,” Uri Lessing, a fifth grade teacher at the Hall School, said to the students to kick things off. Lessing organized the mayoral forum so that students would be able to identify the candidates and encourage their parents to vote.

This was a unique experience for the young students. “Not everyone gets to do something like this, so I think it’s fun,” the Hall School’s Principal Barbara Jordan said to those assembled. One student from each class came to a podium to ask a question and each candidate had one minute to answer, keeping their answers short and on-point.

Isgro, a Republican, works for Skowhegan Savings Bank and is the father of three children. Rancourt-Thomas, an education tech at Waterville Junior High School and City Councilor representing D-Ward 7, is running unenrolled. Aucoin, the Democratic candidate, served two terms on the City Council (2005-2010) and is the former Housing Director at the Kennebec Valley Mental Health Center and Unit Director at the Waterville Area Boys and Girls Club.

The first question, posed by Mrs. Lovendhal’s fourth-grade class asked the candidates what inspired them to run for mayor. Their answers revealed their involvement in city affairs and their commitment to making a positive contribution to the community. Rancourt-Thomas shared a piece of advice from her father, who said, “There’s nothing that can stop you from changing the world. All you have to do is get involved.”
The candidates gave diverse answers when asked what they would do to improve Waterville. Rancourt-Thomas and Isgro focused on different ways of lowering taxes, and Aucoin said he would try to increase engagement of local citizens.

When asked what they liked most about Waterville, all three candidates said the people. Isgro recounted that when he moved back to Maine after time away, the first thing he noticed was the kindness of strangers. “This is a community that cares…We have so many things here and programs in the city that are all about our community.”

Safety, especially for Waterville youth, was another issue addressed at the forum. Isgro and Rancourt-Thomas spoke about the police force. Aucoin added that it is important for students to “Look out for each other and care for each other.”

On the topic of crime, Isgro talked about the importance of supporting our police officers and “creating an economic environment where people aren’t resorting to crime.” Rancourt-Thomas discussed the possibility of having informational sessions in the community and installing neighborhood police officers to “[stop] crimes before they even begin.” According to Aucoin, “On the whole, Waterville is right in the national average…with regard to crime….The concentration of crime really is in the South End.” He said he would put a community police officer in the South End as soon as the city could afford it.

The candidates had differing views on Pay as You Throw (PAYT), a relatively new initiative that requires residents to purchase special garbage bags in order for the city to remove their curbside waste. “I didn’t vote against the recycling,” Rancourt-Thomas said. “I voted against having to force families to buy these bags. I find them an undue burden on the families of this city. I would repeal PAYT.” Isgro said the program is saving the city thousands of dollars a week, and that recycling must continue but without the extra taxes. He said he has been investigating recycling programs in other towns like Scarborough, where residents use 50-gallon cans that are collected by a private contractor. Aucoin said the city should make its best effort to make PAYT work. “The bags are expensive, but people are pleased with the way this works,” he said.

At the end of the forum, Lessing posed the final question to the students. “What can you do?” he asked; “Who can you encourage to vote? Your parents. Give me…some applause if you’re going to talk to your parents about voting.” He was met with clapping.

The Morning Sentinel and Thomas College will be hosting a formal debate on Oct. 30 in Ayotte Auditorium at Thomas College at 6 p.m.