November 5, 2013

Crowded field vying for seven Biddeford City Council seats

A mix of political newcomers and former councilors seek office.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Sixteen candidates – including former city councilors looking to return to city government – are vying to fill seven seats on the Biddeford City Council.

The race comes at a time when many candidates say they are concerned about taxes and want to help guide the future of the former mill town. Biddeford, the largest city in York County, has seen economic development activity in the downtown mill district in the last couple years and more is expected as the city prepares to market riverfront property that formerly housed the Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator.

Ward 3 Councilor Brad Cote is running unopposed for a second term. Councilor Michael Ready is running unopposed for the Ward 7 seat. Councilor Richard Rhames is not seeking reelection to his at-large seat, leaving more room for five candidates to run for two seats.

Ward 1

Councilor Michael Swanton is seeking a second term representing Biddeford’s coastal neighborhoods. He is challenged by Ronald Peaker, a former city councilor and school committee member who frequently speaks at city meetings.

Swanton, a 61-year-old plumber, said he doesn’t think he performed well during his first year on the council, but now that the “very steep learning curve” has flattened out, he is confident he can best represent the needs of his ward. Though he said he is embarrassed that he couldn’t stop tax increases during his first term, Swanton would spend the next two years looking for ways to save money and avoid further tax hikes.

“We need to start cutting staff,” he said. “Ten years ago we had 3,000 kids in school; this year we had 2,500. It seems to me we need to start thinking about consolidating and closing a school.”

Swanton said he also wants to see the city hire a real estate broker to list the former MERC property to a larger market, “rather than wait for someone to stumble into the economic development office in Biddeford.”

Peaker, who retired from a senior management position with an auto manufacturer, said he is looking to return to the council after a decade away because of the city’s “constant spiral of runaway spending and tax increases.”

City taxpayers have seen a 13 percent increase in the past two years.

“I’ve gone through this before and the majority of the old timers running this time have the same problem, that the council is spending too much money irresponsibly,” he said.

Peaker said the city also needs to develop a comprehensive strategy for economic development.

“This city has absolutely no idea where it’s going and that’s the problem,” he said.

Ward 2

Two-term Councilor David Bourque faces a challenge for the Ward 2 seat from political newcomer Andrew Russell and John A. McCurry Jr., who served on the City Council from 1999 to 2007.

Bourque, a 57-year-old bar owner, believes the city is headed in a good direction with more economic development activity, and wants to continue to help guide Biddeford as the MERC site is developed and plans for a downtown parking garage are discussed. But Bourque said he also is focused on getting the municipal budget under control to avoid further tax increases.

“I think we need to work to get the taxes down or at least keep them from expanding,” Bourque said.

McCurry, 56, previously served eight years on the council, including two as council president. He said he decided to run for another term after he was asked by residents concerned about spending and taxes.

“Their biggest concern is that the spending is out of control,” he said. “They don’t see their paychecks going up. You see everyone else cutting, but the city keeps spending. We need to really dig into the budget and figure out where to save.”

(Continued on page 2)

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