October 16, 2013

Trio seeks three-year term as Westbrook mayor

A Republican and an independent hope to unseat the Democrat and earn the city’s new office term.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A restaurant owner and the grandson of a former Westbrook mayor are both hoping on Nov. 5 to unseat the city’s current mayor, who is seeking her third term.

James Tranchemontagne and Ernest Porell are challenging Colleen Hilton, and the winner will serve a newly extended three-year term.

An extension of the term length from two years was among changes to the city’s charter approved by voters last year. In another change, the candidates’ party affiliations will no longer appear on the ballots.

Still, Hilton, a Democrat, and Porell, a Republican, were nominated by their respective parties. Tranchemontagne, a former Republican who is now unenrolled, had to collect signatures to get his name on the ballot.

Tranchemontagne is the owner of The Frog & Turtle restaurant on Bridge Street. Porell owns and manages the Armory Apartments on Main Street.

Both men have run for office before. They each tried to unseat incumbent Dotty Aube for Ward 4 city councilor and lost – Tranchemontagne in 2009 and Porell in 2011.

Hilton, who was a longtime member of the Westbrook School Committee, unseated then-mayor Bruce Chuluda in 2009 and defeated him again in 2011.

Hilton, 57, is the chief executive officer of VNA Home Health and Hospice in South Portland. She said she wants to continue serving as mayor to see through projects and changes that she initiated in the past term.

“I really want to ensure that the path that Westbrook’s on and the improvements that are being made really stick,” she said.

Hilton said those include negotiations with Sappi Fine Paper to remove its Saccarappa Dam and further enhance recreation and economic development along the Presumpscot River.

She also said there are “exciting business prospects” in the works, but wouldn’t be more specific.

All of those talks, she said, are “delicate” and could be jeopardized by a change in leadership.

Porell, however, doesn’t want to see the city continue in the same direction.

Although he called Hilton “a terrific person,” he said that “when it comes to her vision of how to grow the city, I disagree.”

Porell, 44, believes proposed projects such as the reconfiguration of the Bridge Street bridge and the building of a water park in the Presumpscot River are extras that should come after Westbrook’s downtown is booming again.

The focus now, he said, should be to “enable businesses to grow here, especially on Main Street.”

He’d like to see more signs along William Clarke Drive, letting motorists known about what’s in the downtown. Now, he said, people pass right by unaware of the shops and restaurants that are a few feet away.

“When the downtown is doing very well and people will want to come to this town, then property values will increase throughout the town,” Porell said.

Another way to make the city more attractive, he said, is to eradicate the drug problem.

Porell, the grandson of a former Westbrook mayor with the same name, was born and raised in Westbrook. He remembers feeling safe riding his bike throughout the city. That’s not the case for kids anymore, he said.

He has an idea to offer cash rewards for turning in drug dealers, in hopes that addicts would come to police and seek help, which the city would provide.

“I want the drug community to turn on itself and have no trust, so it makes it a very uncomfortable place to do business,” he said.

Ultimately, Porell’s goal would be “to turn Westbrook back to what it was,” he said.

Tranchemontagne’s main focus as mayor would be the city’s financial situation.

Like Porell, Tranchemontagne was complimentary of Hilton as a person, calling her “an awesome lady.” But, he said, “her handling of the city’s finances has been poor.”

(Continued on page 2)

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