Bruce Chuluda’s personality is an unusual one for the city’s top elected office. Uncomfortable in the spotlight, he has no swagger in his step and doesn’t speak in sound bites.

Chuluda sees himself as an average guy who is dedicated to working for a city he loves. In the last four years, he’s proven his dedication to the city. He has been popular with many Westbrook residents, who find him approachable and easy to talk to.

Communication with the public has been one of the strengths of his administration. He has opened up his office to residents on the first Saturday of every month, and many residents have taken advantage of that opportunity to have a word with the city’s top elected official.

However, his time in office has not been without controversy. Tensions between the mayor and city councilors reached a peak this fall over the mayor’s handling of a dispute between the city’s former Human Resources Director Tina Crellin and City Councilor Michael Foley, which led to Crellin’s resignation and a large severance payment from the city.

Interviewed for a profile of Chuluda in this week’s American Journal, city councilors were careful not to be critical but optimistic about the next two years. That optimism and a good working relationship will be crucial to make progress in the next two years. And, Chuluda needs to do something that hasn’t always come naturally to him – be a little bold.

Chuluda has been cautious and conservative in his first four years. He often looks to what residents and other councilors think before articulating his vision. That’s his style, and that style of leadership came as a welcome change to many residents who were looking for the city to slow down a bit after it had pursued economic development aggressively for years.

The city has had plenty of success under Chuluda. New businesses have moved to the downtown, and one of the city’s largest employers, Idexx, is expanding. Chuluda and city councilors have done a good job of keeping taxes down and maintaining services in the city.

However, plenty of challenges remain. The economy is unsteady. Years after the city proposed building an office building on Saccarappa Park, the land remains undeveloped and its future unclear. And, the mayor and city councilors have failed to compromise on a plan to improve the city’s recycling rate.

Westbrook has a promising future, with good schools and a revived downtown. The city is home to large employers that offer good jobs, like Idexx and Disability RMS, and home values continue to rise here, despite the poor housing market.

To realize that future, the city will need a strong leader at the top. As the city’s highest elected official, Chuluda is the proverbial chosen one. To do that, he’ll need to articulate a vision for the city and reach out to city councilors to build consensus. That’s not a role that’s always come naturally to him, but, with the support of the city and the dedication he’s applied to the job in previous years, he can certainly be the leader this city needs.

Brendan Moran, editor

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