Two lifelong Biddeford residents – a sitting mayor with decades of political experience and a business consultant running for his first elected office – are competing to lead the city at a time of rapid economic development and revitalization.

Mayor Alan Casavant is seeking a third term and is being challenged by Daniel Parenteau, who ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in 2013. Both men say they are focused on guiding the city in a positive direction while addressing concerns about property tax increases and infrastructure.

The election comes as the city is experiencing rapid growth in its downtown and mill district, where more than $70 million in new projects have been approved since the removal of the Maine Energy Recovery Co. in 2012.

Casavant, a well-known retired teacher, has been a fixture in Biddeford politics since the 1980s, when he served on the City Council. Since then, he has represented part of Biddeford in the Maine Legislature as well as his two terms as mayor.

Although generally seen as a popular figure in the city, Casavant ran into criticism at meetings and on social media this year from those upset with the city’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse by a former city police officer. Those allegations were handed over to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which eventually said it had insufficient evidence to pursue charges against the former officer.

Some critics on social media got personal, accusing Casavant of misconduct, which he denied. Casavant nevertheless said he wants to continue to lead the city, which he says is at a critical turning point.

“It’s been very difficult because I’ve never experienced such malicious mudslinging and slander in my entire life,” he said. “I keep my mouth shut and I don’t retaliate. I want to keep Biddeford going in the right direction.”

During his first term, Casavant helped facilitate the deal that allowed the city to buy the property formerly occupied by the Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator in the mill district. The city is now considering how to redevelop that 8.5-acre riverfront lot and the developers behind the more than $70 million in new projects in that area say they would not be investing in Biddeford if the trash incinerator was still operating.

“I want to continue the forward momentum we’ve developed over the past four years in terms of changing the stereotype and paradigm of Biddeford. One could argue the city has not seen such tremendous growth in decades,” said Casavant, 63. “We’ve put Biddeford on the map. I think my administration has made people proud to be residents of Biddeford and I think that’s important.”

Casavant says he has knocked on more than 800 doors and the most common concern he hears is about property taxes and concerns by people on fixed incomes about their tax bills.

“It’s really important for people to understand the focus on mill development is because that is the best way to maximize tax generation,” he said. “If you have full mill buildings generating the maximum in property taxes, that stabilizes taxes.”

Parenteau, a 52-year-old businessman and father of four, is making his second run for office. In 2013, he finished last in a six-way race for councilor-at-large with 805 votes. Now, he says, he’s ready to serve as mayor so he can continue to give back to the community.

“My belief is that the city only succeeds if everybody benefits in some way,” he said. “There’s really never been a more important time in our history to regroup and reassess what Biddeford’s priorities are to secure Biddeford’s future growth and development.”

Parenteau said he would like to head an administration that focuses on inclusion, especially when it comes to the city budgeting process. Including people from all parts of the community can help the City Council set spending priorities early in the process, he said.

Parenteau said the most important part of his platform – and perhaps the key reason he wants to be mayor – is poverty in the city. People are often reluctant to talk about it, but more needs to be done to help people escape poverty, he said.

“Fifteen percent of all residents within the city are currently living at or below the poverty line. That’s a real issue because it’s a tough sell to me to be able to talk about downtown revitalization and not turn my eye toward the fact that we do have a fairly significant poverty problem,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. We have to address the fact that we need to invest in ourselves in order to be a stronger city.”

Parenteau said he has heard from many residents concerned about the condition of city roads and performance of schools.

He supports a $5.99 million bond for road repairs that are overdue, but says the city needs to find a way to include infrastructure work in future budgets instead of borrowing money.

Both Casavant and Parenteau support the three bond referendums on the ballot, which would allow the city to borrow more than $12 million for repairs and improvements to city hall, roads and sewers.

filed under: