WESTBROOK — Preparing to step down from his seat a few months early, Ward 1 Councilor Brendan Rielly is looking forward to a caucus and the choosing of his successor. He’s even been trying to get people to run for his spot, he says.

“Ideally, someone who will run in November could get some experience doing so a few months early, and make an informed decision about running in November,” Rielly said. “It also sends the message I really am done, and I am not running again.”

Rielly

Rielly, who spent 12 years of his 18-year tenure as council president, hopes to have his successor picked out before his last day, Aug. 1. 

His decision not to seek reelection again came from his desire to see some new blood on the council and to avoid getting to a point where he wasn’t giving his all to the job.

“I don’t think I am at the point where I am coasting, but I never want to get to the point where I am coasting,” he said. “I thought long and hard last time and decided to run again in part to serve with my daughter,” who was a student representative.

Rielly has seen his fair share of issues and votes come and go. Notable to him was the city taking over the industrial park on Saco Street.

“That was originally supposed to be a private development. We secured $900,000 of funding to run sewers out there to make it viable,” Rielly said. “Last minute, the owner did not want to do it. We stepped in and bought the property, took ownership and became a developer, which is not a role (cities often) take. It was a tremendous success. We’ve sold it out, brought businesses here and kept them here with that park.”

According to Rielly, the move was a contentious one and risky. But it paid off, allowing the city to diversify its tax base at a time when Sappi North America was shrinking its Westbrook presence.

“When I began on the council, the mills were over 60% of our tax base, and now they are less than 4%,” Rielly said.

Diversifying the tax base saved Westbrook from going under as Sappi  jobs were cut, he said.

“We are one of the few mill towns in Maine to survive losing their mill,” he added. “Through a lot of looking to the future and economic foresight, which began before I was in, we diversified the tax base.”

Rielly played a role in the city’s first economic summit, which brought constituents, government officials and economic leaders together to talk about Westbrook’s future.

“We were laying those building blocks early years, now we are seeing those fruits,” Rielly commented.

Rielly is noted by his peers as someone who brought his experience as an attorney to the council in a professional and fair way.

“It was an honor and pleasure working under the direction of Council President Rielly. He is the epitome of everything you want a city councilor to be, and it was wonderful really. There is no fairer man in my eyes,” said former longtime Councilor John O’Hara.

“I never felt there were any party lines at the council level. It was all of us pulling for the benefit of the citizens of the community with Rielly’s direction,” he said.

When a city councilor leaves office before his or her term is up, a caucus is held to choose a replacement and the council historically has appointed that nominee to fill the remainder of the term, according to City Clerk Angela Holmes.

“It has worked quite smoothly in the past, and I don’t anticipate this to be any different,” Council President Gary Rairdon said.

Rielly is looking ahead for the council, hoping that his replacement can get used to the seat, as critical votes will likely take place shortly after his leaving.

“We are looking at things becoming more expensive, which puts pressure on the tax rate. We have to continually find ways to provide the services we need to provide while still being conscious of the cost on taxpayers,” he said.

Further, the council will be weighing in on people new to Maine, such as the recent arrival of more than 200 asylum seekers in Portland.

“We are an aging state. We need to be all in on the future of our state,” he said. “We have to develop and nurture the people who live here already and encourage our kids to come back and build futures here, but also be open to new people coming in from other states or other countries, and in particular, every study shows us immigration brings long term economic gain.”

Rielly plans to continue being a part of the Westbrook community, and lately has been trying to get people to run as his replacement, he said.

“One of my roles has always been trying to get people to run for office. I cajoled, pleaded, begged them to run. I’ve encouraged many people to run,” Rielly said.

“It’s a good way to know the community in a different way and learn it in a way you don’t pay attention to as a teen,” Rielly said.

He looks forward to more public service in his future.

“I will take some time, I won’t go into another elected position or anything, but there is plenty to do,” he said.


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