Biddeford residents will vote Nov. 5 on a slate of City Council candidates that includes both longtime councilors and political newcomers.

The makeup of the council will change at a time when the city is experiencing economic growth – predominantly in the downtown mill district – and city leaders are trying to get a handle on affordable housing, homelessness and backlash from a controversial parking plan.

City Councilors Marc Lessard (at-large), Stephen St. Cyr (Ward 3) and Michael Ready (Ward 7) are running unopposed for re-election. Also running unopposed are Doris Ortiz and William Emhiser, neither of whom has held elected office before.

Four city councilors seeking another two-year term are facing challenges from newcomers who say they are motivated to run largely because of the issues that come along with a city experiencing economic revitalization.

WARD 2

Councilor John McCurry Jr., who currently serves as council president, faces a challenge from small-business owner Jon Phillips for the Ward 2 council seat.

McCurry has served a total of 14 years on the council and says his experience is valuable as councilors deal with a variety of issues, including the annual municipal budget.

“We’ve kept taxes down, but not as well as I’d like to,” said McCurry, a 62-year-old operations manager and grandfather of four.

The council has made “great strides” getting the city and schools to work well together, he said, while also supporting growth throughout the city. He sees increases to the capital improvement plan budget as a positive and would like to see work continue to separate storm water from the sewer.

While McCurry voted against a municipal parking garage, he said he now wants to focus on making sure it doesn’t hinder the tax base.

“We need to all get behind it,” he said. “At some point you have to start supporting it so it doesn’t fail.”

Phillips, 44, owns Time and Tide Coffee on Main Street with his wife, Briana Campbell. The couple moved to Biddeford to start their business two years ago.

“I’ve really bonded with the city and feel so many great things are happening here,” Phillips said. “I’m definitely not from Biddeford, but I really chose to be here because it is such an amazing city.”

Phillips said while there is a lot of exciting growth and development happening in Biddeford, he wants to “be mindful of how to do that in a smart way” and feels the council needs to address affordable housing.

“It’s really bubbling under the surface,” he said. “I’d like to see the council take some actions to protect affordable housing for people on the lower end of the housing spectrum.”

Phillips said he is very passionate about making sure the city’s fire and police departments are fully staffed and have the resources they need. He also feels it is important to build and strengthen the community in an inclusive way where people’s concerns are heard.

Phillips said his experience as a small-business owner has allowed him to interact with many people, both in City Hall and the general public.

“It helps me listen to them and understand and empathize with what many different people are going through in the city,” Phillips said. “That experience of being around so many folks here and hearing their voices will be an asset to me.”

WARD 4

In Ward 4, which includes neighborhoods just outside the downtown area, two candidates are trying to unseat incumbent Robert Quattrone Jr., who was first elected in 2013.

Abigail Cioffi, 30, has not held elected office, but has worked closely with elected officials and municipal officials through her job as director of Discover Downtown Westbrook. She has also been involved in canvassing for local politicians and ballot initiatives, including ranked-choice voting.

Cioffi said she wants to serve on the council to make sure elected leaders are listening to everyone in the community, especially at a time when it is important “to balance all of the new things that are happening and make sure it is equitable for everyone that is here.”

Cioffi said her priorities include finding ways to strengthen neighborhoods in the city, supporting the creative economy and education, and making sure vital services like police and fire are properly funded and supported.

“My leadership style is very community-based,” Cioffi said. “It’s not about what I think, but ultimately I want to listen to my constituents about their concern and how we can build policy around it.”

Also challenging Quattrone is Heather Mills, a former School Committee member. Neither Quattrone nor Mills responded to multiple interview requests.

WARD 5

In Ward 5, which encompasses the downtown area, Councilor Amy Clearwater is facing a challenge from Bradford Laverriere, a Biddeford native running for office for the first time.

Clearwater, a 35-year-old vice president of a global bank, was appointed to the council by Mayor Alan Casavant a year ago. She said she is seeking a two-year term on the council to continue working on issues like improving communication with residents and making sure the city is livable for people of all backgrounds.

Clearwater said she is focused on addressing poverty and homelessness in the community, as well as supporting policies and programs that improve the city’s older housing stock while stabilizing the rental market to ensure residents aren’t being displaced by gentrification.

“This city is at a really pivotal point where it’s important right now to have responsible, experienced stewardship,” Clearwater said.

Laverriere, 31, grew up in Biddeford, attended college in South Portland and now works as a service consultant for a car dealership. He said he has strong family ties to Biddeford and is concerned that longtime residents are feeling they are unheard by their elected representatives.

Laverriere said the current council has been too focused solely on the downtown and believes more emphasis needs to be placed on the future of the entire city. As he’s talked with voters, Laverriere said he often hears people are frustrated by decisions made by the council, including the rollout of a paid parking program for municipal parking lots.

“I want the people to feel strongly that their voice is being heard. A lot of residents I’ve been talking to are fed up with how the city is going about doing things,” Laverriere said. “I feel too many people are out of the loop and the city is doing a lot of things the taxpayers aren’t aware of.”

Laverriere said he feels Biddeford schools are underfunded and is concerned that first responders don’t have the equipment they need to do their jobs.

Laverriere, who grew up playing hockey and football for Biddeford teams, believes many residents have lost their “Tiger Pride” and wants them to feel their councilor is listening to their concerns.

“I want the residents of Ward 5 to know their representative,” he said. “I want there to be more communication.”

WARD 6

Councilor Norman Belanger is running against Sean Behen to represent Ward 6.

Belanger, a 62-year-old lawyer, was first appointed to the council in January 2017, then elected to a two-year term later that year.

“I think the city is on a good path and I want to make sure it stays on that path,” he said.

Belanger said he has been a big supporter of improvements made downtown, including the approval of the parking garage, because they will increase property values and ease the future tax burden. But he is also focused on maintaining funding for education while also addressing funding and staffing issues.

“I think we need to hire more firefighters. That hasn’t been successful thus far,” he said. “I think we have a great fire department that is, unfortunately, somewhat understaffed and underfunded.”

Belanger said he approaches his role as a councilor by “taking my time to do the homework and acting in a way that is in the best interest of not only the voters in my ward, but the voters in the entire city.”

Behen, a 53-year-old IT engineer and father of three, said he’s running for City Council because he would like to bring more accountability and transparency both to his ward and the city has a whole. He is particularly concerned about ambiguity in the municipal budget process and the City Council’s focus on downtown development.

“For the last few years, everything has been focused on the downtown while the rest of the city crumbles,” he said.

Behen, who ran for council once in the 1990s, said the city residents he has talked to share his concerns about the way the city is being run.

“They’re concerned there is no accountability down at City Hall for the things they feel are important,” he said. “People feel like they’re not getting the whole truth about things like taxes. They’re not getting services in their ward.”

Behen describes himself as someone who is approachable and won’t dodge his constituents.

“I won’t sugarcoat things,” he said. “I work for (residents), I don’t work for a select group of folks. I’ll do the next right thing for the citizens.”

NEW FACES ON THE COUNCIL

Ward 1, which includes coastal Biddeford, will be represented by William Emhiser, who is running unopposed to replace Councilor Michael Swanton. Emhiser, a 65-year-old semi-retired business manager, said he will bring to the council years of experience working with multimillion-dollar budgets and tax incentive financing.

“I have lots of energy and commitment to the community,” said Emhiser, who has lived in Biddeford Pool for 20 years. “I’m looking forward to embracing that and working with everyone to make Biddeford overall a better place.”

Also new to the council will be Doris Ortiz, who is running unopposed for the at-large seat being vacated by Councilor Laura Seaver, who is leaving elected office after serving multiple terms on the City Council and School Committee.

Ortiz, 51, who works in legal accounting and collections, has no previous political experience and moved to Biddeford in 2017 when she and her partner bought a two-unit building. Ortiz said she believes strongly in communities that protect and serve residents of all backgrounds, an issue she sees as especially important at a time the city is changing and lots of development is happening.

“I don’t want to come in and tell the people of Biddeford what needs to change and what they should do,” Ortiz said. “I’m hoping what I can do is help the council when development issues come up by giving my input and experiences I’ve had living in cities like Portland, San Francisco and Chicago.”


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