BIDDEFORD — Alan Casavant is seeking a fifth term as mayor of York County’s largest city, but is being challenged by a political newcomer who feels Biddeford needs new leadership.

The mayoral contest comes at a time when Biddeford is experiencing a surge in redevelopment of its downtown mills, an influx of young residents and growing concerns about homelessness and affordable housing.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Casavant says he wants another two years to continue leading the city in a positive direction, while his challenger, Jason Litalien, maintains it is time for a mayor who will listen to residents’ concerns and focus on development in other parts of the city.

Casavant was first elected in 2011, when he beat incumbent Joanne Twomey, and has easily won re-election three times since. He was unopposed in 2017, though Litalian was a declared write-in candidate. Casavant received 3,497 votes in that election and Litalian received 78 votes.

Both candidates will participate in a candidate forum Monday night. The event, sponsored by the Biddeford Saco Chamber of Commerce, begins at 7 p.m. in the Little Theater at Biddeford High School.

Casavant, 67, is a lifelong city resident and retired Biddeford High School teacher. He has also served as a city councilor and state representative.

During Casavant’s first term, the City Council voted to buy the Maine Energy Recovery Co. property, kicking off what he calls the “modernization” of Biddeford. Since the closure of the trash-to-energy plant, the city has seen more than $100 million in new development in the downtown and mill district.

Casavant is quick to credit city staff and the four councils he has served with for making decisions that brought new investment and excitement about the city’s future.

“We see entrepreneurs willing to invest in new shops and restaurants and things of that nature. We’ve seen major developers willing to invest in the mills,” he said.

Casavant said the new businesses and new investments have helped keep the mil rate stable and will help create new tax dollars to offset increases. The focus on redevelopment of the mill district benefits residents in all parts of the city, he said.

“One of the major objectives I have is to stabilize the tax rate. In order to stabilize it, you have to maximize development somewhere in the community to generate new revenue,” he said. “The only place in which to do that happens to be the mill district and the downtown.”

Casavant said he would also like to continue his time as mayor to address the challenges that come with a changing city, including a growing number of people experiencing homelessness. A major concern is affordable housing for renters who find their rent increasing as landlords improve their buildings.

“We are talking about ideas to create incentives for developers to create affordable housing, whether that’s through grants or low-income loans,” he said, adding that he and the City Council have been discussing how to establish a program to help elderly residents reduce their taxes.

Casavant said he tells people if they’re happy with the direction the city is going, they should vote for him.

“There’s that paradigm shift, the Biddesance, that has taken place. I think with my experience with what’s transpired, that it’s a natural evolution to continue it for another two years,” he said.

Jason Litalien Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Litalien, 44, grew up in Biddeford and graduated from high school in 1993. After working as a disc jockey for several years, he joined the Air Force as a combat journalist. He left the Air Force after 13 years because of an injury. After moving home to Biddeford, Litalien opened a bar and restaurant in Portland, which he ran for six years before going to law school.

In recent months, Litalien has been outspoken on the new parking management plan and parking garage approved by the City Council. He has twice sued the city – one case was dismissed by a judge, the other was withdrawn by Litalien – and has rallied residents and business owners upset about the parking changes.

Parking was the catalyst for his interest in running for office, he said. He believes the parking garage deal approved by the council “has more holes in it than a spaghetti strainer” and a garage should be built by a private developer. He also feels city officials have gone against the wishes of voters by implementing paid parking in municipal lots.

“The double-talk and the absolute not telling the truth, that really bothered me,” he said.

While it is his concern about parking that motivated Litalien to run for mayor, he said he is not a one-issue candidate. The gentrification of downtown is creating “a huge lack of affordable housing” and leaving more seniors struggling to stay in their homes, he said.

“What’s happening is we’re pushing people out of their homes and taking the lower-income people and basically punishing them for being lower-income,” he said. “That’s not right.”

Litalien said he would like to give the Biddeford Housing Authority city-owned property on which to build affordable housing at no cost to the city. He would also like to implement a program that allows elderly residents to do work for the city to help pay their property taxes.

When it comes to taxes, Litalien said the city needs to do more to find duplication in city staff and departments to reduce spending.

“The people are being ignored and they’re being turned into a piggy bank,” Litalien said. “City Hall looks at citizens as a piggy bank, plain and simple.”

Litalien says too much of Casavant’s focus has been on the downtown area.

“We need someone who is not focused on one area, someone without tunnel vision who is going to go in there and say how we can make things better for everybody,” he said.


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