Candidates Michael Shaughnessy, left, and Mike Sanphy listen as Mike Foley answers a question at the mayoral candidates forum last week. Chance Viles/American Journal

WESTBROOK — High school students posed questions to three mayoral candidates at a forum last week, including asking about their stances on the local tax burden and how to support New Mainers in the city.

The event was moderated by students Lillian Ranco, Ryan Ball and Lena Awad, who invited Mike Foley, incumbent Mike Sanphy, Mike Shaughnessy and Phil Spiller Jr. Spiller, a commercial pilot, was delayed across the country due to a storm, he said, and was unable to make it.

Westbrook High School student Lena Awad introduces the candidates to the audience. At left are students Lillian Ranco and Ryan Ball. Chance Viles/American Journal

“How will you make Westbrook a better place to live and work in?” Ranco asked the candidates.

The candidates for the most part agreed on the majority of issues, citing responsible development as a way to reduce the tax burden on residents and that more could be done to expand the senior tax break.

“We can make an affordable city with responsible development,” Foley said. “Our seniors are barely able to pay their bills. I applaud the senior tax program, but the program is too stringent and did not use the majority of its budget, so I hope to expand that.”

“We have to get creative,” Shaughnessy said. “I advocated for the restoration of the river, it’s a gem. A strong connection to the environment makes this a desirable place to live and brings in more development, but we also must support our downtown.”

“We need to attract people to our downtown and help our smaller businesses,” Sanphy agreed.

When asked how, as mayor, they would support residents of color, non-English speakers and minorities, Foley and Shaughnessy generally agreed on community-based events to build camaraderie and expose one another to new cultures. He also advocated building strong neighborhood identities to unite neighbors.

“There is value in the people coming to Maine,” Sanphy said. “I’ve worked hard with the Intercultural Community Center, the My Place Teen Center and the schools to work together and familiarize ourselves with each other.”

However, when asked if they would support classifying Westbrook as a sanctuary city, both Sanphy and Foley would opt to leave that up to the federal government’s purview. Shaughnessy favored such a move.

“I find it abhorrent what is being done to the refugees and immigrants on the national level,” Shaughnessy said.

All of the candidates showed general support of the Rock Row project, though Foley noted some concerns.

“It does concern me slightly. When the Maine Mall opened, it hurt our downtown,” Foley said. “They will have a Starbucks. … We have coffee shops downtown that we never used to have, and I am worried it could pull from that, so I believe we should really focus on driving our downtown to keep up with or even stay ahead of Rock Row.”

Sanphy said he is happy about Rock Row. “Before this, it was a wasteland. It will bring jobs and they can work with downtown so we can help one another thrive,” he said. “We are also working hard on the noise and have seen improvements.”

“To me, it’s apples to oranges between downtown and Rock Row. Rock Row may bring people into Westbrook that the downtown wouldn’t, and the other way around,” Shaughnessy said.

Elections will be held Nov. 5, with all wards voting at the Community Center at 426 Bridge St.

 

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