WATERVILLE — Mayor Jay Coelho thanked city councilors and other city leaders for their hard work in an emotional speech Tuesday night in which he said he had not yet made a decision about whether to resign his position due to a serious heart issue.

Coelho, 43, said earlier this week in an email that he had spent a week in the intensive care unit at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor after having been taken there by LifeFlight helicopter from Inland Hospital in Waterville because of a genetic heart issue and that his “prognosis isn’t good.”

Jay Coelho Contributed photo

“I am extremely thankful for all of you,” Coelho said at the end of a 2 1/2 hour council meeting Tuesday, at which the council approved the municipal and school budget for 2021-22 and cut the tax rate. “I’m extremely thankful for the work that we do. I have a lot of decisions to make coming up. My next three weeks are going to be pretty crucial for me. I’ll continue to work.”

Coelho said that he participated in meetings from his hospital bed Wednesday last week with City Manager Steve Daly and Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7.

“I am passionate about the work that we do,” Coelho said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “I love my community. I love my city. We’re pretty diverse. We’re a strange group of people, but I like that we’re all kind of quirky. We have fantastic (members) of our LGBT community that we strive to help and do things for, all the time. We have our Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, which for some reason we call minorities, but I’ll be honest — we’re all humans, so we’re all part of the majority.”

His voice breaking, Coelho said: “I love you all, and I love representing what we’re doing. I hope that I can continue. It will take some time. But from what I have left of a heart, I love you all and thank you for what you have done for me.”

Coelho, who turns 44 in September, had written an email Monday to Daly, Thomas and a Morning Sentinel reporter, saying he has “a section of the heart that isn’t moving. It’s just dead heart muscle.” Coelho says he’s suffering from coronary artery disease, which is what led to his mother’s death 15 years ago at the age of 52.

He said doctors removed two blood clots from his left arteries and he “should have died Monday night” (last week), but was saved after being taken to the Bangor hospital. He said he spent more than four hours on a table being saved by doctors and a week in the intensive care unit, which “should give every human pause for thought.”

Coelho’s email said he was contemplating resigning as mayor.

“I have young children, whose lives will be affected. I have people who depend on me in order to pay their bills. I have not made a decision yet. However, I am leaning towards resigning, and the city should be given ample opportunity to know what may come down the line.”

Contacted Wednesday, City Clerk Patti Dubois described, in general, what happens if a mayor resigns.

“Should the mayor resign, there would be a special election held for that seat,” she said. “The question is when the election would be, because that is based on when he submits his resignation, formally.”

Dubois was to meet Wednesday with City Solicitor William A. Lee III regarding such a special election, in light of the fact that the city recently revised its charter and some details may need to be clarified.

Coelho was elected mayor in November after having served a year as the Ward 5 city councilor. Beginning in 2018, Coelho, a Democrat, has pushed a number of initiatives, including supporting the city’s Fire Department in its efforts to have a transport ambulance service, maintaining a stable tax rate, working to earmark funds to improve roads in the city’s South End, ensuring the city helps fund the Alfond Youth and Community Center’s after-school program and the bus service for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program.

On Tuesday night, Coelho began his speech by saying it had been a long week.

“I’m going to try not to get choked up. It’s been hard for me, hard for the kids. I love my babies, so if you’re listening, Daddy loves you. I have no decisions to make today yet. I am so relieved at how we worked together for our budget. I want to thank Inland Hospital for everything — class act people. My nurses, great. The helicopter pilot, the people that shuttled me out to Bangor, fantastic.”

Coelho, who worked with fire Chief Shawn Esler on the department ambulance transport service, broke the tension by directing a joke to Esler, saying the council had already voted on the budget and he was sorry he couldn’t get Esler a helicopter.

Daly, the city manager, thanked Coelho after his speech.

Councilor Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, said, simply, “Keep giving it hell.”

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