The two candidates for the District 4 seat on the South Portland City Council each say they have the ability to make the right decisions and work on behalf of all residents when it to comes to polarizing issues.

Margaret Brownlee and Linda Cohen are vying for the seat vacated by April Caricchio, who did not seek reelection.

“I know that in the work that I do, I have a lot of really challenging conversations with people,” said Brownlee, who is a diversity, equity and inclusion officer. “They require the ability to listen to both sides.”

Divisive issues like the city’s dog leash law, for example, spur strong stances of support and opposition, she said.

“People are passionate about these topics. I have to just be rational and level-headed and try to make data-informed decisions,” she said.

Cohen said she would “appeal to people’s common sense and their love of the community” when tackling divisive issues.

On the dog issue, she said, dog owners “have to be held accountable” and, if elected, she would look at other communities and “see what’s working.”

It’s time to put differences aside, she said.

“I think living in a municipality and in a community, we are responsible to each other to make sure we’re not doing anything that inflicts harm or takes away other people’s enjoyment,” she said.

The feeling of community should apply to City Council meetings as well, she said.

The Portland Press Herald reported in July that some residents are reluctant to share their opinions at City Council meetings out of fear of ridicule and because they feel the council is locked into a progressive stance, isolating conservative and moderate viewpoints.

As a former member of the council and city clerk, Cohen said she had witnessed that.

“There was a certain group that was prominent in the community,” she said. “They were at all of the council meetings and anyone who came and spoke felt intimidated.”

That’s not the sort of environment that the council ought to be encouraging, she said.

“It goes back to all of us trying to enjoy this community together. We need to get back to a point where there is kindness and respect for other people’s opinions,” she said. “Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost that.”

Brownlee disagrees with that characterization of the council.

“In the City Council meetings I’ve attended in the past three years … I’ve heard many people voice their opinions. I feel like the City Council does a really good job about allowing people to speak,” she said.

Brownlee also encourages residents to “keep showing up and allowing their voices to be heard” as well as emailing and calling city councilors if they don’t feel comfortable participating in meetings.

“People are open to share whatever is on their mind,” she said.

The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 2. For a complete list of polling places, visit the Polling Locations page at southportland.org.

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