April 08, 2020

Bangor council hopefuls vie for three city seats Four candidates sound off on state and local matters

BANGOR – While the four candidates in this year’s City Council race were of a similar mind when it comes to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights on the Nov. 7 statewide ballot – all oppose it – they parted ways on other issues, chief among them regionalization.

These were among the comparisons and contrasts that came to light Thursday night during the Bangor Public Library’s annual candidates forum, which drew an audience of about 30 people.

All four of the candidates for the three seats up for grabs in the Nov. 7 city elections have had some council experience.

They are:

. Patricia Blanchette, 63, served four terms on the council, including a stint as mayor. Employed in retail, she holds the House of Representative seat from District 16 and is seeking re-election to that post next month.

. Peter D’Errico, 75, is seeking his second term on the council. He served briefly on the council in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He led the former Dow Air Force Base’s transition to civilian use, and was director of Bangor International Airport for 20 years. He also has held other positions with the city.

. Geoffrey Gratwick, 63, also is seeking a second term on the council. A rheumatologist, he served as chairman of Physicians for Social Responsibility of Eastern Maine from 1982 to 1988, and in 1985 represented Maine at a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Olso, Norway. He chaired the Maine Humanities Council 2002-2003.

. Harold Wheeler, 69, is retired from a career in broadcasting and advertising. He served a term on the council in the mid-1980s and serves on the city’s planning board.

During the forum, each candidate was allotted three minutes for an opening statement, and three minutes for a closing statement. They also answered questions from the audience.

A discussion on regionalization was prompted by a question about the Bangor Auditorium and Civic Center at Bass Park.

The complex is aging and the city unsuccessfully tried for years to put a mechanism, including a local option sales tax and a surcharge for nonresidents, in place for getting support from the wider area that uses it.

Wheeler thought getting the Legislature to allow a local option sales tax was unlikely, but thought those who attended events at Bass Park would be willing to spend an extra dollar or two for admission.

“You’re right. It’s a way to raise money,” he said, and later added, “I don’t want to see that auditorium torn down, by the way.”

Blanchette said real regionalization “probably will never happen.” It likely would have to occur at the county level and Blanchette, a former county treasurer, said Penobscot is run by “three good-old-boy county commissioners.”

“I think it’s a turf battle, but we need to keep trying,” she said. She also said it was time for the city to ask itself if it really needs an auditorium or if it should leave that project to private industry.

Gratwick thought regionalization was inevitable, but likely difficult to achieve.

The dozen or so bedroom communities surrounding Bangor have been “suspicious, jealous and hesitant to make friends with the big kid on the block. … I guess I’m still a dreamer. I will not take no for an answer,” he said.

D’Errico agreed with Gratwick to some extent, noting that “we are a leader and surrounding communities are jealous of our progress.” He said Bangor’s attempts to get a local option tax passed had been “shot down by our neighbors.”

After Dow Air Force Base closed in the 1960s, Bangor tried to form a regional airport authority with surrounding towns and then the state, but there were no takers.

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