LEWISTON — After taking the oath of office Tuesday, the first order of business for Mayor Shane Bouchard was thanking the outgoing mayor for his service and mentorship.
Bouchard told Bob Macdonald he has sparked more interest in local government than any other politician in recent memory.
With Gov. Paul LePage and Congressman Bruce Poliquin looking on from the front row at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center, fellow Republican Bouchard promised to keep Lewiston’s momentum going during an “exciting time” for the city.
He also pledged to continue Macdonald’s efforts to reform the city’s welfare system. Bouchard said he grew up in a family that received General Assistance, but that it was treated as a “hand-up, not a hand out.”
“We need real solutions to lift people off government dependence,” he said, adding there is a “limit to our benevolence.”
The new mayor’s comments followed a candid farewell address from Macdonald, who said his biggest failure as mayor was not achieving any sort of welfare reform. Macdonald said because of his goal to save taxpayers from “shiftless, lazy leeches,” he was branded a racist and was “continually smeared by the press.”
“Newsflash: I never took the criticism personally,” he said during his address Tuesday. “It was part of the job. I used to go home and laugh about it.”
But Macdonald also said he’s proud of the economic progress that’s been made during his six years, giving the credit to Lewiston city staff for any achievements made during his tenure.
“I love this city, I love the people here, and I’ve enjoyed being your mayor,” he said.
Bouchard, who defeated progressive candidate Ben Chin in last month’s mayoral runoff election, campaigned on his experience as a city councilor, offering what he often said are “actionable” solutions to Lewiston’s image problem.
On Tuesday, Bouchard said Lewiston will begin “writing a new narrative.”
“Something great is happening here again,” he said, listing the city’s growing dining and arts scenes. “We will show Maine and New England that we are back.”
Bouchard said Lewiston is primed for more economic growth, with significant development availability with direct access to the Maine Turnpike, and assets such as new athletic fields, historic sites, walking trails, and a growing arts community that will “help make Lewiston a destination.”
He said “failed policies” that have taken hold, however, are the reason Lewiston is not “Maine’s premier city.”
He said the number of tax exempt properties in Lewiston is growing faster than taxable ones, and that residential development is discouraged. Zoning ordinances, he said, need to address “the erosion of neighborhoods.” The city must also continue its efforts to enforce safe and lead-free housing, he said.
Bouchard also had a few specific ideas related to economic development. One, he said, is holding a referendum this year on whether the city should continue its redevelopment effort at Bates Mill No. 5.
“For 20 years, the empty mill building has been kicked down the road,” he said.
Along with Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, Bouchard said he’s proposing a task force on establishing a port authority around the Lewiston-Auburn Municipal Airport.
He said with the failed merger referendum, Lewiston “proudly affirmed our identity and self-determination,” and that with himself and Levesque in office, the two cities will have the “highest level of cooperation seen in many years.”
“I pledge that every day I will rise to meet our challenges,” he told the audience.
Bouchard wasn’t the only elected official Tuesday to say that things are looking up.
Kristen Cloutier, named the City Council president for a second term, said the city has “much to celebrate” over the past two years. She mentioned local expansions or developments by L.L. Bean, Geiger Bros., Rinck Advertising, Grand Rounds and more.
She also thanked the many outgoing elected officials, including Macdonald. She said while she and Macdonald are on “different ends of the political spectrum,” they have had “a respectful and productive relationship.”
Both the new City Council and School Committee were sworn-in Tuesday, and Bouchard quickly appointed Mark Cayer, his mayoral opponent, to the vacant Ward 6 School Committee seat.
Superintendent Bill Webster said the School Committee will elect a new chairperson during a special meeting Wednesday, when the entire committee will be in attendance.
Speaking on behalf of the incoming School Committee, Francis Gagnon rallied support for the proposed performing arts center at Lewiston High School. He said the School Department is “currently missing a keystone that’s been left behind.”
Prior to Bouchard’s address, the Lewiston High School a cappella group Blue Notes performed.
When Bouchard stepped to the podium, he thanked LePage and Poliquin for coming.
“Your support will be critical to Lewiston’s success moving forward,” he told them.
2018-20 LEWISTON OFFICIALS:
Mayor: Shane D. Bouchard
City Council: James J. Lysen, Ward 1; Zachary T. Pettengill, Ward 2; Alicia M. Rea, Ward 3; Michel A. Lajoie, Ward 4; Kristen S. Cloutier, Ward 5; Joline Landry Beam, Ward 6; Michael J. Marcotte, Ward 7.
School Committee: Megan D. Parks, at-large; Renee P. Courtemanche, Ward 1; Monique Roy, Ward 2; Francis N. Gagnon, Ward 3; Tanya M. Estabrook, Ward 4; Luke D. Jensen, Ward 5; and Tina L. Hutchinson, Ward 7. (Mark Cayer was appointed to the vacant Ward 6 School Committee seat Tuesday.)