LEWISTON — About 60 people gathered in a Ramada Inn conference room Wednesday to complain about city politics and the City Council, to look over potential council candidates for the November election and to organize.
"We're venting tonight, and that's what we need to do," said Mark Paradis, candidate for mayor. "That's OK. But we also have to find a way to tell the citizens and the city employees that we can really have a responsible council and mayor without all the chair slamming and the walking out of the room."
The meeting was part candidate rally, part town hall, part organizational meeting. People listened to City Council President Tom Peters, several former councilors and possible candidates talk about ousting Mayor Larry Gilbert and the whole City Council.
They signed petitions urging the sitting council not to hire a new city administrator. Peters said he planned to make it an issue at the council's next meeting Aug. 18.
"I hope we get a lot of people to show up and urge the council to do the right thing, and put off a decision," he said. "Then, I guess we'll see what they do."
Peters and his brother, Ward 2 Councilor Nelson Peters, cast the only two votes last month against firing City Administrator Jim Bennett. Both of them voted against buying out Bennett's contract.
Tom Peters defended Bennett on Wednesday, saying he was a good administrator who had been treated unfairly by councilors. But Wednesday's meeting was not designed to find a way to rehire Bennett.
"That's a decision that neither I nor any of the sitting councilors should make," Peters said. "It should be something left up to the next council, whether it's the incumbents or new people."
Tom Peters has said he won't run again for his Ward 1 seat. Nelson Peters is circulating nomination papers. But Wednesday he said he'd decided not to run after all. He threw his support behind former Ward 2 Councilor Renee Bernier.
Bernier stepped down from the council two years ago because she could not work with Mayor Larry Gilbert, she said. She'll be happy to come back to the council because she's sure Gilbert will be gone after the election.
"There is no doubt in my mind now that we will have a new mayor," Bernier said. "There just was no working with that individual before. He made everything very, very difficult."
Local performer Nick Knowlton said he has taken out nomination papers to seek the mayor's job. During the meeting, Knowlton said he instead would throw support behind Paradis, a former city councilor.
That disappointed a number of his fans, and Knowlton said he was reconsidering running.
"I don't have anything against Mark," Knowlton said. "I just think that the person in the mayor's job needs to be a great cheerleader, and I'd be a great cheerleader. I'm not interested in being a legislator."