Jason Levesque ekes out tight win for Auburn mayor

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AUBURN — Six votes.

That’s what put Jason Levesque over the top in the city’s race for mayor Tuesday.

Defeated candidate Adam Lee, a local lawyer, said he would mull whether to seek a recount.

“Every. Vote. Counts,” Levesque said after spending the evening at Gipper’s Sports Grill with the campaign opposing the merger of the Twin Cities.

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It appears Levesque will in fact serve his term as mayor given the resounding defeat of the merger referendum.

Levesque had said during a debate earlier in the race that he wouldn’t serve as mayor — if elected — of a combined Lewiston and Auburn municipality. Though he doesn’t have to contend with that possibility anymore, Levesque said he’ll work hard to keep that effort from returning to the ballot box.

“At least not in our generation,” he said.

“I think the merger had a lot to play in this, but I don’t think it was the only issue,” Levesque said. The referendum question clearly served to boost voter turnout, he said.

Levesque, owner of Argo, a telemarketing business in Lewiston, said he plans to advertise the many assets his city has to offer.

“You’re going to see an aggressive marketing effort. You’re going to see great publicity. We’re going to make sure everyone in New England knows how wonderful a place Auburn is to live and work.”

Lee said he planned to take some time to consider a recount.

Although he favored a single Twin Cities, Lee downplayed the merger referendum’s importance in the mayoral race.

“I have abundant faith in the voters that they’re able to separate those two issues,” he said. “Certainly, the objective and a smart strategy on the other side, seeing what the result might be, was to make that the issue of this election.”

But the slim margin of Levesque’s win appears to show that strategy didn’t play out, Lee said.

Despite his loss, Lee said he plans to help move the community forward.

Lee’s campaign slogan, “trust and transparency,” was central to his platform that urged open sessions at City Council meetings, which included a forum for the public. Lee also stressed the importance of sharing with the public results of executive sessions during council meetings. He sought to have any communications among elected officials to happen in public session.

Outgoing Mayor Jonathan LaBonte commented Tuesday: “Jason ran to be our next mayor, not our last, and Auburn voters clearly want to stay on the path of strengthening our independent city and not merging it into another. Jason knows Lewiston can be a partner on some efforts, but he also knows to our south is a faster growing region we can work with.”

Tizz Crowley, a former city councilor who remains active in city affairs, said that while the merger issue dominated the political spotlight, many voters split by voting for a candidate with whom they differed on the merger question.

She said both Lee and Levesque were expected to be more hands-off as mayor with the running of the city, preferring to leave that to city staff.

“I knew I would be happy with either candidate,” Crowley said, calling them equally qualified.

Voters were given a clear choice in Tuesday’s election, between an attorney experienced in local politics who serves as a ward city councilor and a local businessman who once ran — and lost — a bid for U.S. Congress.

The two had clashed in many areas of policy, including their respective visions of the role of mayor.

Levesque told the Sun Journal he would adopt the posture of political provocateur, challenging the City Council and city staff by posing “what if” questions and urging them to think outside the box about solutions.

Lee said he viewed the role of mayor as envoy or liaison between the public and elected officials (who enact policies) and city staff (who carry out policies). At meetings, as mayor he would have served the role of judge rather than advocate, he said. He was critical of the City Council’s tendency to overstep and micromanage city staff. A former staff attorney for the city of Portland, Lee said he understood well the bounds of the job.

Lee had cited declining property values as the city’s greatest threat, triggering corresponding drops in state and federal revenue.

Levesque said during a mayoral debate that the city must hold the line on spending and lower property taxes.

One area of agreement between the two was local economic development.

Lee said he would have pushed for a more vibrant “downtown” that would draw a younger crowd from the region.

Levesque agreed that Auburn had to attract and retain a younger demographic. In a Sun Journal questionnaire, he said the best way to sell a product is to first, understand your audience; second, educate them on why they should live and work in Auburn; then, finally, give them a compelling offer to make that happen.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

Jason Levesque talks with supporters at the No Merger election party at Gipper’s on Tuesday evening. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Auburn mayoral candidate Adam Lee checks his email as he keeps a running tally on a napkin on the second floor of Auburn Hall on Tuesday night as election results start to come in. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Heidi McCarthy, clapping in center of photo, and other supporters of her husband, Adam Lee, cheer as favorable early results come in at Gritty McDuff’s in Auburn where supporters gathered Tuesday night. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Auburn Ward Clerk Rob Gardner separates state from local ballots at Auburn Hall on Tuesday night as the task of tallying the results gets underway. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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