Mayoral forum mild, mannerly

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LEWISTON – Mayoral candidate Larry Gilbert had just finished discussing ways to encourage public involvement in city matters, saying he would strive to make citizens feel welcome when they addressed the City Council.

“They need to feel they’re not being cut short,” Gilbert said Tuesday night at a forum for candidates for Lewiston’s mayor.

Moderator Chip Morrison continued, but City Councilor Normand Rousseau stopped him, saying he didn’t want Gilbert to be cut short.

“I’m used to it,” Gilbert responded.

Gilbert, Rousseau and other city councilors have sparred during council meetings in the past.

It was the only spark in the mild and mannerly mayoral forum. The four candidates calmly answered their questions, paying little attention to each other during the talk.

Voters will pick one of the four at a special Feb. 27 ballot at the Multi-Purpose Center. The ballot will also include a referendum on borrowing $21 million to build a new Pettingill School.

The winner will complete Lionel Guay’s term, which expires at the end of 2007. They’ll be up for re-election on November’s ballot, if they choose to run again.

Morrison asked the candidates what they would do with such a short term of office.

Gilbert said he would concentrate on cooperation with Auburn. Rousseau would look for solutions to the city’s property tax rate and looming property revaluation. Candidate Leah Poulin said she’d concentrate on improving education. Candidate Charles Soule said he would push for major changes if elected. He later elaborated, saying he’d try to give the mayor a veto of City Council decisions and would devote all of his time to the job.

“Should I be elected, there are going to be some changes,” he said. “I don’t want people to be scared. Change can be scary, but I don’t want you to fear the change.”

All four said they support increased cooperation with Auburn, wanted to encourage greater understanding between longtime residents and new immigrants and were skeptical of Gov. John Baldacci’s plan to merge school districts across the state.

They differed on how to reduce taxes. Soule suggested ending economic development aid to developers while Rousseau favored more targeted economic development. Gilbert looks to cooperation with Auburn. Poulin said the matter deserves more research.

“There has to be a way to save on taxes,” she said.

Concerning the Colisee, Rousseau said he would love to be able to sell it to a private interest.

“But you have to keep in mind, we’ve had it for two years,” Rousseau said. “It takes more than two years to get the kind of turnaround there that we’ve wanted.”

He also compared the Colisee to other city assets, like the library and public schools. They all cost the city money.

“But should we consider those to be losses, or investments?” he asked. “I consider them investments.”

Gilbert said he’d try to get it sold as quickly as possible.

“I support the arena, but let’s face it. We are the only ones funding it, but we’re providing a service to the entire region,” he said. “How far can we afford to let this go? It’s time to sell it to a private investor and stop the bleeding.”

The city has already spent money on the Colisee, Poulin noted.

“Now, we must step forward and make sure our investment goes to good use,” she said. City leaders need to make sure the ice arena is earning enough money to stay open on it own.

The forum will be shown on Great Falls TV beginning Thursday and should air at least once a day until the election.

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