AUBURN — Nothing sums up the differences between Auburn’s 2015 mayoral candidates than the question of narrowing Court Street.

City councilors considered testing the idea this spring, using road paint to take Court Street’s four lanes down to three — one lane in either direction with a turning lane between.

The re-striping could make downtown Court Street and its cross streets more walkable, less traffic dense and more friendly to small business.

For Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, it is an idea worth testing. It might work. And if it doesn’t, it’s just a test.

“Whether we should permanently change Court Street was never the question to begin with,” LaBonte said. “The idea was reassessing the streets of in-town Auburn to make sure we are doing things that provide the highest growth opportunities. There never was a push to do it unilaterally but to get the council’s support of the concept and then let staff go do their due diligence.”

But his opponent, School Committee member Peter Letourneau, said it may be the dumbest thing he’s heard.

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“I think it’s one of the worst ideas of 2015,” Letourneau said. “I am told it’s the eighth busiest intersection, Court and Main Street. And now we’re talking narrowing lanes so we can back up traffic into Lewiston without ever discussing it with the city fathers there? It’s just stupidity. It’s insanity, is what it is. It’s a terrible idea.”

Narrowing Court Street will likely be one of the main topics as LaBonte takes the stage Wednesday night at the Hilton Garden Inn. He’ll be taking supporters and opponents alike after Letourneau declined to attend the Sun Journal’s scheduled forum. And with only one candidate, the Sun Journal canceled the forum.

LaBonte said that’s a shame and he’s happy to talk to residents.

“What I’m hearing from residents is that they are appreciative of the positive message and forward-looking direction I am talking about,” LaBonte said.

Letourneau said he’ll take part in a Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area forum set for later this month, but he’s limiting his contact with LaBonte out of personal distaste.

The mayor is a bully who oversteps his authority regularly, Letourneau said.

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“My great frustration with him is that he bosses the paid employees of the city,” Letourneau said. “He proudly says how he instructed staff or directed management. Well, in the city of Auburn, the mayor is not the boss of anybody.”

LaBonte admits to being forceful and guiding city staff and city decisions. It’s what needs to happen, he said.

“I think there are way too many opportunities in front of Auburn and some of those are worth fighting for,” LaBonte said. “I am passionate about the community and the day we find folks that serve communities but they’re not willing to fight for them…Well, there are a lot of good things happening, and I’m passionate.”

He points to efforts to build a bus station in Great Falls Plaza as a success.

“It was running full bore to be a small bus shelter by the Hannaford,” he said. “I had to be a little aggressive, and now we are back to the original vision of the downtown. We pushed a little and got something better.”

As far as transportation goes, LaBonte said he’s interested in negotiations that could bring passenger rail to the Twin Cities.

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Letourneau said that’s folly.

“Trains are a nice idea for people my age, the romanticism of trains,” Letourneau said. “But it is unfeasible financially. It’s just a huge expense to taxpayers.”

Letourneau said his big issue is the schools. The mayor gets to appoint a member of the City Council and Letourneau will appoint himself.

“That would undoubtedly enhance communication with the council, coming and going,” Letourneau said. “He just sends someone else because he wants to have servants going and he wants to boss them around.”

LaBonte said he’s interested in new ideas for the schools, perhaps working with community colleges and local businesses.

“What is the future of high school through college?” LaBonte said. “Imagine doing the first two years of college here, and then going to Orono for the last two and spend their time at interning at local businesses. If this community wants to look at the high school of the future as opposed to the standard model, there are ways to free up capital to do that.”

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Letourneau doubts his intention. He said LaBonte does not care about the schools unless it’s politically expedient.

“Now he seems to have faux interest, pretend interest, but he’s not championing a new Edward Little High School and he has not come to one School Committee meeting,” Letourneau said.

Overall, Letourneau said he’s looking for new ways to defeat LaBonte — and that’s another big part of the reason he bowed out of a one-on-one forum.

“Incumbents in this country win 80 or 90 percent of their re-elections,” Letourneau said. “So doing what everybody thinks I should do will almost certainly lead to my being one of those 80 or 90 percent of new candidates. I am determined to follow a different path, which may or may not lead to a better outcome. We won’t know until the night of Nov. 3. If it’s a mistake, then it’s my mistake.”

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Incumbent Mayor Jonathan LaBonte will host his own mayoral forum at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn and will take questions from residents, whether they are supporters or not. LaBonte’s challenger in the Nov. 3 election, Peter Letourneau, declined to a one-on-one forum with the mayor.


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