AUBURN — Mayor Jonathan LaBonte was plenty comfortable not having to share the stage at a campaign forum Wednesday night at the Hilton Garden Inn.

LaBonte talked with a group of 25 residents about streets, economic development, property taxes, new high schools and the future of the city. Billed as a candidate forum with just one candidate, the night was equal parts neighborhood forum and campaign event.

“There are too many important issues facing the city and too many important opportunities for growing our opportunity and creating jobs to not have a forum where I can talk a bit about what we are working on and what is possible,” LaBonte said.

“At the end of the day, I want to earn all of your votes and all of the votes from your friends, family and neighbors. The only way to do that is talk with you, answer your questions and hear from you what you think are our challenges and opportunities,” he said.

This is the third time LaBonte has run for the seat, but the first time he’s had a challenger.

Challenger Peter Letourneau declined to join a one-on-one forum with LaBonte.

Letourneau cited his personal dislike of LaBonte for not attending, saying he tries to limit his public exposure to the mayor. Letourneau has criticized LaBonte, saying he’s a bully who oversteps his authority by driving City Council debate and directing city staff.

But Wednesday, LaBonte was all about the positive messages, boosting the Twin Cities as a good place to live with hardworking residents.

“We tend to have a chip on our shoulder, saying that everything is amazing and we are better than Portland,” LaBonte said. “But the truth is somewhere in the middle. We are a good community, but we have work to do. We have some good assets and there are things happening that are worth talking about. I don’t know if we need to pay marketers to say that.”

It’s a job for residents, not just hired staff and marketing efforts, he said.

He pointed to Luke Livingston, owner of Lewiston’s Baxter Brewery, who regularly hosts events and tasting parties in Portland as a way to show those residents what Lewiston and Auburn have to offer.

“There is a community role,” LaBonte said. “You pay marketers to put an ad here or there. But some of the organic stuff has more impact.”

He talked about helping small businesses expand as a way to grow the city’s economy and help lower property taxes, bringing Portland-to-Auburn-Lewiston commuter bus service to the area and testing new ways to educate the city’s children.

But LaBonte also said there’s a need for more meetings like this — one-on-one opportunities for residents to talk to city staff and officials.

“We need much more dialog, and I don’t think the structure of a council meeting is the way to do that,” he said. “Some folks want to square peg-round hole that, but I think we need to get out more. I am wholly committed to that, and before the election, I’ll do more of this. But we need to do more of this regularly.”

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