AUBURN — Peter Letourneau’s first act as mayor — should he be elected to the job — would be to step back a bit.

“My order of business would be to tell our wonderful city staff that they don’t work for me; I work for them,” Letourneau said at a candidate forum Tuesday night in Auburn Hall. “I am proud to do so and I will work very hard to make their jobs easier. I will bring information to the table when they ask for it, if I have any, and I will keep my nose out their business day-to-day, because I don’t think that’s what the mayor’s job is for.”

Jonathan LaBonte, the current mayor and Letourneau’s rival for the job, spoke in favor of the mayor’s bully pulpit.

“Our city charter is very specific and it calls on the mayor to help coordinate the interests of the city through committees and to bring recommendations to advance the city’s interests to the city and staff,” LaBonte said. “I believe that is absolutely essential. There is a unique role the mayor can play with the bully pulpit; we can push issues that staff may not be in a position to push and we can go out there and address and sell the community in ways staff cannot.”

It was one exchange in the calm but busy candidate forum featuring 14 of the candidates for Auburn’s 15 open seats.

The Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area hosted the 5:30 p.m. forum for all of Auburn’s political candidates. The evening was broken into three tightly timed sections: 42 minutes for the School Committee candidates followed by 46 minutes for City Council candidates. The night was capped with a 20-minute forum devoted to the two mayoral candidates, Letourneau and LaBonte.

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LaBonte joined the council and School Committee candidates at the front of the hall for the entire forum while Letourneau stayed at the back until about 7 p.m., when it was his turn to come forward. Letourneau shook hands with LaBonte and later walked back some of his comments from earlier this month. Letourneau said he declined a two-man forum with LaBonte because Letourneau dislikes LaBonte.

It was one of the first questions moderators Zack and Chantel Pettengill asked him to address.

“I probably overstated the case to get some attention, and I probably got more attention than I expected,” Letourneau said.

But the candidates did have differences to show, beyond their views of the mayor’s role. When it comes to getting Auburn’s revenue-sharing, LaBonte called for a new model that returns revenue-sharing dollars to cities based on how much sales tax they generate. That would benefit Auburn, he said.

Letourneau argued for using it differently.

“I think it should be used to lower taxes and to support underfunded projects and one-time expenses,” he said. “For example, a new fire pumper or police car, not the purpose of purchasing something that’s going to have ongoing expenses.”

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Both talked about their visions for education, with Letourneau saying he wanted to increase Auburn’s per-pupil spending. LaBonte said he would convene a public forum to plot a new path for the city’s high school.

Two city councilors stayed away from the forum: unopposed Ward 4 candidate Ernestine Gilbert and councilor at-large candidate Bob Sevigny.

In Ward 1, candidates Matt Leonard and Jim Pross took on questions about conflicts of interest. Leonard said his job as executive director of the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce helps the city. Pross said his work as a developer did the same.

“I have invested my own dollars and energy and time and effort to redeveloping some of our abandoned and vacant properties,” Pross said. “I think our efforts there helped grow our tax base and really stand out in comparison to anything else any candidates have done. I don’t see any conflict of interest when you are all working toward the same goal.”

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