The seven candidates for Bangor City Council. Pictured left, Susan Hawes. Top row; Marlene Brochu, Gretchen Schaefer. Second row; Joseph Leonard, Free Martin. Third Row; James Butler, Dina Yacoubagha. Credit: Contributed

Seven candidates are vying for three seats on the Bangor City Council, with new additions to the nine-member body having the ability to shift policy on issues ranging from COVID-19 to homelessness, as the city comes closer to hiring a new manager.

The three City Council seats on the ballot are currently held by councilors Susan Hawes, Sarah Nichols and Gretchen Schaefer. Hawes and Schaefer are running for reelection while Nichols, who was first elected in 2015, is not. The top three vote-getters will each serve three-year terms. 

The city’s homelessness problem was the most prevalent in Bangor Daily News interviews with the candidates. Some have centered their campaign on the subject. 

Bangor residents will be able to vote from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center on Tuesday, Nov. 2. They can also request absentee ballots through the secretary of state’s website.

The candidates appear in the order in which they will appear on the ballot.

James Butler

James Butler, 60, is the owner of Butler’s Auto Body in Hampden.

Hundreds of residents have told him the homelessness problem is among the most serious facing Bangor, said Butler, who chose to provide a statement rather than participate in a BDN interview.

Bangor’s city government should take a closer look at where homeless residents are coming from, he said, as most come from other communities in Maine or outside the state. 

The status quo is not sustainable, he said, and officials should make sure the city’s social services don’t attract new homeless people to the city.

“Bangor should not be a destination point for those seeking benefits,” Butler said. “We must seek a solution for the crime, addiction and drugs affecting our Bangor community.”

If elected, he said he would work to provide affordable housing to Bangor families who need help. 

Butler, who owns six properties in Bangor, owed the city more than $80,000 in back taxes and unpaid interest and utility fees as of mid-September, city records show. Butler said last month the back taxes were part of an “ongoing legal discussion” with the city that he said was private and had nothing to do with the city council race.

Dina Yacoubagha

Dina Yacoubagha, 49, wants to bring her extensive experience in non-profits and as a licensed social worker to the council.

She works with people with mental health problems at Higher Ground Services in Brewer and has a much larger list of organizations with which she has volunteered. They include Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, Partners for Peace, the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute and Food AND Medicine. 

Yacoubagha, who is Muslim and was born in Syria, also does presentations to clarify misconceptions about Muslim women like herself. She chairs Bangor’s Advisory Committee on Racial Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights.

While she recognizes that some support her because they want more diversity on the council, she sees her work for social justice and with non-profits as the center of her campaign. She believes she is someone who is able to work with people of diverse backgrounds. 

Yacoubagha, who has a master’s degree in social work, also ran for the council in 2020. 

There is a natural desire for many people to leave Bangor after they graduate high school, Yacoubagha said. She said the key to eventually bringing those people back, as well as attracting new residents, was to keep Bangor economically viable.

There are many ways to do that, but an important one, Yacoubagha said, is expanding the Community Connector bus system so it has more stops and service later in the day. 

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated both of Bangor’s most challenging problems — a rise in the number of people without shelter and the opioid epidemic that has hit Bangor disproportionately.

She would support increasing access to mental health services, establishing more substance use treatment centers and other efforts to make more affordable housing available.

Marlene Brochu

Marlene Brochu, 37, is originally from Germany and spent time in the Atlanta metro area before moving to Bangor because she felt it would be a safe place to raise her son. Her husband is from Maine.

Brochu is the CEO of a non-profit advocacy group that seeks to educate the public on and help the families of those affected by Vein of Galen Malformation, a rare disorder that affects blood vessels in the brain. 

“Helping people get more done with limited resources — I want to bring that mentality to Bangor,” Brochu said

Brochu said she hopes to use her experience living elsewhere to bring a new perspective to addressing city problems.  The two focuses of her campaign are Bangor’s homeless problem and making the city more business-friendly.

Brochu said she decided to run after seeing posts about the homeless problem in a Facebook group for Bangor’s Fairmount neighborhood. 

She recalled finding used syringes in her front yard shortly after moving into her Bangor home, something many other residents have experienced.

She thinks the city should work to prioritize homeless residents of Bangor over those from outside of the city and outside of Maine.

“We don’t want to be insensitive or like we’re heartless — we care about these people and don’t want them to be homeless,” Brochu said. “But it is nerve-wracking when they are coming onto your property.” 

She believes the influx of homeless residents likely played a significant part in driving people to move out of Bangor in recent years.

To counteract that population loss, she believes the city should seek to attract people to Bangor by highlighting a business-friendly environment, its schools and the many recreational opportunities available. 

Free Martin

Free Martin, 49, has been the general manager and co-owner of Bangor’s Ramada Inn since 1998. He was also the manager of the since-closed Barnaby’s Nightclub. 

He played an important role in converting the 60-bed hotel into a full-time emergency shelter in September 2020. While the shelter is run by Penobscot Community Health Care, Martin has continued to maintain the property. 

The experience has given him an understanding of the city’s homelessness problem that he didn’t have before, and that he feels will aid him in addressing the topic if he is elected, Martin said. 

The city needs to craft a comprehensive plan to address a shortage of affordable housing in Bangor, he said.

“We need more affordable housing, permanent housing,” Martin said. “And we need to collaborate regionally and at the state level to ensure that we are coordinating all our resources in order to give people the best chance at long-term success.”  

Another platform item for him is making sure more people don’t leave Bangor. 

He believes the city can stop the exodus by creating more activities year-round for youth, developing a plan for more affordable housing, assisting the city’s retail and tourism sectors, and being proactive about recruiting new employers that tend to pay higher wages, such as Amazon and other tech companies.

The city should also tout what it already has. 

“We have everything in this town that anybody could possibly want,” Martin said. “I think Bangor just has to do a great job of selling it.” 

Joseph Leonard

Joseph Leonard, 31, is a former commissioned officer in the Army National Guard and a manager of Evenroods restaurant in downtown Bangor. Leonard also ran for council last year.

If elected, he would focus on expanding what he refers to as technological, human and basic infrastructure. That technical aspect includes raising internet speeds and allowing residents to access Community Connector bus information through a city app. 

He also wants to see more affordable housing across and the expansion of social services, like public housing and homeless outreach. He believes such changes, including the encouragement of worker co-ops, can help attract new young people to Bangor as the city loses residents.

“We have to start investing in young people,” Leonard said. 

He would also use his seat on the council to push for passenger rail to Bangor, a move he said would drive economic growth and allow easier access for Bangor residents to Portland and Waterville.

Leonard believes that Bangor officials should make sure that the multinational corporations with a presence in Bangor aren’t cheating employees or gaining tax advantages over local companies. 

“We’re allowing companies to exist in this city that provide mediocre to subpar occupations,” Leonard said.

Susan Hawes

Susan Hawes, 65, is the director of the medical assisting program at Beal University and an incumbent member of the city council, where she served from 2004 to 2013 before beginning her present term in 2019.

Hawes highlighted her experience on the council and said she would prioritize creating new affordable housing in the city and ensuring that Bangor has strong leadership under a new city manager. She is the only candidate or current council member who was involved in choosing former city manager Cathy Conlow for the position in 2010.

She also believes the city should do more to address infrastructure, including repairing many of Bangor’s streets and sidewalks.

She would also like to see the city’s code enforcement office be more aggressive in requiring that blighted buildings get fixed. The city should encourage people to bring those buildings into compliance and turn them into new housing, she said. 

To keep residents and attract newcomers, Bangor officials should ensure city hall is welcoming to all new residents and businesses, Hawes said. Highlighting the city’s services and other positives will also do much to change attitudes about Bangor and reverse recent downward population trends, she said. 

“I’ve been here my whole life. I love Bangor, and I want to see it grow,” Hawes said.

During her previous time on the council, Hawes said she was most proud of her work on the development of the Cross Insurance Center, new fire and police stations, and Hollywood Casino. 

Gretchen Schaefer 

Gretchen Schaefer, 46, is an instructional technologist at Husson University in Bangor, where she works to integrate technology into the school’s courses.

Schaefer was elected in 2018 and had only one full year before the coronavirus pandemic hit. As cases decline locally and children ages 5-11 are expected to soon be eligible for vaccination, she hopes a second term would allow her to pursue goals that have not been possible as the council has focused on the pandemic.

Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, she believes the most significant crises facing Bangor are homelessness and substance use disorder, which she said were deeply linked. 

Given that many of the city’s homeless residents were from other parts of Maine and the country, it doesn’t make sense for Bangor to take on the problem alone, Schaefer said. City officials should collaborate with counterparts at the county, state and federal levels.

Praising the city’s work to form the Advisory Committee on Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Human Rights, she said Bangor should continue to look for ways to diversify hiring at city hall so that it more accurately reflected the diversity of residents.

On the council, Schaefer said she was particularly proud of her work on the new skate park at Hayford Park, which opened last month. Schaefer, who said she is married to a skater, said her personal understanding of the subject helped her as she convinced other councilors to support her efforts with the project. 

Bangor’s recreational opportunities, from the City Forest to the skate park, are an integral part of the city, Schaefer said.  

Being one of two incumbents in the race brings name recognition but is something of a double-edged sword, Schaefer said. It means people know her record and have formed opinions, positive or negative, about her votes, she said.

“I’m never going to make everybody happy all the time — that wouldn’t be an honest way to live,” Schaefer said. “I feel like I’ve done the best I can for the city and citizens and hope to continue that.”