With no incumbents running, two new city councilors will be elected in Ellsworth on Nov. 2 as voters choose among 4 candidates.
Councilors Heather Grindle and John Phillips have decided not to seek reelection. Casey Hanson, Mathias Kamin, John Linnehan and Steve O’Halloran are vying to replace them on the seven-seat board.
Among issues the candidates have campaigned on are property taxes, updating Ellsworth’s comprehensive plan, the labor shortage and social issues such as rainbow-colored crosswalks and the defund the police movement.
They differ on some of them, but all four have expressed strong support for Ellsworth’s small-business community and agree that national political issues are best left out of City Council business.
“I think we’re all tired of national politics,” O’Halloran said at a candidates’ forum held earlier this month at the Grand Auditorium.
Linnehan, a longtime area businessman, and O’Halloran, owner and operator of a transportation firm, each emphasized that Ellsworth should be more business-friendly. Hanson, a family physician, and Kamin, who works in the beverage production and building trades, have said small businesses are a critical part of the city’s quality of life.
The issue of rainbow-colored crosswalks in Ellsworth — which have been permitted at city schools by the school board, but have been rejected downtown by the council — may be the issue with the clearest differences between the candidates. Linnehan and O’Halloran each have said they oppose painting crosswalks in rainbow colors, but Hanson and Kamin each have said they strongly support the LGBTQ+ community and would vote in favor of rainbow-colored crosswalks.
O’Halloran, 57, has said that everyone should be treated equally and fairly, and that he is not opposed to Pride colors being displayed downtown in other ways, though he did say during the candidates’ forum that “I don’t think we need to advertise our sexual orientation.”
Rather than paint crosswalks in rainbow colors, O’Halloran said, all crosswalks throughout the city should be painted yellow to give them a distinctive look.
Linnehan, 73, said his opposition to painting crosswalks in rainbow colors is rooted in his Christian belief that homosexuality is a sin. He said he knows gay people and does not hate anyone, but that being gay or not adhering to traditional concepts of gender is “un-Biblical, un-Christian and immoral behavior.”
Linnehan, who has long been open about his Christian faith and has supported several area ministries, was the only candidate at the forum to describe his religious beliefs.
“We are all going to die physically and this temporary life will end, but our spirits and our souls will leave our dead bodies and go to live eternally in one of two places,” Linnehan said in his opening remarks at the candidates’ forum. “According to God’s word, the Bible, if you have placed your faith, trust and belief in Jesus Christ as your savior, you will live eternally forever in Heaven with God as your heavenly father.”
The candidates also differed on the defund the police movement, which some have endorsed as a way to address how Black people often are treated more severely and nationwide are killed by police officers at a much higher rate than other ethnic groups.
Linnehan and O’Halloran each flatly said at the forum that they do not support the defund the police movement. When asked if they support it, Hanson and Kamin each said they felt it was a “gotcha” question and that a better way to look at the issue would be to consider how police officers and others can better address community problems such as racism, opiate addiction and mental health.
Kamin, 34, said he does not know what, if anything, the defund the police movement has to do with Ellsworth, but added that police departments in general should be more responsive to public input. He noted that in the summer of 2020, during the height of Black Lives Matter protests in Maine, Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane withdrew a request to county commissioners for funding for riot gear after the request provoked a public outcry, saying that withdrawing the request was the right thing to do.
“I think a better [approach] would be to reinvest in our communities,” Kamin said, adding that in many places police budgets are “bloated” and departments have been “militarized.”
Hanson, 44, said she has no interest in defunding the Ellsworth Police Department, but she said a lot of the critical social issues that fall on the police department could be supported with increased involvement by mental health and addiction counselors, and by efforts to make affordable housing more available.
“That I definitely support,” she said.
Linnehan touted his business experience and said the city has an “excessive number of regulations and over-restrictive ordinances.” He said if he is elected, he would go through the city budget line by line and propose to reduce city spending by 10 percent. By extension, he would propose to reduce every property owners’ tax bills by 10 percent.
“Our property taxes are way too high,” Linnehan said. “High taxes definitely are the biggest challenge facing our city.”
O’Halloran has frequently said that Ellsworth needs to become “more business friendly” in order to attract more businesses and people to shoulder the city’s tax burden, but has offered few details on how that might be done. He is skeptical about the ability of the City Council to do anything to address the labor shortage, but believes if businesses offered better pay and attracted needed employees, it could help boost business development in the city.
“It’s everywhere,” he said of the employee shortage. “No one has proper staffing.”
Kamin said he would not promise to reduce taxes, but said the city could make its money go further by applying for more assistance and grant funding from state programs. He said the city’s comprehensive plan should be updated to help promote sustainable business growth and Ellsworth’s burgeoning entrepreneurial community.
“I plan to make it my number one priority,” Kamin said of updating the city’s comprehensive plan. “All of my friends are starting up businesses [in Ellsworth] or working at ones that just started.”
Hanson emphasized the need to encourage small business growth in the city, so her teenage children and other young people can stay in or return to Ellsworth for work. She said the city should continue to support startup businesses at its Union River Center for Innovation and that, with continued redevelopment, Ellsworth’s downtown waterfront can both attract people seeking recreation and foster sustainable business growth.
Hanson said her biggest goal as a councilor would be to foster connection and collaboration among residents and between residents and City Hall.
“The biggest challenge for the city is to remain united in the face of difficult times,” she said. “We need to remember that we are a city of neighbors who care about each other and that we can work together and unite around shared goals.”
Kamin and Linnehan have run for the council before, in 2019 and 2016 respectively, but none of the candidates has held prior elected office. Linnehan also has run twice for the Maine state senate, in 2004 and again last year.