On Nov. 7, Rockland voters will choose from among an incumbent councilor, two former councilors, and a newcomer to elect two new members of the City Council.
Former councilors Adam Ackor and Nathan Davis, current Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf, and Kaitlin Callahan are vying for three-year terms.
The biggest issues that concern Rockland residents seem to be the housing crisis and high property taxes — most of the questions at a Sept. 28 forum where the candidates spoke to the public were about housing, and the topics frequently come up at council meetings.
Contentious policies that the council has been considering include rent stabilization to keep rent costs from skyrocketing and limiting non-owner-occupied short-term rentals in the city. Two candidates — Davis and Callahan — explicitly support rent stabilization, while Ackor is against it. MacLellan-Ruf said she follows what the community thinks is right. Several questions voters asked at the forum were on these topics, with some residents hoping for new referendums and ordinances and others looking for ways to address the housing crisis.
Ackor, a general contractor, has lived in Rockland for 25 years. He served on the council from 2016 to 2019 and as the city’s code enforcement officer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ackor said his previous term as a councilor was “tumultuous” and, if elected, his next term will be less so. He said his municipal and professional experience should serve him well on the board.
“We need to facilitate development,” Ackor said. “We need to look at our building codes, see if they’re outdated, see if we can make some tweaks here and there to maybe spur a little bit of development.”
The housing crisis and the city’s dwindling workforce are the biggest issues facing Rockland, Ackor said. He does not support rent stabilization, saying at the Sept. 28 candidates’ forum that he doesn’t think it would work. He also opposes limits on short-term rentals and said the City Council needs to incentivize and encourage economic development.
“People should be able to do what they want to with their private property,” Ackor said.
Davis, who served on the council from 2019 to 2022, is running again after losing his reelection bid last year by one vote.
Davis said affordable housing, bringing development and increasing the workforce are the biggest issues facing the city, and he wants to make sure Rockland has goals and a direction.
“We have a great new comprehensive plan, but I feel that the city government isn’t really using it as an effective guide at the moment,” he said.
Davis wants to improve walkability and bikeability in the city, which could attract more young people and families.
Davis said he’s proud of proposing the zoning change during his prior term that allowed greater density in some areas, and for proposing the city’s minimum wage ordinance that was enacted in 2022. Davis said there’s still more to do, like eliminating most minimum parking requirements and reducing barriers in the city code to building more housing.
Davis, along with Callahan, was endorsed in a letter to the editor in the PenBay Pilot by state Sen. Pinny Beebe-Center. Beebe-Center, Democrat, said Davis has worked to raise wages, cut heating costs and served on a council that lowered taxes.
MacLellan-Ruf is the only current councilor running for reelection. As the current mayor and someone who has served on the council for six years, MacLellan-Ruf said she brings experience to the table.
She said she’s worked for several nonprofits and is familiar with the community after living in the city for more than 20 years. Besides being on the council, she also has served on the harbor management commission.
MacLellan-Ruf said she’s running again because she had a “fabulous” year with the city staff. She wants to keep moving the Harbor Trail forward and make sure the Lindsey Brook problem — an area of Rockland that has experienced extensive and destructive flooding — is taken care of.
MacLellan-Ruf called out Beebe-Center’s endorsement for Davis and Callahan. She said the position of councilor is supposed to be about Rockland, not anything partisan or personal.
“What I have found over the years and even this year, we had a state senator supporting two of the candidates. Which is another head-scratcher and very concerning,” MacLellan-Ruf said.
She said people in Rockland should vote for her because she “knows the game.” She said she’s worked with city staff and volunteers for years and knows how to run an effective meeting.
“I’m also older, some people have said that I may be too old, which is concerning, but we have a very senior population,” she said.
Callahan, the only candidate without prior local council experience, did not respond to requests for comment from the Bangor Daily News.
Callahan said during the candidates’ forum that she is running to address the local housing crisis. She supports rent control and phasing out non-owner-occupied short-term rentals. But she said rent control is a short term solution and that in the long term, Rockland needs to offer incentives for development and to change zoning rules to allow for denser residential construction.
At the forum, Callahan said she’s worked with people with substance use disorder and unhoused people in Rockland.
“I’ve borne witness to countless heartbreaking stories over the last three years, new ones unfolding each week,” Callahan said at the forum. “Rockland needs a fresh perspective and energy to be brought to council.”
Jules Walkup is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for this reporting is provided by BDN readers.