LePage's victory will require new Mayor of Waterville
Mayor of Waterville Paul LePage’s recent victory in the Maine gubernatorial election leaves the future of Waterville’s government uncertain. LePage has yet to announce when he will resign as mayor, a position that he has held since 2003, and until he does so, Waterville cannot begin to elect his replacement.
In an interview on November 3 with Waterville’s The Morning Sentinel, LePage joked about his resignation. “I’m going to keep torturing ‘em. I might give ‘em a Christmas present,” he said.
This response was echoed by Waterville City Clerk Arlene Strahan, who said that there are rumors circulating throughout Waterville that “[LePage] is going to serve as mayor until the end of the year.”
According to the city council website, the position of Mayor of Waterville was first created in 1888, and up until 2005 (the beginning of LePage’s term) the city favored a “strong mayor” form of government, in which the mayor was given total authority in the local government.
As a result of a new charter that was approved by voters in 2005, Waterville now maintains a “council-manager” form of government, in which the mayor acts as the head of a larger governing body—the city council.
The new city charter outlines the powers and duties of the mayor, as well as the protocol followed in the event of a mayoral resignation, and Strahan summarized the procedures that will be followed after LePage’s impending resignation.
“What happens is the chair of the city council acts as mayor until another mayor is elected. That council person has the right to vote but he [or she] does not have the right of veto,” Strahan said. Besides the right of veto, the replacement has all of the same duties and powers as the mayor.
Dana W. Sennett, D-Ward 4, is the city council chairman who will act as interim mayor following LePage’s resignation. According to the city charter, Sennett will act as mayor only until the position is permanently filled following a special election “called within 30 days of the vacancy, unless the vacancy occurs within three months prior to the next regular municipal election.” Because the next regular election is planned for November 2011, a special election will need to be held after LePage resigns.
In an interview conducted by The Morning Sentinel in early November, Sennett said, “I’m absolutely prepared to take over as acting mayor of the city of Waterville. I’ve done it several times now in Paul’s absence, and having been the chairman of the city council for a number of years now, it seems just a natural transition for me at this time.”
In the same interview, Sennett, a Democrat whose council term expires in 2011, hinted that he might be interested in permanently filling the position of mayor. “I’m the longest-serving city council member…and want to continue on the same path that we are currently following with the municipality,” Sennett said.
In his interview with The Morning Sentinel, LePage revealed whom he would support as his successor. His choice is “Alek Fortier…but I haven’t told him yet,” LePage said.
Fortier, a Republican who most recently ran for the seat of House District 77, is a resident of Waterville and a graduate of Waterville High School and the University of Maine at Augusta, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in business management.
According to a September interview with The Morning Sentinel about his goals as seat of House District 77, Fortier said that “past legislatures have not been focused on the important issues like making Maine an attractive place to work and raise a family. Our state government is bloated, inefficient and, I believe, headed in the wrong direction. I believe I can help.”
Fortier, son of John Fortier, a friend and supporter of LePage, ended up losing the race for the seat of House District 77 to Thomas R.W. Longstaff, a retired professor of religious studies on the Hill and former Waterville City Councilor.
According to the city charter, Fortier or Sennett would need to be nominated in a caucus held by their respective parties in order to run for mayor. Only then can they vie for this position in a city that the website for LePage’s gubernatorial campaign describes as “solidly Democrat” with a “Democrat council.”
While LePage continues to preside over city council meetings, there is much uncertainty and suspense surrounding his departure. Nevertheless, as Sennett told The Morning Sentinel, LePage’s victory marks “an exciting time for the city of Waterville and for his family.”