MOUNT DESERT — Three candidates are running for two seats on the Board of Selectmen in the May 6 election. They are incumbents Matt Hart and Wendy Littlefield and first-time candidate Ian Schwartz.
The Islander asked each of them why they are running and what they would hope to achieve during their three-year term.
“So far as a selectman, I have been involved in a number of projects to help strengthen and grow our community, and I would appreciate the opportunity to continue with that, to see some of these projects through and hopefully to start some new ones,” Hart said.
He mentioned Northeast Harbor’s Main Street improvement project, which is now getting underway. It is the first phase of a three-phase Village Center plan.
“This first phase is just part of a larger picture,” Hart said. “My hope is that people will see how beautiful that ends up looking and decide we need to continue with this because there are some more areas that could use a little bit of a facelift.”
Hart said he has been deeply involved in economic development efforts, which so far have focused largely on Northeast Harbor. He said he would like to see what can be done to promote economic development in other villages, such as Somesville and Otter Creek.
“We have main thoroughfares through both of those villages, where there is some opportunity and we have some creative and industrious residents,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of residents who are interested in maybe small-scale commercial activity. Unfortunately, because of some of the zoning restrictions, that currently is not allowed. I think working with the town’s LUZO (land use zoning ordinance) group and the economic development group, there’s definitely an opportunity.”
Hart said he wants to be part of the community conversation about the idea of perhaps sharing additional resources and personnel with neighboring towns, particularly Bar Harbor.
“We need to do a lot of listening in that process,” he said. “I think there are some benefits to sharing resources, especially in a small island community. But it needs to be done at the appropriate pace and in the appropriate manner.”
Hart said that as community relations director at Neighborhood House, he has gotten to know and work with many people in town.
“I’ve definitely developed a love for the place and the people here. That’s something I’m passionate about, and I want to continue doing what I can to help make our community a vibrant place.”
There have been times in the past two years when serving on the Board of Selectmen hasn’t been easy for Littlefield. She cited, particularly, the contentious issues surrounding the Main Street improvement project in Northeast Harbor.
“But, so far, the good is outweighing the bad,” she said. “For me, it’s about keeping things as fair as we can. It’s the fairness and hearing different views and making sure everybody has a voice.”
As a lifelong resident of Mount Desert, Littlefield said, “I really love this community. I feel that I have a great connection with business owners that are year-round, with the business owners that are just seasonal and with those that are struggling and looking for places to live.”
Littlefield said that after being elected two years ago — finishing out the three-year term of a selectman who had resigned — she found the learning curve to be steeper than she had expected. She cited all of the details and the “nitty-gritty” of all sorts of issues and projects and the workings of municipal departments.
“I’m finally feeling good about where I am and the knowledge base I’ve gained,” she said. “I’ve done a lot of listening. It helps to look at things through someone else’s eyes.”
She said she appreciates the work of town committees and “being able to trust them and what they know.”
At the same time, Littlefield said, she likes to do her own research on issues and, ultimately, to reach her own conclusions.
Having worked as business manager at Mount Desert Island High School for the past 16 years, Littlefield said she brings lot of budget experience to the town board. She said that, along with her deep roots in the community and her “willingness to learn new things,” is among her strengths as a selectman.
She described her service on the board as “a really amazing experience.”
“It has given me a whole different view on the community and what it takes to make it work.”
She said it is easy to sit on the sidelines and let other people do the work.
“It’s not as easy to be in the middle of it when you are trying to make people happy and you’ve learned that maybe you can’t make everybody happy. I just thank them for giving me this opportunity and for trusting me to represent these people I care about so much.”
Schwartz said one of the issues he is passionate about is “raising taxes on the billionaire summer property owners who own half the town but don’t really reside here for more than a few days each year.”
He said the town could use the additional revenue “to construct or purchase affordable housing and to provide universal pre-K” at Mount Desert Nursery School.
“I would have to work out the details with input from other people,” Schwartz said. “But if you own a house that is not your primary residence that is worth, let’s say, more than a million dollars, I think you would be subject to a fee, which would then be used to pay for the various things the town’s residents need.”
He said that, currently, the cost of pre-kindergarten “kind of drives families away” and that housing in Mount Desert “is basically unavailable for all but members of the 1 percent.”
Schwartz said that, as a member of the Board of Selectmen, he would work to ban cruise ships from all of Mount Desert Island.
The towns of Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Tremont have all adopted cruise ship bans. Bar Harbor expects to have about 180 cruise ship visits this year.
“It generally appears as though the majority of the island’s residents are against cruise ships, but because of the politics in Bar Harbor, we’re still kind of stuck with them for a while,” Schwartz said.
“I would like to use the authority of the Mount Desert Board of Selectmen to work with other towns to raise awareness about this issue and to put political pressure on Bar Harbor to ban cruise ships entirely.”
Schwartz said he is against having police officers in schools on a regular basis, and he would like to make sure “taxpayers do not waste their money on unnecessary security cameras and unnecessary police force at [Mount Desert Elementary School], which experiences no crime.”
Schwartz, who grew up in Mount Desert, taught English for six years at a university in South Korea and, before that, for two years at an elementary school there.
“I have the perspective of someone who has spent a lot of time outside of this country,” he said. “A lot of these issues I’m bringing up might seem kind of strange or otherworldly to residents of Mount Desert, but this is the way things work in many other prosperous countries.
“We can … make this town work for everyone, rather than for the billionaires who own homes that they don’t even use.”