In about 24 hours, I will have the privilege and honor of being the first to introduce members of my community to the new members of the Biddeford City Council.
I will be the master of ceremonies at the inauguration of Mayor Alan Casavant, the nine members of the city council and the seven members of the school committee.
Many of these “new” councilors have previously served on the council, but some of them have been out of the public eye for a few years.
So, what can we expect from this new council?
For starters, I think Biddeford voters knew exactly what they were doing when they chose Clement Fleurent, Roger Hurtubise, John McCurry and Marc Lessard for a return to the council.
Each of these men are proven commodities. Each cares deeply about their community. We will all benefit from their previous service, their years of experience and their own, unique connections to the city we call home.
They are fiscally conservative and generally politically conservative. McCurry and Lessard have both previously served as council president; and both men made unsuccessful bids for the mayor’s seat (McCurry in 2007; Lessard in 2003).
While McCurry and Lessard have much in common and often see eye-to-eye on major policy issues, there is a not-so-subtle difference between the two men, at least based on my observations of their past civic performance.
McCurry is a stickler for process and he makes no bones about his priorities during annual budget battles. What you see is what you get. McCurry can be outspoken, but not for the sake of being outspoken. He has strong opinions, but he’s also a good listener. He can be stubborn, like a dog with a bone, once he has made up his mind.
McCurry is secure and confident without being arrogant. If he tells you he is going to vote for Plan A, he is going to vote for Plan A, not use his prior statement as either a political tool of manipulation; nor subject his opinion to the ranging barometer of public opinion.
But Lessard was a much different character on the council. I honestly hope that his brutal loss for the mayor’s seat a decade ago forced him to take an extra dose of humility. I will opt for optimism. It’s been 10 years. We’ve all grown and matured over the past decade.
Lessard is a political animal. Taken under the wing of former Mayor James Grattelo many years ago, Lessard often mistook his public service role as some sort of baseball game, complete with strategy, secret signals, orchestrated deals and plenty of red meat rhetoric for the spectators to gnaw upon.
He loved to quote articles from USA Today, demonstrating his vast knowledge of the nation’s economy and why Biddeford should be thankful to just be alive. He delighted in being coy and mischievous. He grinned slyly when he won; but his temper was rarely hidden on those rare occasions when he lost.
He once told me: “Randy, you could say a zebra is black with white stripes; or white with black stripes,” as a way to defend one of his positions.
I wasn’t buying it. “No,” I responded. “A zebra is just a zebra.”
Marc had a tendency to exaggerate and was no doubt frustrated that I routinely called him out about those distortions during my newspaper days.
But my newspaper days are over.
Marc and I were never best friends, but I have admiration for his zeal, his passion and his belief in his own ideas. He has never been anything less than polite and cordial with me. He is a hardworking man. By all accounts, he is a good husband and father and plays a mean game of baseball.
Conventional wisdom holds that a leopard cannot change his spots, but I still believe in Marc Lessard’s potential as a city leader. I think the people of Biddeford can be well-served by his firebrand style and his fiscally conservative approach. I think he can provide a good counterweight to some of Mayor Casavant’s idealistic leanings.
I strongly suspect that Marc has not given up on his dream of being the city’s mayor. If he asked me for my political advice, I would urge him to be a lot more like his friend John McCurry and a lot less like that guy who finished third in a three-way race 10 years ago.
Can a leopard change his spots? Let’s hope so because this council has the potential to be the best city council Biddeford has seen in a long, long time.