Nancy Hamilton was inspired to run for the Ward 5 seat on the City Council after a series of meetings last spring at which residents and councilors debated a proposal for the city to buy a downtown building and convert it into a multi-purpose event center.

She had nothing against an event center, but felt the project should be privately funded. She was also dubious about the business plan put forward by supporters and felt that the Council should have examined it the way a loan officer would review a mortgage application.

The Council ultimately passed on buying a building, but the process raised concerns for Hamilton about how the city’s surplus was seen by some in the community.

“There are interests in town who feel they want to tap into that,” she said.

Hamilton, a native of Texas and Oklahoma, started coming to Belfast in 1969 to visit relatives. She moved to the city in 1998 — “right after the ice storm,” she said — and currently works remotely, designing training curricula for a company based in South Portland that promotes laboratory safety.

She had been asked to run for Council on several occasions, but said she was hesitant at first.

“I waited for some of the old guard to step forward and run. When it appeared they weren’t going to do it, I decided to run,” she said, pointing out that this year’s Ward 5 contest will be the first, maybe ever, to hand the seat to a non-native (according to Belfast historian Jay Davis, Ward 5 representatives going back 40 years have been native to the city, meaning they grew up here).

“And that’s a really big thing for people on the East Side,” Hamilton said. “It’s an important transition point for them.”

Hamilton said the changes in Belfast in the last 30 years have been slower to reach the East Side and Ward 5 has a larger proportion of low-income residents than other districts. But the feeling, often expressed, that East Siders don’t have a voice in city government could apply to other parts of the city, too, she said.

As an at-large representative, Hamilton said she would have to be aware of the quieter voices in all parts of the city, particularly where taxes are concerned.

“We have to consider what is the impact on everyone in town, including some widow who’s living on the Back Belmont Road or Back Searsport Road who has an extremely limited income and how will that impact those people? Because most of the time they aren’t going to be very vocal about what they want.”

Hamilton called the Council’s decision to use a portion of the surplus to offset taxes a “great use of surplus,” adding the caveat that no one knows how long the economic downturn will last.

Asked what a non-native’s responsibility is toward natives in a district that has historically been represented by natives, Hamilton said, “The responsibility is to understand the history of Belfast and the traditional and historical culture of Belfast. I think [city councilors] need to be sensitive to those issues.”

Hamilton said she hopes to do as much as she can to bring new businesses and jobs to the city. Watching an interview on Belfast Community Television with the city’s new Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge, Hamilton said she was impressed with his ideas and came away believing that hiring an economic development director was a good strategy.

“I think it was something that needed to be done, but it’s like any other investment,” she said. “You don’t know when you buy a mutual fund or a piece of property if it’s going to be a good investment or not. You don’t know until time passes and the value goes up or down. So we won’t know for a while whether or not this has been a good investment … but it sounds like he has a good plan.”

Another necessary expenditure the Council has made, Hamilton said, was the purchase of a lot adjoining Belfast Common earlier this year. But she expressed reservations about a later decision to buy a portion of the Belfast & Moosehead Lake rail corridor, saying the Council should have done more to address a portion of the route that crosses private property, making the route currently unusable.

Asked about investing versus austerity in hard times, Hamilton said a private citizen with money might do well to invest now while prices are lower, “But if you’re talking about a city, it’s a different thing. You have to be more careful with the city’s money than with your own.”

Looking ahead, Hamilton expressed optimism about the direction in which the city is headed, and citizens’ ability to set the course.

“I think Belfast always has gone through and reinvented itself as times changed and technology changed and I don’t know what the future holds, but it is a unique place we have … Belfast is a small enough place that one person can make a difference still in this town, which is a wonderful thing,” she said.

Hamilton related an anecdote about writing a letter to The Republican Journal recently to condemn an editorial cartoon that took a shot at the Tea Party. Hamilton is not affiliated with the Tea Party, but felt that the cartoon was in poor taste.

At the same time, she was hesitant to write a letter, because it made her feel like her father, a serial letter writer who regularly mails Hamilton clippings of his contributions to the “Sound Off” section of his local newspaper. She didn’t want to be one of those people who writes letters to the newspaper all the time. But it was one time, and she felt the issue was too important to ignore.

Hamilton compared her decision to write the letter to her decision to seek elected office.

“When I have written letters and when I went and spoke at to City Council meeting I had people come up to me and say, ‘You’re so brave. I would never do that,’ and I’m like, why not? And people should,” she said. “I’m a formerly shy person and I don’t go out on a limb often, but I think sometimes the situation calls for it.”