In his 18 combined years as a Belfast municipal official Mayor Walter Ash has seen Belfast in many lights, and as often as not, the outlook has been so-so. Now that things are looking up, Ash says he’s ready to stay on for a bit longer.

“We’re getting some stuff done,” he said, referring to the relatively smooth working relationship among City Council members, particularly with the most recent group. “We may disagree about some items but once it’s chewed out, the Council gets behind it.”

It wasn’t always this way. Ash was first elected in 2007 in a politically polarized race in which the theme of locals versus newcomers was cranked up in the political discourse.

“Some people tried to affiliate me with some of the Council races out there,” he said, referring, in part, to an advertisement by an outside group that included Ash on a “slate” of candidates, without his knowledge.

“I’m pretty much my own guy,” he said recently while taking a break from his work in the office of East Side Garage, the Searsport Avenue business he has owned for 43 years. “I try to get along with everyone.”

Asked about the idea of locals versus newer transplants, the mayor seemed disgusted about it being used as a political tool and said he doesn’t want any part of that conversation.

But he also pointed out that he is currently the only “local” in the Council group. And the reason it matters, he said, is that having grown up here, he knows a lot of the history of the community that others weren’t around for.

Ash grew up in Belfast, though he’s quick to point out that he hasn’t live here all his life — “Not yet,” he said. He was always mechanically inclined and he liked cars. While working at the Truitt Brothers Shoe Company, he started doing repairs for coworkers to make some extra money, and the succession of odd jobs eventually became a business.

Over the years, he lived through some local history that he said has proven relevant in recent city decisions. A recent example was when city officials were trying to figure out a puzzle of land parcels surrounding the old Stinson Seafood property, comprising land that was once part of the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad.

As former railroad president, Ash knew the property well. Conversely, the railroad was the reason he got into politics in the first place.

In the late 1980s, the city was divesting itself of the railroad and Ash wasn’t happy about it. He had run for City Council once before, losing to Arlo Redman. In 1992 he was elected as the Ward 5 councilman and served in that capacity for the next 12 years.

In 2000, he was elected to the Maine Legislature and did double duty for four of his six years at the State House, legislating in both Belfast and Augusta. A year after he finished his last term in the Legislature, he threw his hat back into the city government ring.

This time he ran for the mayor’s seat rather than the Council.

James Roberts Sr. held the Ward 5 seat at the time and Ash said he didn’t want to run against Roberts. Unlike his initial entry into city politics, Ash was not coming to City Hall with an axe to grind. His interest was generally in service, he said.

Which was just as well, because with the exception of a Council deadlock, the mayor rarely gets to vote.

In his four years, Ash has cast the deciding vote on three occasions; but to be ready, he said, he stays on top of the issues with the assumption that he could be called to vote at any time.

As moderator of city meetings, Ash has taken a relaxed approach, and he said this has led some people to criticize him for letting people speak for too long. But Ash said he believes it’s important to let his fellow elected officials do their jobs, which means speaking for their constituents, and it’s also important to let members of the public have their say.

In 2009, Ash ran unopposed, while two Councilors faced challenges. This time out he alone faces a challenge, from political newcomer Jim O’Connor. Asked about his bid for a third term, Ash said he’s trying to give back to the town what the town has given to him over the years.

“I think everybody should be involved in the town in some aspect,” he said.

But in a remark that seemed directed at his opponent, Ash said he feels strongly that if a person wants to serve as a city official, becoming a member of a city committee is the best place to start. Ash was chairman of the city’s Comprehensive Planning Committee before he sat on the Council and said he dealt with the Council frequently when he served on the board of directors for the railroad.

Today he sees his job as one of keeping the Council on an even keel and trying to build on the benefits that have been coming the city’s way.

“Promoting Belfast is the big one,” he said. “And I’m hyped up on that, pretty much.”

Ash said some of Belfast’s recent knack for attracting new business came about because of actions taken by city officials while he was in office. The Council has been running more smoothly than in past years, which has helped the city’s fortune, he said, as compared with other towns in the state where businesses are leaving.

“We’ve overcome that a little bit,” he said.

In September, Ash said he welcomed the challenge from O’Connor, saying competition is good. Asked this week if he still felt the same way, he said what he said then: that he wouldn’t want to be the only garage in town.

“I like to get as much business as I can,” he said.

His comment was cut short by the office phone, ringing for what must have been the tenth time in under a half-hour, not to mention several drop in visits that had drawn the mayor out to the garage’s lobby.  Ash had greeted them all without hesitation, often dropping a bit of dry humor.

The phone rang again. Ash let out a curse of comic exasperation and took the call.