Editorial, Nov. 16, 2017

Nov 16, 2017


Last week, we applauded young people who are filling municipal and state-level seats for public office. This week, we are offering our thanks to the man who has led Belfast as its mayor for five terms, Walter Ash, who was defeated in his bid for a sixth term by political newcomer Samantha Paradis.

Ash has a long history of serving in public office. He started on the city's railroad committee, when the city owned a majority share of the old Belfast & Moosehead Lake railroad. He later was elected to the City Council for terms totaling 12 years, and then served six years in the state Legislature.

Outside of the occasional tiebreaker, Belfast's mayor does not vote on issues that come before the City Council. But Ash took to the role of moderator, occasionally interjecting opinions, but mostly facilitating discussion among councilors. He was a good face for Belfast — cutting ribbons, as a Belfast Barron communicating with Passy Pete, marching in annual parades, and representing the council in other capacities, such as offering a willing ear to constituents expressing concerns. As a retired automotive mechanic and garage owner who provided road service at any time, in any weather, he's been there for city residents in other ways, too.

Ash and the City Council worked together effectively to change the face, fortunes and future of Belfast by establishing the rail trail and harborwalk and consistently attracting economic development to the area.

In planning stages, Ash often served as a voice of caution and moderation, affably covering the brake in a rapidly changing community — but was quickly won over as results materialized. In a 2011 Portland Press Herald story about businesses booming in the city, he said:

"We are not just sitting back and letting the world go by. We are out there hustling, trying to become a destination point. The goal is to get people coming to our community and, hopefully, leaving dollars here so everybody can survive.”

Prior to the election, the Journal received a number of letters, among them one from former two-term Councilor Nancy Hamilton, who described more of the behind-the-scenes work of the city's mayor.

She wrote Ash has an “institutional memory that provides often-needed background for current issues, which can help keep the council from re-inventing the wheel or repeating mistakes of the past." Hamilton praised Ash's role as peacemaker during heated discussions and said because of his experience, the personalities in conflict tended to settle down and play nice with a few words from the mayor. Checking in with City Hall and being available to constituents also were Ash hallmarks, she wrote.

He can trace his family's roots back to the Mayflower and credited longtime residents like himself for establishing the underlying character of a city that has attracted many waves of devoted newcomers.

On Election Night, we heard from a man who was unhappy and undoubtedly shocked at the outcome; nevertheless, he spoke unhesitatingly — and frankly — with the Journal. Reader comments on the story on our website were critical of Ash's tone, but some noted his reaction seemed out of character, and we agree. Put yourself in his shoes, those of a dedicated, long-time mayor abruptly unseated by someone with no municipal experience. For most, it would be quite a shock and some of us might have minced fewer words.

In no time, Ash was back to his normal self, though, telling Bangor Daily News the following day that while he was disappointed about the outcome, he couldn't say anything bad about his challenger.

“ ... she ran a race, and she won, and that’s the way it is,” he told BDN.

Ash's defeat in his bid for mayor doesn't lessen the accomplishments he was a part of during his time in office. We thank you, Walter Ash, for all of the contributions you've made to the city.

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