Rockland council race heads to finish line

This year’s Rockland City Council race has had its twists and turns.

Incumbent Mayor Brian Harden is seeking a fifth consecutive three-year term on the city council. No other person in the 67-year history of Rockland’s city council/city manager form of government has served 15 years in a row and thus Harden would make history if he wins on Nov. 6.

Being an incumbent has its advantages. Name recognition is critical in a political race and incumbents get that advantage.

But there is also the downside to being an incumbent. You have cast votes and over 12 years, Harden has cast a lot of votes. This has earned Harden political opponents.

Harden’s critics will note that he has created some of his own baggage. He has a tendency to lecture people during meetings and this is viewed as condescending.

He also infamously ordered the public access channel cameras turned off in 2007 during a city council meeting when a citizen spoke up to criticize council write-in candidate Bentley Snow Davis, a candidate that Harden had championed.

That action infuriated many people. Harden defended his action then and continued to defend his action at a city council debate held Oct. 9. He claimed that the woman who was speaking was possibly drunk and he did not want a personal attack to go over the airwaves.

So there are many people who want to end his service on the council.

But Harden, a Rockland native, has his supporters. He has been the top vote-getter in each of his previous runs for council.

The first person to challenge Harden this year was inn owner Frank Isganitis. Isganitis has the distinction of serving as a city councilor for the shortest period on record.

In 2010, he was initially declared the winner of a council seat and was sworn into office. But a recount would within a week overturn that result and Isganitis fell three votes short of Larry Pritchett for the seat.

Isganitis has his own baggage. He was a vocal supporter when Walgreens wanted to build a store at the busy Maverick Square intersection back in 2008. He criticized opponents of that project.

A citizen group formed and forced a referendum vote on the council-adopted zone change that would have allowed Walgreens to build. That effort was successful, the zone change was repealed and there was no Walgreens.

Isganitis continued to defend his position during the Oct. 9 council debate. He came under fire, however, from a citizen who reminded the candidate of his criticism of the opponents. The citizen said Isganitis had called opponents “stupid” although the candidate said he does not recall saying that and if he did, he apologizes.

Isganitis has decided to run a low-key campaign. He said he will not have campaign signs, saying it is a visual distraction and a waste of money. He has also decided against any door-to-door campaigning, saying people don’t want to be bothered at their homes.

He has opted for inviting people to have chats with him at his inn.

Initially, Isganitis appeared to be Harden’s biggest obstacle to a fifth term.

Then came Dale Hayward.

Hayward has twice before run for the council with little success. In 1986, he finished seventh out of nine candidates for two open seats on the council. He received 344 votes in that year. In 2009, he challenged Harden one one one for the single seat up for a vote that year. Harden defeated Hayward 1,488 to 867.

When Hayward announced, some local political observers felt that his candidacy would take away votes from Isganitis and split the anti-Harden vote, thus assuring Harden a fifth term.

Since then, however, events have changed.

Hayward has waged a strong campaign. Many observers of the Oct. 9 debate felt he performed the best. The observers say his performance was vastly better than his debate performance of 2009. Hayward signs are sprouting throughout the city and he has been out passing out fliers touting his candidacy.

There have been other candidates who have won on their third try for the council. Hal Perry finished last in 2003 and 2004 before he was elected in 2005 and later served a year as mayor.

Raymond Moulaison lost in 1982 and again in 1983 before winning election in 1984. Many considered him one of the most thoughtful councilors that the city had seen.

Harden, however, has defeated three people who would later win election to the council — Elizabeth Dickerson in 2000, Perry in 2003 and James Thompson in 2006.

Hayward has his own baggage. He can be volatile at times. When he ran for council in 2009, his main theme was criticism of the operation at the city dump. His motives were questioned by some on that issue, however, since he had applied but was turned down for a job as gatehouse attendant at the dump shortly before he ran for the seat.

And this year, he is locked in a legal battle with the city. The city went to court to order him to remove a structure that he uses for storing flea market items. The city argues that it tried working with Hayward for months before it decided to take the matter to court.

Hayward eventually signed a consent agreement with the city that he would remove the structure and pay the city’s cost to file the legal action. He has done neither and has appealed the consent agreement, saying he was coerced into it by the city and his own attorney.

He has asked the court to waive the fee for filing his appeal but thus far the court has not agreed. Some of his critics question why he cannot afford to pay the appeal filing cost but can afford political signs.

What this all means is that all bets are off on what the outcome could be on Nov. 6.

History could be made by Harden or a new councilor could join the city council.