WATERVILLE — The city’s new mayor, Karen Heck, called Tuesday for the safe return of Ayla Reynolds.

Heck, 59, led her inaugural address with a request for a moment of silence for the 21-month-old girl, who has been missing from her Waterville home since Dec. 17.

“We are lucky to live in a community that cares about its neighbors and comes together in a crisis,” Heck, the city’s 52nd mayor, said.

She also asked for the safe return of Dr. Joseph Lopes, a Waterville urologist who is leaving this week for a fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan; and that comfort be sent to the family of Dr. Alan Slack, a well-known veterinarian who died recently.

Heck was speaking to more than 200 city officials, former mayors, state legislators and residents who turned out for the inauguration at Waterville Senior High School.

Waterville rallied when Reynolds, the  toddler, was reported missing, with law enforcement officials, volunteers and others stepping up to help, Heck said.

She asked that everyone do what they can to support children who need help and support by getting involved with local schools or libraries, reading to children or taking part in after school activities. It is in our self-interest to do all we can to see that they are successful, she said.

“What I’d like us all to consider is how we can sustain that feeling of community throughout the year,” Heck said. “While Ayla’s disappearance has galvanized our attention, there are far too many youngsters living in this city in dysfunctional homes who are being lost to us in their early years.”

A Colby College graduate, Heck helped found Hardy Girls, Healthy Women, a Waterville-based organization, and has worked with youth for many years.

Children played a large part in Tuesday’s festivities. The Waterville Senior High School Jazz Band Ensemble performed, as did the group Vocal Traction. High school student Bethany Brown read a poem, student Marie Jacqueline Gershman-Mannocchi sang a song and spelling bee stars from Albert S. Hall School were in attendance. The high school’s jazz combo performed during a reception following the inauguration.

Heck, senior program officer for the Bingham Program, is not enrolled in a major political party. She was elected mayor in November, defeating Mayor Dana Sennett, a Democrat, and newcomer Andrew Roy. She got 2,021 votes to Sennett’s 1,344 and Roy’s 360.

Heck told the enthusiastic crowd Tuesday night that she decided to run for mayor because she believes in a vision of people putting their talents and interests together to build community. She also believes in the future prosperity of the city, she said.

“And I believe we have the ingenuity and  innovative thinkers we need right here to create that future.”

Heck said she was often asked what is the first thing she will do as mayor and she tells people there are lots of things the city needs to do, including revitalizing the airport, lowering energy costs, building a new police station, recycling, filling up or taking down empty buildings and fixing roads. She also cited marketing the city and expanding the tax base as important needs.

She can not do the work alone; people must work together to help make change, she said, adding that when people get together to discuss their hopes and ideas, dreams become reality.

“In order to achieve our dreams, it’s important that we embrace and welcome new ideas,” Heck said. “The status quo is comfortable, which is what makes change scary to some.”

She challenged people to respond to good ideas with “Heck, yes,” which was one of her campaign slogans.

“So, for example, when it comes to creating a prosperous and vibrant community, instead of focusing on recruiting the next L.L. Bean call center, let’s focus on what we can do to help each small business already doing business here to hire two more employees. Instead of giving TIFs (tax increment financing) to companies who are based outside of this city or state, let’s look at what economic incentives we can give to help businesses here grow.”

Former mayors who attended included Al Bernier, his son David Bernier, Thomas Nale, Ruth Joseph and Donald Marden.

Accompanying Heck to the event were her partner, Bruce Olson, and her mother, June Heck, who surprised her by flying to Waterville Monday from Port St. Lucie, Fla.

June Heck said she was very proud of her daughter and happy to be at the inauguration.

“I am proud but I am also humbled by the way Watervillians have adopted Karen and done so much to make her life a joy here,” she said.

Heck was sworn in by Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy, who also administered the oath of office to school board members and city councilors.

Heck’s campaign manager, Dana Hernandez, welcomed the crowd; the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes gave the invocation and Rabbi Rachel Isaacs, the benediction. Pamela Kick, vice president of Waterville Development Corp. and owner of Pinnacle IT, spoke. Sue Barre directed the high school jazz band and Matt Madore directed Vocal Traction.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]


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