WATERVILLE — Mayor Karen Heck says she will not run for re-election when her three-year term is up next year, but she has plenty she wants to do before then. 

“From the beginning, I said I was really interested in getting things going,” Heck said. “I wanted to get young people engaged in the process of the city’s future. We have a number of young people from the Planning Board who have moved up to the council and now I’ve appointed more young people to the Planning Board.” 

She was referring to Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, and councilors Michael Owens, D-Ward 2, and Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, who all are former Planning Board members. 

 Heck, who took office in January 2012, said she loves her job. The mayor’s main responsibility is to preside over City Council meetings, but she also is an ambassador for the city, she said. 

She speaks to school groups and organizations, attends business openings and other events and spends a lot of time in Augusta, lobbying for the city’s interests. 

“I’m happy to spend a lot of my time right now on all of these things, but honestly, it’s exhausting,” Heck, 61, said. “I’m happy to let someone else who’s well-suited take over.” 

In addition to being mayor, Heck works 30 hours a week as senior program officer for the Bingham Program, a philanthropic organization based in Augusta. She and her partner, Bruce Olson, also own Tree Spirits, a winery and distillery in Oakland, where she works five to 10 hours a week. 

The mayor’s duties demand her time as well. 

“It can be 10 to 15 hours a week, especially during the legislative session,” she said. “I spend a lot of time during the week and on weekends doing mayoral stuff. That, I’m very, very, very happy to do, but the point of my doing all of that is to really engage people, I think, who have been just sort of waiting for the invitation to be engaged.” 

Heck started an airport committee that has prompted improvements to the city’s Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport; she launched Community Convergence, a series of forums for residents to learn about city activities and comment; and she meets every other week with Thomas, and City Manager Michael Roy, to help finalize council agendas. She also tries to attend comprehensive planning meetings, she said. 

Heck is a member of the Mayors Coalition on Economic Development, a group of about a dozen Maine mayors who meet every other Friday or have a conference call to discuss issues and decide what action to take. 

She encourages people to tout the city wherever they go, she said. 

“I’m in philanthropy and people ask me to bring them to Waterville and show them around and I talk about what’s going on here,” she said. 

Heck said it is important the city continues to support economic development efforts. She is optimistic about the former Levine’s clothing store’s having been sold to Connecticut businessman Michael Soracchi, who is transforming the downtown building into a residential and retail space, as well as other uses. 

She said there is renewed interest in the vacant Hains building at the corner of Main and Appleton streets, with potential buyers looking at the downtown site; and Hathaway Creative Center owner Paul Boghossian has ideas for renovating the former Central Maine Power Co. and former Marden’s building on Water Street, she said. 

“I just think there’s tremendous opportunity that we could be taking advantage of,” she said. 

Heck and former Waterville Main Street executive director Shannon Haines approached Roy last year with the idea of allowing businesses and organizations to advertise their goods and services on the city’s website, free of charge. The service, called Shop Waterville, was instituted and has been online for several months. 

“I really wish more people would take advantage of that,” Heck said. 

She said the city is looking to hire someone to advise officials on how best to market the city, such as through social and print media. A focus would be to draw people to visit the Waterville Opera House, Quarry Road Recreation Area, Common Street Arts and other sites. 

Recently, Heck invited directors of Waterville’s hospitals and colleges to a meeting to ask them how they might increase their support for the city. 

“They were very willing to talk with us and come up with thoughts and ideas,” she said. 

The city has good momentum right now for getting projects done and that momentum might dissipate if people think she will run for re-election in 2014, she says. 

“If I say I’ll be here forever, people would say, ‘Well, we don’t have to do that right now.'” 

Heck said she very much enjoys being mayor. 

“I honestly love it and the thing I love is that in the town there are people who disagree with me — who are at the exact opposite end of the political spectrum — and we are able to have discussions on things in a reasonable way and still be friends. That is what people wish would happen at the state and national levels. It’s a real nice environment here.” 

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected] 

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