GARDINER — Voters in Gardiner’s Ward 2 will decide who will fill the open city council seat and represent them when they cast their votes this fall.

Veronica Baer Babcock, 48, a special education teacher and former Gardiner-area school board member and Michael Hawkins, 38, who works for an affordable housing management company and is a landlord in Gardiner and Augusta, are both seeking seeking election to the seat vacated earlier this year when Simon West resigned because he was moving out of the city.

Babcock said she’s interested in serving on City Council because she wants to learn how the city’s tax dollars are spent and to see the process of figuring out how money is allocated.

“I want to understand it, and I want to serve,” she said, noting that unlike a school district budget that is directly voted on by the district residents, the city’s spending decisions rest with the elected officials.

If she’s elected, she would work on improving and adding sidewalks; it’s an issue that came up over and over as she was collecting signatures to run for office.

Babcock said she would also like to foster a stronger connection between the city and and the school district to understand the different budget processes.


“I know the school board is doing what’s best for children and the city councilors are doing what’s best for the city. It’s tricky. I’m excited to learn that whole process,” she said.

Veronica Babcock Contributed photo

During her two-term tenure on the Maine School Administrative District 11 Board, she was the vice chairwoman of the board for six years.

Babcock first moved to Gardiner with her family when she was a child, and she graduated from high school in Gardiner. She said returned to Gardiner as an adult because she wanted to raise her family there.

Hawkins, who has not been elected to public office before, said he thinks Gardiner should orient itself to families and to grow in the right way and the responsible way.

Hawkins grew up in Augusta but spent time in Gardiner as child visiting his grandmother, who lived on Dresden Avenue.

He and his family moved to Central Street in Gardiner in 2021. While they like their neighborhood, Hawkins said he noticed immediately that people routinely speed on that street and on many others throughout the city, a concern he sees echoed on Gardiner social media sites.


“People go flying down that street at 50 or 60 mph,” he said, adding that people treat city streets like roads. “I have a young family and their safety is paramount.”

Another issue that drew him to run for office is zoning. He said cities don’t allow people to do what they want with their property. While there is a place for zoning to prevent loud or smelly operations to be next to homes, nearly all communities engage in exclusionary zoning.

“If zoning is a positive thing, why do we have a housing crisis?” he said. “There’s a lot we can do to alleviate the problem and stop artificially restricting supply in favor of just single-family housing with excessive lot-size requirements. You need to have almost three acres to have a duplex in certain zones. I don’t think it’s for health or safety reasons. I think that’s so existing housing will be more expensive.”

He said city councils in general should take a strong step back from trying to centrally plan neighborhoods and from imposing restrictions on what can be built where.

Hawkins currently works as an occupancy specialist for an affordable housing management company that oversees properties in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. He and his wife are also landlords in Gardiner and Augusta. Before that, he worked for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hawkins, who maintains his innocence, successfully completed all court-ordered requirements stemming from a 2012 arrest on three charges of gross sexual assault on a minor. He has never been convicted of any sex crime. The felony charges were dropped when Hawkins entered an Alford plea and pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Those charges were also dropped.


Hawkins, asked for a comment, said this was malicious, revenge-motivated prosecution.

“In absolutely no way have I ever harmed a child,” he said. “There’s literally no group more important to a strong society than its children; the idea of harming any one of them is repulsive. I accepted an Alford plea deal because it allowed me to explicitly maintain my innocence in the face of persecution.”

Because the District 2 seat is vacant, the winner in the race could opt to be appointed to fill the seat early if he or she agrees.

While all four district seats are up for election this fall, the District 2 race is the only contested race.

Four of the five candidates currently running took part in a candidate forum Sunday at Gardiner City Hall, moderated by Ken Mitsui, a Gardiner Maine Street board member. The event was also livestreamed and is available on the meeting streams page on the city’s website.

District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry, who has served five terms on the Gardiner City Council, is running unopposed. He said Gardiner has a tremendous amount of potential and with the pending  completion of the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center, the city is on course to reach its potential.


In identifying priorities to focus on, Berry said officials have to keep in mind what residents are asking for and what they can afford while looking out for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. As a service center, and a provider of services like the Gardiner Ambulance Service, he said the city should explore regionalization of services to a greater extent.

While the District 3 race will appear as a contested race on the ballot, former District 3 City Councilor Shawn Dolley is now running unopposed. Zachary Wanberg had filed nomination papers to appear on the ballot, but last week he said he’s not running as he anticipates moving to the West Coast and would not be able to serve an entire term. He was not able to withdraw in time to avoid appearing on the ballot.

Dolley, an architect and innkeeper in Gardiner, served two terms, from 2016 to 2020, before opting not to run again. Since then, he has been a member of the Gardiner Planning Board. He said it was refreshing to learn how other boards work.

Dolley said his top priority is something that Gardiner is already doing — attracting young families and growing its tax base. Now, he said, people understand what Gardiner has to offer in terms of community and a business environment, and that’s what needed to continue developing the city’s property tax base.

“Having a vision of guided development is very important, and we continue to refine our ordinance to guide development in right ways,” he said. “There is certainly more work to do with that and we continuously do need to evolve with changes that are happening around us.”

Gay Grant, initially appointed to fill a vacant seat for District 4, which encompasses South Gardiner, is running for election and is unopposed. The former state representative was unable to attend Sunday’s candidate panel.

In Gardiner, where city elected officials serve two-year terms, the at-large seats up for election in years ending with an even number. The four district seats are up for election in odd-numbered years.

City councilors are paid $1,000 annually.

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