BANGOR — Imagine being a conductor when most of the band isn’t even in the building with you. That analogy works for City Clerk Gail Campbell as she ponders the March 5 presidential primary.
“Orchestrating” is how she describes the task of city clerk on election days, as some 60 election workers are spread out among eight polling sites and City Hall.
This will be Campbell’s first election as city clerk, having been approved for the position by the City Council Monday evening. But the process is not new to her. She already has been through a number of elections as deputy clerk, and has the assistance of both the election workers and veteran staffers Mary Ellen Sullivan and Shelby Sutherburg in the city clerk’s office.
But all agree that a real asset during the coming elections will be the office’s new part-time employee, Russell McKenna.
“It’s wonderful,” Campbell said of having available the expertise of her former boss, who was Bangor’s city clerk for 18 years.
“His experience is going to be a big benefit,” Campbell said, “especially with three elections this year.” She said it would be difficult for anyone to come into a new clerk’s position during a presidential election year without someone to help provide continuity.
And of course, having worked for McKenna as deputy clerk also helps. “Sharing his knowledge has been wonderful on-the-job training,” she said.
Preparations have already started for the March election. Absentee ballots are available, and the regular ballots arrived Thursday morning.
No write-ins will be allowed in this election, Campbell said. Democrats can choose between Bill Clinton and Lyndon LaRouche. Republicans may vote for Lamar Alexander, Patrick Buchanan, Bob Dole, Steve Forbes, Phil Gramm (even though he has withdrawn from the race), Alan Keyes, Richard Lugar and Morry Taylor. Those who want someone else for the nominee cannot write in that person’s name, but rather must mark “uncommitted.”
Complicating the election has been the recent paperwork and confusion over the Reform Party. Recent directions from the state to list all Reform Party registrants as “unenrolled” affected more than 1,650 Bangor voters.
Phone calls and visits by some people who have changed their enrollments again lead Campbell to believe that many people didn’t realize they were signing up for the Reform Party when they filled out registration cards.
Unenrolled voters can still fill out an enrollment card if they want to vote in the primary, Campbell said. Democrats and Republicans also can change their enrollment, but today is the last day they can do that for this election.
Campbell is now in her second stint of working for the city. The Bar Harbor native, who is a graduate of Westbrook College, started out working at one of the city’s swimming pools back in 1968.
Then she moved to City Hall, where she ran the switchboard for several years and gained “invaluable experience” working with another longtime city clerk, Jay Alley.
In 1978 Campbell began her “12-year vacation” from city service to stay home and raise son Justin, now a student at the University of Maine.
A “very temporary” fill-in job in business licensing in the clerk’s office back in 1991 led to a move to vital records and finally to the deputy clerk’s job in 1993.
“I love the public,” Campbell said. “I really like working for the city.”
She also likes the variety of the office, which encompasses elections, voter registration, licenses, vital records, the many records of the City Council, and even animal control.
Some days it seems as though everyone who comes to the counter at City Hall wants something different, and in every situation, “this is very important to this person,” Campbell said. That is the attitude of everyone in the office, she said, and one reason they’re such a good staff.
Elections are exciting, but to Campbell there’s also something very special about January, the month when Bangor processes about half of its 1,500 annual dog licenses.
It’s a time when Campbell is apt to sport some of her favorite dog jewelry, and she said she really enjoys seeing what names people choose for their pets.
She expected that hers would remain a one-dog family, that dog being Maggie, a handsome dalmation. But there was to be another dog for the Campbells, a greyhound that came to their attention through the Greyhound Placement Service, one of the groups which finds homes for retired racing dogs so that they won’t be destroyed.
“My brother in Texas adopted four,” Campbell said, and her sister also has some of the dogs.
“I thought it was very interesting,” she said, but she didn’t think it would work for her to adopt a retired racer that would have to be fenced in or leashed. Racing dogs can’t be let loose, she said, because at speeds of 45 miles an hour they can go quite a distance in a short time. They also don’t pay much attention to cars.
But her family convinced her to take a chance on a 5-week-old puppy that was obviously too young to have been trained as a racer but was going to be destroyed because she only had one toe on one of her paws.
So Murphy Brown joined the Campbell family almost four years ago. Murphy doesn’t know she’s a greyhound, Campbell said. “She really thinks she’s a very, very tall dalmatian.”
Pictures of both dogs adorn the desk in Campbell’s new office. It’s been a memorable week, and not just because her hiring became official. Campbell and her husband, Skip, marked their wedding anniversary Wednesday by agreeing to Justin’s request that they join the “Kiss to Remember” event at the University of Maine.