Briefs from 2005
By Chris Busby
December 19, 2005
Point of contention
Producers, editors, directors and other members of the behind-the-scenes production crew at the local CBS affiliate, WGME 13, held demonstrations outside the station’s Washington Avenue studios on Dec. 15. The workers, members of the union IBEW Local 1837, were protesting what they say is unfair treatment by the station’s owner, the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
The union claims Sinclair is refusing to negotiate a fair contract. Members say their prior contract expired over a year ago, it’s been over two years since their last raise, and the company is requiring them to pay an increased share of health insurance costs – a de facto pay cut.
Speaking for Sinclair, station manager Alan Cartwright declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the contract negotiations.
IBEW shop steward Matt Beck, a producer, editor and director, said the biggest obstacle to a new contract is Sinclair’s push to make the local an “open shop,” whereby employees can opt not to pay union dues but still benefit from the union’s collective bargaining position.
“It’s just a roundabout way of breaking a union,” Beck said, “a way to try to gradually erode your membership, your strength and your solidarity.”
Beck said the local has about 50 members at present. Newscasters and other on-air talent belong to a separate union. Beck said that union supports Local 1837’s position, though their contract prevents them from demonstrating.
Sinclair is the largest owner of commercial television stations in the country. It bought WGME from Guy Gannett Communications in the late 1990s, around the same time Guy Gannett Communications sold the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram to the Seattle Times Co.
Sinclair was the subject of controversy last year when it directed its affiliates not to run an episode of Nightline dedicated to a recitation of the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. Later that year, the company’s decision to preempt prime time programming to run a documentary critical of Sen. John Kerry’s service in Vietnam also drew fire.
December 8, 2005
School board limits military recruitment visits
Before the Dec. 7 meeting of the Portland School Committee dissolved in chaos and angst over the size of the superintendent’s pay raise, a motion carried to limit military recruiters’ access to high school students. The motion technically places the same limit on college recruiters, though representatives of colleges and universities have not been visiting schools so frequently that the new limit will mean they have less time with students.
The new policy states that no organization can visit a high school for recruitment purposes more than seven times in a single academic year. Previously, there was no limit on these activities.
The new policy also confines recruiters to a single designated area of the school where “recruitment activities” – as defined by the principal — can take place.
Board member Stephen Spring, a key crafter and promoter of the policy change, said after the vote that this provision was even more significant than the limit on the number of visits. Military recruiters have been approaching students in the high school cafeterias during lunch periods, Spring said, and students have complained of being confronted in hallways and other areas of school grounds by aggressive military recruiters.
Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor said principals recorded 18 military recruitment visits to Deering High School last year, and 28 at Portland High. Board members say recruiters from individual colleges and universities make only two or three visits each in a typical year.
Board member Ben Meiklejohn argued in favor of the limit by saying federal funding decisions have left institutions of higher learning “cash-strapped,” while the military’s recruitment budget has grown – contributing to the imbalance in recruitment visits.
But as a critic of the policy change, Jonathan Radtke, pointed out, the limit on visits applies to specific branches of the military, so each of the five branches – the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard – can each make up to seven visits to a school. That’s 35 military recruitment visits per year. (Anecdotal evidence suggests the U.S. Army makes the bulk of recruiting visits to local high schools; data on visits by each branch was not available at the meeting.)
Board member Otis Thompson said the policy put the school board “in danger of violating the Maine axiom: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The two non-voting student representatives to the board said principals should have the sole authority to determine how many times recruiters can visit.
Thompson, Radtke and new board member John Coyne voted in opposition to the policy change. Spring and Meiklejohn were joined by board members Jason Toothaker, Susan Hopkins, Lori Gramlich and chairwoman Ellen Alcorn in supporting the new limits.
November 27, 2005
Portland opt-out policy could become state law
This year, the number of Portland public high school students who opted not to share their personal contact information with military recruiters rose from a percent or two to well over half the juniors and seniors at Deering and Portland High. This jump seems directly tied to a policy change pushed by school board members Stephen Spring and Ben Meiklejohn, who got the district to print the so-called “opt-out” option on the emergency cards every student must fill out and return at the beginning of the school year (see “Students to Uncle Sam: Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” below).
Public high schools statewide may be compelled to make the same change if a bill being introduced by a local lawmaker is passed next year.
No, that lawmaker isn’t John Eder – who, like Spring and Meiklejohn, is a member of the Green Independent Party. According to a press release from the Green Party, State Rep. David Farrington, a Democrat who represents parts of Gorham and Buxton, is introducing a bill modeled on the Portland initiative. Farrington teaches high school in Yarmouth.
Details of Farrington’s proposal are sketchy at this point, but The Bollard will be following up as the legislation takes shape.
Council scales back street-meat sales
The Portland City Council’s nanny-state rampage continued at its Nov. 21 meeting, when councilors voted to rescind an ordinance they passed last summer allowing street vendors to sell food in the Old Port past midnight. It seems two vendors failed to keep a promise to pack up their grub-mobiles by 1 a.m. sharp, the former (short-lived) food-curfew, and the crowds of hungry, tipsy bar patrons had “a number of difficult interactions” with police, according to the text accompanying the new ordinance.
Last call in Portland is 1 a.m., but the last chance to grab a hot dog in hopes of sobering up a bit before the drive home is now 12 a.m. again. No vendors showed up to protest the change.
Old Port revelers will henceforth have to rely on two other sources of cheap after-binge eats: Bill’s Pizza on Commercial Street and the Denny’s in Libbytown – two locations where fistfights and other serious acts of violence, like murder, never take place late at night when groups of young people gather en masse. Oh wait, that’s bullshit. Sorry.
November 20, 2005
An unpopular incumbent has bestowed a lifelong judiciary appointment to a controversial figure. No, it ain’t Alito — yet.
This past week, during a ceremony at the State House in Augusta, Governor John Baldacci made State Representative John Eder a Dedimus Justice, a title Justice Eder now holds for life.
A Dedimus Justice is basically a glorified Notary Public (Eder has been one of these since 2003, and he notarizes stuff for his constituents free of charge). According to the press release announcing his judgeship, Justice Eder may now give the oath of office to “elected officials and other officeholders.” However, Judge Eder is still not high enough up the judicial ladder to administer the oath to so-called “constitutional officers,” like the Secretary of State and State Treasurer. That’s God’s job.
“I’m really honored to receive this lifelong appointment by the Governor,” said Eder, the state’s lone Green Independent Party legislator. “It’s a nice recognition of my commitment to public service and I hope that I can continue to be of use to people.”
Disco Willy steps off …
Portland City Councilor Will Gorham is pulling two measures intended to curb drunk and disorderly behavior in the Old Port off the council agenda, and bringing them back to the committee level for further work and discussion.
As previously reported here (see below), Gorham, a former Old Port disco owner, brought forward two new ordinances aimed at reducing shit-faced shenanigans in the tourist district. One would impose a citywide closing time of 1 a.m. (Gorham later amended that to apply only in the Old Port); and the other would limit the number of wine-, liquor- or beer-serving establishments in the tourist district to 23 — the current limit is 27, and there are 23 (possibly 22, with Salsa’s demise) doing so now.
Gorham said the details of the legislation got more complicated than expected after he introduced it earlier this month. Rather than try to hammer out the details during the next council meeting (it’s on the Nov. 21 agenda), Gorham said he’s bringing both ordinances back to the council’s three-member Public Safety Committee, which he chairs, for further revision.
This also means the dance-off at Bubba’s is off for now. Stay tuned for further developments.
… meanwhile, the Old Port cleans itself up
Headliners, the hip-hoppin’ Wharf Street dance club that recently tangled with the city over liquor license issues (and lost), is making way for a new bar owned by its former landlord, Ed Baumann. Baumann — whose Fore Street Holdings also owns the space across Wharf Street occupied by The Industry (the sole Old Port dance club currently offering after-hours action) — intends to open a “high-end martini/wine establishment” serving “high-end appetizers and desserts,” according to his liquor license application.
The council granted Baumann liquor and entertainment (with dance) licenses at its Nov. 7 meeting, after some haggling over outdoor seating (chairs and tables must be removed from the cobblestone street by 11 p.m.). Councilor Gorham also questioned the need for a dance license in such a “high-end restaurant.”
Steve Baumann, also of Fore Street Holdings, said the bar would have a grand piano. The councilors considered the type of dancing inspired by a grand piano, and let the matter drop, though not before the specter of “Disco Willy” made a brief appearance. “I like to dance,” Gorham remarked, “depends how many drinks I’ve had. Give me the second martini and I’ll dance.”
The councilors all laughed (with the exception of Karen Geraghty, who’d left the meeting before this item was considered).
In keeping with the trend by which grubby bars give way to high-end successors named after their address, Baumann’s upscale establishment will be called Bar 37 (as in 37 Wharf St.). The projected opening date is Dec. 1.
November 8, 2005
Acting chief named chief
Last night, the Portland City Council voted 8-1, with Mayor Jill Duson the lone no vote, to hire Tim Burton as the city’s next chief of police.
Burton, 46, a Portland native who’s risen through the ranks during 23 years on the force, had been a deputy chief for several years until former top cop Mike Chitwood resigned last summer. Burton has been serving as interim chief since then. His annual salary will be just over $83,000.
Many speakers, including several Portland policemen and superior officers, spoke to Burton’s qualities as a cop, particularly his calm demeanor in stressful situations. As a police administrator, they cited Burton’s work upgrading the department’s computer system and redesigning the Middle Street headquarters. No one rose to question his qualifications for the job or his commitment to law enforcement.
However, scores of citizens and civic leaders – far more than spoke on Burton’s behalf — rose to ask the council not to hire Burton, or to look into the final stage of the decision-making process, when City Manager Joe Gray and Dr. Robert McAfee, chair of the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee, interviewed the two finalists for the job and Gray subsequently chose the interim chief over Clearwater, Florida, police captain Anthony Holloway.
Several speakers stressed that the city’s official affirmative action plan calls for minority candidates to be given special consideration in cases where their job qualifications evenly, or nearly evenly, match those of a white candidate. Holloway is black, Burton white.
The councilors, with the exception of Duson, did not find this argument persuasive, and none save the mayor mentioned affirmative action in their descriptions of how fair they felt the selection process was. “Nobody bothered to read the affirmative action plan,” Duson said.
Furthermore, the mayor noted, “the public input clearly favored a different choice” than Burton. Holloway received higher marks — unanimous endorsements — from the panels of civilian and professional representatives charged with advising Gray on the choice. Burton got mostly favorable marks from the same panels, but some key participants, such as leaders of the union representing the beat cops and detectives who make up the majority of the force, favored Holloway.
It was an unusually emotional and well-attended council meeting. Members of minority groups made up about half of the nearly 100 in attendance.
The most passionate public speaker of the evening was Moses Sebunya, a past president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP. Sebunya noted that the council has two openly gay members, and equated a vote for Burton with a vote in favor of repealing Maine’s civil rights protections for gays and lesbians.
“If you vote yes tonight, vote yes tomorrow!” Sebunya said from the podium.
Duson had taken the unusual step of relinquishing her position as mayor just before public comment began on Burton’s appointment. She turned the gavel over to City Councilor Karen Geraghty, who presided throughout the item. Duson said she did not want to be in the traditional mayoral position of speaking last among the councilors before their vote.
After the crowd cleared out, Duson recommenced council business with a bit of humor. Seeing city transportation director Jeff Monroe, she said into the microphone, “Homeboy! I didn’t realize you were one of my peeps!”
Monroe is the only one of 188 city department managers from a minority racial background (his mother is Spanish and Aztec Indian), according to a recent article in the Portland Press Herald. Duson is the lone black member of the council. Monroe laughed.
November 7, 2005
Students to Uncle Sam: Don’t call us, we’ll call you
Earlier this year, the Portland School Committee made it harder for high school students to blow off the form that indicates whether they want their contact information made available to military recruiters. In past years, this bit of bureaucratic paperwork was stuffed in with all the other official crap students get upon returning to school in the fall. Only a handful of students, less than three percent, bothered to fill it in and return it to district administrators. Those who failed to return the form were presumed to have no problem sharing their personal contact info with Sergeant Friendly, who usually followed up with a phone call or three during dinner.
This fall, the check box asking students whether they want their info shared was printed on the emergency contact information card all students are required to complete and return. Calling further attention to this change, school board members Stephen Spring and Ben Meiklejohn stood on the steps of Portland High School on the first morning of classes to alert students of their option to “opt out” of having their info released.
Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor announced the preliminary results of this change at a school board meeting last week. At Deering High School, of the 638 juniors and seniors who returned the card, 333 (or about 52 percent) opted not to share their info with the military. At Portland High, 721 of 1,111 total students opted out – about 65 percent.
Spring said he was pleased with the results, though he expected an even greater percentage would make Uncle Sam talk to the hand. That percentage may increase in future years as awareness of the option grows, he said.
An earlier effort to create an “opt in” system – one by which only those students who check a box indicating they do want their info shared have their info released to military recruiters — was shot down last year after the district’s legal counsel determined such a system would run afoul of a provision in the No Child Left Behind Act, and the district could lose federal funding as a result. A handful of districts nationwide have an “opt in” system, but many of them are also in legal skirmishes with the government as a result.
The school board’s policy committee, which Spring chairs, is also bringing forward a change that would limit military recruiters to seven visits to a school per year. The same limit would also apply to college recruiters (both types of recruiters must be treated equally under the law). Spring said neither class of recruiters has made that many visits in past years, but the change is still expected to face opposition from other board members when it comes up for a vote this Nov. 30.
Further data from the emergency cards – such as how many students also indicated they want college recruiters to leave them alone – has been requested, and may be available soon.
The cash campaign
Candidates for the city council, school board and water district board of trustees had to submit campaign finance forms to the City Clerk’s Office last week, and as usual, the forms make interesting reading.
Leading the fundraising pack was former state rep. Ed Suslovic, who’s seeking the at-large seat on the Portland City Council. He’s raked in over $11,000 so far – well, a little less if you don’t count the $500 he and his wife chipped in themselves. By comparison, of his two opponents, Carol Schiller had amassed only $6,023 (including a loan to herself for over a third of that total), and Loretta Griffin had $7,270 (including a self-loan for over five grand).
Local real estate developers were particularly generous to Suslovic. Executives at CB Richard Ellis/The Boulos Company account for an even grand ($250 each from CEO Joe Boulos, his brother Greg, company president – and former councilor and mayor – George Campbell, and Chief Financial Officer Morris Fisher). Suslovic’s former colleagues in the state Legislature contributed more than their pretty faces on his campaign flyers. State Senator Ethan Strimling threw in a C-note, as did Reps. Boyd Marley and Glenn Cummings. Past councilor and mayor Anne Pringle’s in for $100, and current councilor Dr. Donna Carr chipped in the $250 maximum donation.
City Councilor Will Gorham’s got his money on Griffin, the widow of former councilor John Griffin. Gorham and his wife each put $250 in Griffin’s coffer.
In the District 4 race, incumbent councilor Cheryl Leeman raised $5,159 (and had spent all but $293 by the time the form was filed). Notable contributors to her re-election effort include developer Joe Malone ($250), former Mayor Campbell ($100) and waterfront figure P.D. Merrill $250 (Merrill Industries also gave $100 as a business).
Leeman’s opponent, Stephen Lovejoy, also cracked the five-grand mark, but he had to rely on his campaign manager’s credit card for over half that sum. (Lovejoy also has to file an amended finance report, since the $2,552.38 in unpaid credit card debt was mistakenly entered as a material cash contribution). City Councilor Jim Cloutier tossed Lovejoy $200 worth of real money, and Rep. Cummings is in for $100, but Lovejoy is hoping his fellow Democrats pony up more cash for a final push against Leeman, the lone Republican on the council. (Did we mention these races are supposed to be nonpartisan?)
In a fundraising letter obtained by The Bollard, Lovejoy writes to fellow Donkey Party members that Leeman is “a serious threat to Democrats in up-ticket races.” Leeman “is well-positioned to run for Mike Brennan’s soon-to-be-open State Senate Seat” – Brennan recently announced he won’t seek another senate term next year, and is considering even further up-ticket seats, as in Congress – “or for Congress,” Lovejoy continues, “should Tom Allen retire” – setting the stage, apparently, for a possible Leeman-Brennan Congressional face-off.
“I have Cheryl running scared,” Lovejoy writes, noting the support he’s gotten from top Dems in Augusta. He’s also got the seven-term councilor hopping mad over his recent attacks on her record, though not a little amused to be considered a contender for higher office in Augusta or Washington. Leeman said she has no intention of seeking higher office after over two decades on the council.
In the other council race, for the District 5 seat, incumbent Jim Cohen had raised $6,645 by filing time, and spent most of that. A few contributors gave in the triple digits — Campbell’s in for another $100, as is Councilor Gorham – but the vast majority of the money Cohen took in came from contributors who donated $50 or less, and thus did not have to be listed by name on the finance form. Cohen got $5,345 in small contributions from 128 donors.
Cohen’s opponent, Al Schulman, gave himself $92.99 and got $100 from local Republican Party chief Halsey Frank. That’s it. By filing time, he had 99 cents left in the kitty.
Granted, that’s still more than this filing period’s lowest fundraiser, Alan Lyscars, who’s seeking a spot on the Portland Water District’s Board of Trustees. Ninety-nine cents more, to be exact. Lyscars didn’t collect Penny One. His opponent, if that’s not too strong a term for this contest, is Matthew Sinclair, who reported just over $122 collected so far.
October 24, 2005
Boozin’ in Bramhall Square
Just when you thought the intersection of Deering and Cumberland avenues and Congress and Bramhall streets couldn’t get any more dangerous, that area – called Bramhall Square – is poised to become a mini-hub of Portland nightlife.
Two businesses in the square got liquor licenses from the City Council last week. One, Binga’s Wings, is relocating for a second time. The other is Youngo’s, a coffee shop now planning to offer beverages with the opposite effect on the central nervous system, as well as musical entertainment. They’ll join the soul food restaurant Honey’s Place in what is fast becoming an attractive place to eat, drink and be merry – so long as you don’t try to cross the street.
Binga’s started out serving booze and late-night food on Wharf Street, and somewhat miraculously survived that experience to move to a new spot just off Monument Square a year or so ago. As one of the owners explained to the council, business there dropped off considerably after 4 p.m., when all the office workers fled the city. They hope their new location, the corner space formerly occupied by the Preble Street Resource Center’s Stone Soup food-service program, attracts more of a neighborhood crowd.
That prospect worries City Councilor Karen Geraghty, in whose district the bar and restaurant will now operate. She expressed concern about the possibility of drunken patrons leaving Binga’s and disrupting neighbors, as well as the squeeze it will put on parking in the area. Geraghty also made much of a drunk driving charge against one of the owners, but she failed to convince all but one of her fellow councilors (Donna Carr) to vote to deny the application.
Youngo’s application passed unanimously, without debate, even though owner Gregory Young’s record is less than squeaky clean. Since 1991, he’s racked up seven citations for letting his dogs run loose. However, none of the canines — since deceased, Young said — got behind the wheel.
Brief dream of artist studios on the salvage heap?
Portland’s loose community of broke artists got excited last summer over the prospect of new studio space in Bayside. Don Hinks, the owner of two buildings on Preble Street formerly known as the Portland Mattress Warehouse, sent feelers out to city officials and arts organizations about the possibility of converting the buildings into studios renting for as little as $300 a month, according to an article in the Portland Forecaster.
At least some of the property, however, has been bought by Alice Dunn, proprietor of Portland Architectural Salvage, on Congress Street. Dunn’s business partner, Kim O’Reilly, confirmed the sale, but said only Dunn could provide details on plans for the new space. Dunn did not return calls seeking comment.
Shut yer Pie Hole
The Pie Hole is now shut. The Forest Avenue pizza joint, bar and occasional live music venue served its last slice last week. Owner Grant Wilson, the Stone Coast Brewing honcho who previously ran the eponymous brewery/bar/restaurant/nightclub on York Street, said changes in his personal life led to the closure.
October 16, 2005
Gorham goes after after-hours scene
City Councilor Will Gorham is taking two legislative steps to try to clean up the modern day Sodom known as Portland’s Old Port. The first would impose a citywide 1 a.m. closing time for bars and nightclubs; the second would limit the number of licenses available to run bars in the Old Port to 23. Both proposals will be considered by the council in November.
There’s only one Old Port nightclub that still offers entertainment past 1 a.m.: The Industry, a dance destination on Wharf Street. The Industry is popular among the under-21 crowd for its after-hours dance nights. Gorham has been hanging out on Wharf Street in the wee weekend hours, too, but he doesn’t like what he sees.
“I went by there at 2:30 in the morning one Saturday night, and there was a girl standing on Wharf Street who couldn’t have been more than 14 years old,” said Gorham, whose council district includes the Old Port. “It’s this after-hours business that’s drawing them down there, and it’s wrong. Kids shouldn’t be around all these drunks down there.”
The second measure amends what is known as the Old Port Overlay Zone, a zoning distinction used to limit the number of bars in the area. When originally drafted, the zone allowed for 28 licensed bars in the Old Port. That number was reduced to 27 a few years ago, and there are currently 23 drinking establishments within its bounds. Gorham’s amendment would limit the number of Overlay licenses to 23, effectively ensuring that no additional watering-holes will open in spaces not currently serving booze, unless one of the current establishments closes.
Gorham may be acting like the buzz-crushing cop from Footloose, but in fact he’s no stranger to the rowdy nightclub life. In the mid-to-late ’70s, he co-owned and helped run The Sun Tavern/Oasis Lounge, a restaurant and nightclub on the corner of Middle and Exchange streets. This was, of course, during the heady, hedonistic Days of Disco, and Gorham wasn’t exactly a wallflower. (The Bollarddoesn’t have any pictures of Gorham from those days, but the photo illustration above attempts to re-create the scene he was in at the time.)
Gorham said his days as a dance club and bar owner “gave me the insight into how to run a business and how not to run a business. You can run these businesses responsibly.”
Both proposals are in their early stages, so it’s unclear at this point whether any club kids or bar owners will step forward to oppose Gorham’s orders. If they do,The Bollard is prepared to facilitate a resolution befitting the nature of these proposals: a dance-off on the lit dance-floor of Bubba’s Sulky Lounge. Does Gorham still have the moves, or will a newcomer send him back to Boogie Wonderland? Stay tuned.
Council grants $60,000+ rent break to Pirates
At their Oct. 5 meeting, Portland city councilors granted the Portland Pirates minor league hockey franchise a rent break worth over $60,000 on city-owned space in the heart of the Arts District downtown.
The office space – 2,415 square feet in the city-owned Spring Street Garage, with a front entrance at 94 Free Street – is currently occupied by the offices of Portland’s Downtown District, the non-profit organization that promotes the downtown area. The PDD, which has occupied the space rent-free since 2001, is moving to a new space on Congress Street this fall.
The Pirates, a for-profit franchise, initially asked for the same rent-free deal the PDD received. Pirates CEO/President Brian Petrovek is on the PDD’s Board of Directors.
Instead, the council voted unanimously to approve a deal brokered by its Community Development Committee, which is chaired by Councilor Jim Cloutier and includes councilors Jim Cohen and Nick Mavodones.
The office space is estimated to be worth between $9 and $10 per square foot, which puts its total value at nearly $22,000 in annual rent. Under the terms of the agreement, the Pirates will pay $1 – yup, that’s a buck – for the space in the first year of the five-year lease. Rent for the second and third years would be at the reduced rate of $4 per square foot ($9,660), and $6 per square foot (or $14, 490) in years four and five.
All told, and without factoring in any increase in market value between now and 2010, the deal amounts to a $60,374 break on the rent over the term of the five-year agreement.
City officials were unable to find a tenant for the space when they last attempted to list the property — nearly five years ago. At the council meeting, Cloutier noted the hard time the city had trying to market the space five years ago, and said he was unsure if the city has since made another attempt to find a tenant willing to pay fair market value for the space. “I don’t think we’ve done that lately,” he said.
Most minor league hockey franchise owners get free rent from their home communities, Cloutier said. Citing the draw hockey has in the winter months, he added, “it seems like a reasonable thing for the community to contribute that way.”
During the public comment period, council watchdog Steven Scharf questioned the wisdom of the deal and said the Pirates also get thousands of dollars in public subsidy in the form of free parking at the city-owned garage. His comments were largely ignored.
Petrovek told councilors the deal will allow his franchise to “operate better now.” The team left its first offices on Free Street, across from the Civic Center, when the rent increased, he said. Its current offices are on Congress Street, about 50 yards from the PDD office space.
Last year, the Pirates ended a 12-year affiliation with the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League, which cancelled its season over a labor disagreement. The American Hockey League team, which plays its home games at the Cumberland County Civic Center, is now affiliated with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
The Pirates finished last season with a .500 record, and did not qualify for the playoffs. Average attendance at home games rose six percent over the season before (4,339 people per game last year). However, that’s one of the lowest attendance rates in the AHL, and those figures remain anemic compared to the team’s first few years in town, when attendance was nearly 30 percent higher (average attendance during the 1994-1995 season, the team’s second, peaked at 6,475 per game).
In the five years since the PDD first occupied the Free Street space, several businesses have opened or relocated to the area, including Pierce Promotions and Event Management, and The Stadium, a sports bar and restaurant. The former Oak Leaf Inn nearby on Oak Street was recently converted into housing for Maine College of Art students, and a major condominium and retail development is being built on Brown Street, also less than a block from the office space.
Walker Terrace drawing unveiled
Developer Nathan Szanton made progress on his Walker Terrace housing complex (below) last week when the old auto repair business at Congress and Walker streets (further below) was demolished.
City and state pony up for Walker Terrace
Local developer Nathan Szanton received an additional $42,000 from the city so construction can begin on Walker Terrace, a 40-unit housing project planned for the corner of Congress and Walker streets. The council, which previously approved a $560,000 loan for the development, approved this new request on an emergency basis at its Sept. 19 meeting, waiving a second reading due to the time pressures Szanton is facing in his effort to secure financing.
Szanton said construction bids for the $5.3 million project came in higher than expected, due in part to cost increases for building materials that hit the market in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The funding shortfall amounts to $220,000. The Maine State Housing Authority has given preliminary approval to Szanton’s request for an additional $178,000.
Walker Terrace was originally planned to include 20 market-rate units and 20 units designated for low-income tenants. Szanton said the state Housing Authority requested that 22 of the 40 total units be designated low-income as a condition of the additional loan, and he has agreed to that request. Market-rate units are expected to cost $1,050 for one-bedrooms and $1,325 for two-bedroom units. The one-bedroom low-income units would rent for $691 a month; the two-bedrooms for $832.
Zen Ben-mobile stolen from the Old Port
It’s been a rough couple months for the Green Independent Party members on the Portland school board. Two of them in particular, Stephen Spring and Ben Meiklejohn, have been hammered in the daily paper for their efforts to tell high school students they have a right to have their contact information withheld from military recruiters. Spring just went through a mini legal saga trying to get justice for his dead willow tree (see “Spring goes Lorax on lawyer/landlord over ‘poisoned’ willow,” in News). And now Meiklejohn is on a quest to find his car, which was stolen in the Old Port a month ago.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of this story is the car itself, which Meiklejohn said is “a piece of crap” and “of no use for resale.” He figures the thieves have taken it to an unscrupulous mechanic with the intention of fixing it and selling it through Uncle Henry’s or other private means.
“I can only imagine the intelligence level of somebody who would choose to steal a useless piece of crap like my car,” Meiklejohn wrote in an e-mail to The Bollard. “I just want my nostalgic items back” – see below for details. “I don’t care all that much about the car, I needed a new one anyways.”
The following is an edited version of Meiklejohn’s description of the vehicle…
1990 Pontiac Grand Prix SE. Two doors. 100K+ miles. Fire engine red. Cracked windshield. Dents on both sides. Passenger side window inoperable (will not roll down). Right blinker out (will not blink). Brakes severely damaged, produce metal-on-metal squealing sound when applied. Side panel missing, exposing white adhesive. Plates read: “ZEN BEN.” Stickers: Green Party (several), Grateful Dead, Trailor (now a band called Stars Look Down), League of Pissed Off Voters, “God Bless America,” four years’ worth of parking permits, current inspection sticker (good until next summer). Inside: paintings tools and tarps, spilled and dried white paint, trash aplenty, and two garter belts (one from mother’s wedding).
Portland’s chapter of the League of Pissed Off Voters – a non-profit political action group aiming to get young people involved in politics — held its second and final local election forum on Sept. 27, and voted to endorse several candidates for city council and the school committee, as well as one of the two guys running for the Portland Water District’s Board of Trustees.
Carol Schiller got LOPV’s nod for the at-large council seat. She’s also been endorsed by the local Green Independent Party. But fellow Green-backed candidate Susan Hopkins, who’s running for the at-large seat on the school board, did not get the young progressive group’s endorsement.
Neither did District 4 City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who missed the forum due to a previous engagement, the group said – they later endorsed her challenger, Stephen Lovejoy, a professor with a background in banking and finance, who attended the event.
Incumbent District 5 Councilor Jim Cohen got the group’s thumbs-up, much to the chagrin of challenger Al Schulman (see this week’s story in News). But the group passed on both incumbent District 4 school board member Teri McRae and her opponent, Lori Gramlich. And they passed on the District 5 school board candidates, too: Christopher Breen and John Coyne.
For the water board, they chose Matthew Sinclair, the candidate chided during the forum for drinking Dasani bottled water – he doesn’t like the taste from the tap, he said.
About 60 people of all ages and political persuasions attended the forum, which was a combination meet-the-candidates and question-and-answer session with the audience. There was no debate.
Afterward, a potluck dinner was held. After that, 28 league members present voted on the candidates, who had to get at least 17 votes (or 60 percent) to gain the group’s approval. League members are expected to help promote the campaigns of the candidates they’ve endorsed. This is the group’s second year in town.
September 18, 2005
More condos planned on Munjoy Hill
The city has received notice that a developer is planning to build 31 condominiums on two Sheridan Street properties on Munjoy Hill. Sheridan Street LLC is seeking a zoning change that will allow a 28-unit condo building to be constructed at 135 Sheridan St. The four-story building would have one level of underground parking. A second property nearby, at 121 Sheridan St., would be renovated and expanded to create three condo units.
If that second address sounds familiar, perhaps you’ve written a letter in the past to City Councilor Peter O’Donnell, who lived there until recently. When the property next door changed hands, O’Donnell tangled with the developer after a survey found that the adjacent property’s line ran through part of his house. The issue was ultimately resolved without needing to make a line across the carpet with masking tape.
No date has yet been set for Planning Board consideration of the zoning change and related issues. Hill dwellers have reacted negatively in the past when condos have been proposed for the neighborhood. Projects that increase traffic and squeeze the on-street parking supply have also drawn ire, so stay tuned.
Parks and rhetoric
On Sept. 19, the Portland City Council approved an amendment to the city code that relaxes the fees and permitting requirements for political gatherings and other free speech exercises held in public parks.
F ees and insurance coverage will no longer be required for organized gatherings that last for less than eight hours in any given day. However, those fees and requirements remain for events expected to draw more than 25 people, or that “would consist of an activity that would create a public safety problem.”
The city took action after the Maine Civil Liberties Union threatened to bring suit over the requirements last year. City attorney Gary Wood and MCLU lawyer Zach Heiden hashed out the details, just as they did earlier over the issue of artists’ right to make and sell their work on city sidewalks. That compromise hasn’t led to any noticeable increase in street art sales. It remains to be seen whether this second compromise will bring more political activists out of the woodwork and into Deering Oaks.