Portland City Council At Large
The Democrats on the Portland City Council are learning a hard lesson: You live by Dan Skolnik, you die by Dan Skolnik.
With the endorsement of City Councilor Jill Duson and other prominent Dems, Skolnik won a four-way race for the Council seat representing District 3 (Libbytown, Stroudwater, Rosemont) in 2007. His support for Ocean Properties’ Maine State Pier proposal made him a key ally of fellow Dems on the Council, who also favored the politically connected company’s plan.
But after the pier redevelopment process sank, Skolnik followed it off the deep end. A series of confrontations between Skolnik and fellow councilors, city staff, and the media have come to light in the past year and a half, culminating in a huge blow-up between Skolnik and Mayor Nick Mavodones, Councilor Dory Waxman and Councilor Duson.
In e-mails shared with several media outlets (including The Bollard, which has published comics on other subjects written by Skolnik this year), he’s called Mavodones a “child,” referred to Waxman as an “invertebrate,” and called out Duson for being a “spectacular dunce.”
Skolnik claims his colleagues and former allies have given him the cold shoulder ever since he decided not to seek re-election in District 3, frustrating his efforts to get city business done during his last six months in office. In an e-mail to Mavodones and Waxman sent last August, Skolnik asked, “Why did I become a bad guy by taking myself out of the race?”
Skolnik decided not to seek another term in District 3 after Will Mitchell, son of gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell, announced that he was running for the seat. (Former councilor and mayor Ed Suslovic, a black sheep among fellow Dems, is also running in District 3.) Although Skolnik cited work commitments when announcing his decision to step down, he also viewed his exit as a political favor to fellow Democrats on the Council who want Mitchell to win.
“You and Dory wouldn’t return my calls once Jill said she was supporting Will,” Skolnik wrote in the e-mail to Mavodones. “You wanted to support him, and I set you a graceful table for that. I gave you what you wanted! Why has no one spoken to me since???”
Spurned by his former pals, Skolnik has decided to seek revenge by running as a write-in candidate in the race for two at-large Council seats representing the entire city. Councilors John Anton and Duson are on the ballot, as is Charles Bragdon. The top two candidates will win.
Skolnik has made no secret of the fact he’s running to oust Duson. He presents his candidacy as a way to shake up the established order in City Hall and make the Council more “accountable.” Now 42, Skolnik is an attorney in civil and criminal practice and an entrepreneur (he’s spearheading a start-up business that aims to sell music and sports memorabilia online). Voters can choose him by writing in his full name, or just “Dan.”
Duson did not respond to a request to participate in this Voters’ Guide.
Anton, 45, is president of the Northern New England Housing Investment Fund, which arranges financing for affordable-housing projects. He is seeking his second term on the Council, and previously served on the Portland Planning Board.
Bragdon, 42, owns A-Plus Family Taxi. He lost a race against District 1 City Councilor Kevin Donoghue last year, and ran as a Green Independent against Anna Trevorrow earlier this year in a primary for the Maine House seat representing the East End (he lost that race, too). Bragdon said he is now running for the City Council as an independent. (Council races are officially non-partisan, but often quite partisan in practice.)
We asked the candidates about a host of local issues, including their take on two municipal ballot questions voters will decide this November: creating a directly elected mayoral position and giving legal residents who are not citizens the right to vote in city elections.
After a failed secession attempt and the disintegration of a special council created to address issues on Peaks Island, some islanders are suggesting the neighborhood become a semi-autonomous village. We asked the candidates for their thoughts on that prospect.
We asked them if they support repeal of the so-called “100-foot rule” that prevents businesses with both liquor and entertainment licenses from operating within 100 feet of one another (in most cases). The city’s housing replacement ordinance requires developers who destroy housing units to either replace them or pay into a city fund for housing development. We got the contenders’ take on that controversial law.
A couple budget questions followed, as well as one about future development of the Maine State Pier. Lastly, we asked the candidates if they have any specific proposals to help locally owned, independent businesses survive and thrive in Portland. (Full disclosure: I serve on the volunteer board of the non-profit behind the Portland Buy Local campaign, which promotes those types of businesses.)
— Chris Busby
Do you support the elected mayor proposal?
Skolnik: No. Supports the elected mayor portion of the measure, but opposes the companion measure that would create rank choice or instant runoff voting for city elections. “If we’re going to change the way we vote, there should be a real clear mandate.”
Do you favor giving non-citizens who are legal residents the right to vote in municipal elections?
Bragdon: Yes; helped organize to get the measure on the ballot.
Skolnik: Yes, but opposes the ballot measure due to concern that the city will have to spend a lot of money to defend the practice in court.
Should waterfront zoning rules be further relaxed?
Anton: Is “comfortable” with the amount of non-marine use allowed along Commercial Street and the three largest wharves, but does not support further loosening of zoning on smaller “finger” piers.
Skolnik: Yes. “We need to be realistic … We need more aggressive commercial development in the city.”
Are you open to negotiating a village-city relationship with Peaks Island?
Anton: Is “skeptical” of the village concept, but willing to reopen discussions with islanders about “an appropriate model of autonomy.”
Do you support repeal of the 100-foot law limiting entertainment venues?
Bragdon: No. “It has reduced crime.”
Should the city’s housing replacement ordinance be changed?
Anton: Made numerous changes to the ordinance earlier this year as chair of the Housing Committee; is not inclined to make additional changes.
Skolnik: No opinion on this matter.
Would you support any further increase in parking fees next year?
Anton: “Probably not.”
Skolnik: “Probably yes.” Sees parking fees as an incentive to encourage mass transit and other alternative transportation policies.
Would you support increasing funding for the library to expand hours/branches?
Anton: “Absent a specific proposal, I can’t really respond to that.”
Should the city issue another request for proposals to redevelop the Maine State Pier?
Anton: No. “My sense of the public’s will is that there wasn’t a lot of energy for redeveloping that pier.” Would rather see other under-used or vacant waterfront property developed first.
Bragdon: No position on this issue.
Skolnik: “Yes, but only after Dave Marshall’s off the Council.” [Marshall supported the plan that competed with the one submitted by Ocean Properties.]
What can be done to help locally owned, independent businesses in Portland?
Anton: Ensure that the city’s bidding process for goods and services does not put local, independent businesses at a disadvantage; would be willing to give such businesses a “small advantage” in that process.
Bragdon: No specific proposals in mind.
Skolnik: Would support measures to help businesses with fewer than 500 locations compete with larger chains; institute zoning requirements that address the location, design and signs chains can have.