Portland City Council District 3
Ed Suslovic made himself persona non grata among fellow Democrats on the Portland City Council several years ago, when he joined the three Greens and the Republican on that body to back The Olympia Companies’ Maine State Pier redevelopment proposal over that of its politically connected rival, Ocean Properties.
With the support of OP partisans, community organizer Dory Waxman (who worked to promote the company’s proposal for the pier) edged out Suslovic in a four-way race for his at-large seat in 2008. As The Bollard reported at the time, the push to elect Waxman was one of the most negative city campaigns in recent memory.
Cue dramatic movie trailer voice-over: Now Suslovic’s back, gunning for another shot at the backstabbers who brought him down two years ago. Think Ed’s dead? Better think again. Get ready for The Big Payback, coming to a political theater near you this Nov. 2.
That’s right. Suslovic wants another shot, this time running for the seat representing District 3 (the Libbytown, Stroudwater, and Rosemont neighborhoods). He very well may get it.
At first, Suslovic was expected to be challenging incumbent Dan Skolnik, but Skolnik dropped out and made way for another Democrat, Will Mitchell, son of gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell. It’s a script worthy of a Hollywood pot-boiler: black sheep Democrat vs. the party establishment.
Mitchell, 40, is a cartographic consultant (he helps businesses use maps) making his first run for public office. He’s volunteered on campaigns before (naturally; his mom has run for office many times), but otherwise his governmental experience is limited to serving on the Maine GeoLibrary Board — a statewide network that makes geographic data available to planners and the public.
Suslovic, 50, served on that board too, and at the same time. He also served in the State House of Representatives from 2002 to 2004, and on the City Council from 2005 to 2008. He works as a community development consultant. (By his own admission, work’s been kinda slow these days.)
Mitchell has picked up the endorsement of six of the nine city councilors, including Mayor Nick Mavodones, Waxman, and Jill Duson. That’s no surprise. But tellingly, Mitchell also has the support of the three Greens who were allied with Suslovic during the great pier debate.
The Greens’ main beef with Suslovic is that he’s too wonky, that he derails progress on issues by analyzing and processing them to death. But there is also the perception that Suslovic is running for revenge, and that his presence will make the Council more contentious and less productive.
In his quote endorsing Mitchell, Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who formerly worked for Mitchell’s mapping company, said his old boss “has neither scores to settle nor axes to grind and, in these times, we would all certainly benefit from his calm and analytical mind.”
When it comes to stirring the pot, Suslovic is no Skolnik (he’s more prone to bore colleagues to tears than berate them), but his independence does give the establishment fits. And that’s why, according to Suslovic, so many people in District 3 are supporting him.
Mitchell may have more councilors on his side, but it’s constituents that count. This one’s gonna be close.
Note: For further comment and explanation of the questions below, see the Voters’ Guide to this year’s at-large race for City Council.
— Chris Busby
Do you support the elected mayor proposal?
Suslovic: Yes, but would propose to repeal the instant runoff voting part of the measure and move language setting the mayor’s salary from the City Charter to the annual budget if the ballot question passes.
Do you favor giving non-citizens who are legal residents the right to vote in municipal elections?
Suslovic: No. Said immigrants can and do have their concerns addressed by contacting city officials.
Should waterfront zoning rules be further relaxed?
Mitchell: Yes, “slightly and cautiously.”
Suslovic: Yes, as long as it’s done carefully.
Are you open to negotiating a village-city relationship with Peaks Island?
Mitchell: Yes, but added, “I’m not saying I favor it.”
Suslovic: “My initial response is no.”
Do you support repeal of the 100-foot law limiting entertainment venues?
Mitchell: Would be in favor of “reviewing it with an eye towards repealing it.”
Suslovic: No. Would prefer to convene a “stakeholders group” to study alternatives.
Should the city’s housing replacement ordinance be changed?
Mitchell: Supports the objective of the policy, but is open to reconsidering it.
Suslovic: Prefers to “dust off” the city’s housing plan and revise it in light of changing market conditions.
Would you support any further increase in parking fees next year?
Mitchell: Not for parking meters; fees at city-owned parking garages are possible, but would have to be studied first.
Suslovic: “Everything has to be on the table.”
Would you support increasing funding for the library to expand hours/branches?
Mitchell: Is generally supportive, but said the city does not have the resources to make that “a priority.”
Suslovic: Not if doing so would contribute to higher property taxes.
Should the city issue another request for proposals to redevelop the Maine State Pier?
Mitchell: Not yet. “It would be unfortunate to initiate another process without a clear consensus of what the city wants to see happen.”
Suslovic: Not until the megaberth (large dock for cruise ships) at Ocean Gateway is completed, the pier’s role in relation to the rest of the waterfront is determined, and the dispute over ownership of land beneath the pier is settled.
What can be done to help locally owned, independent businesses in Portland?
Mitchell: Not sure of specific steps that can be taken. Said “sometimes [the way to help] is just to stay out of the way a little bit and make sure there’s not a lot of fees and red tape and bureaucracy in the way of doing a development or redevelopment project.”
Suslovic: Keep property taxes down, make it easier to navigate city licensing and zoning requirements, and make it easier for locally owned businesses to compete for vendor contracts with the city.