The Portland mayoral horse race
It’s a cliché to refer to political campaigns as “horse races,” but the contest to become Portland’s first directly elected, full-time mayor in 88 years resembles nothing so much as that. There are 15 candidates in a field almost evenly split between frontrunners, dark horses, and the unpredictable middle of the pack. Unless the fix is in, no one has any idea which pony — I mean, politician — will win.
Adding to the unpredictability is the ranked-choice voting system Portlanders will encounter in the booth for the first time this year. Like playing the trifecta at the track, voters can rank their choices from first to second to third (all the way to fifteenth, if you want). Once everyone’s first choice is tallied, if no candidate gets a majority — which seems almost certain to happen in this race — the candidate who received the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and the second-choice candidate of the voters who picked that loser receives their vote. This process continues until someone’s total tops fifty percent.
So, to summarize, we have no idea who’ll win this election, but odds are it won’t be the candidate a majority of voters consider their first choice, and those with the most unpopular political views will ultimately decide who gets to lead our city for the next four years.
Ain’t democracy great?
To help you make your picks on Nov. 8, we’ve provided brief profiles of all 15 candidates and their answers to our voters’ guide questions. We asked the contenders what they would do to lower property taxes and whether they think the city’s been too generous (or not generous enough) giving tax breaks to wealthy developers and lawyers who want waterfront offices. The candidates were asked for their thoughts on the idea of limiting the spread of chain and franchise businesses and the prospect of putting the publicly owned Maine State Pier back on the market for private development. Waterfront zoning, the future of the Cumberland County Civic Center, and other issues were also discussed.
The candidates are grouped according to their previous political accomplishments and the strength of their campaigns thus far. We determined their odds of winning by the same standards. They are listed within those groups in alphabetical order.
— Chris Busby
Odds of winning: 2/1
Mike Brennan has risen higher up the political ladder than any other candidate in this race. The Democratic lawmaker served in the Maine Legislature for 13 years, eight in the House and five in the Senate, where he was chosen to serve as majority leader (the first and only Portlander to hold that post).
In 2008, Brennan, 58, ran in the Democratic primary for Congress. He placed a distant third behind Chellie Pingree and Adam Cote, but edged out his former state Senate colleague (and current mayoral competitor) Ethan Strimling by a few tenths of a percent, despite being heavily outspent by his more charismatic rival. Some local politicos predict similar results in the Brennan-Strimling match-up this year.
Brennan lacks Strimling’s leading-man looks and slick campaign machinery, but when it comes to connecting with voters, he equals or surpasses him. For example, at a candidate event held at the Portland Club in early September, Brennan got out of his chair and moved with ease in front of the audience, speaking without notes. Strimling stood at the podium and read prepared remarks that came off sounding insincere by comparison.
Brennan is a wonk. He works as a policy associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. He’s work for United Way of Greater Portland, chaired the national board of the foster parenting organization Casey Family Services, and served as a commissioner of the Portland Housing Authority for over a decade. Involvement in sports, affordable housing development and progressive politics rounds out his resume.
Brennan, who lives in the Back Cove neighborhood, isn’t pledging to reduce property taxes. He said there are a number of ways to “manage” the local tax burden, most of which involve persuading state lawmakers to adjust revenue-sharing formulas to give Portland more dough. When it comes to giving tax breaks, Brennan said city officials haven’t been “as rigorous as they should be” in assessing whether there’s a genuine need, and haven’t “asked for enough in return.” For example, recent tax deals have not required developers to hire local contractors for their projects.
On the subject of limiting chain and franchise businesses, Brennan said some chains belong in Portland and others don’t, particularly those in residential areas, which he would seek to dissuade. He supports the bond measure on this November’s ballot that would allow the county to borrow $33 million to renovate the civic center. And he would support a future effort to develop the Maine State Pier, but said the city should first identify a qualified developer and then work on a design that’s “bold but minimalist.”
Brennan said that if he had been on the Council when waterfront zoning standards were further relaxed earlier this year, allowing more non-marine use on the piers, he “probably wouldn’t have gone as far,” but would not be inclined to reverse the changes. And he said there’s a “legitimate case” to be made for allowing fisherman who catch lobsters in their nets to sell them in Maine, where the sale of so-called lobster bycatch is prohibited. Proponents of the change say it would help lure fishing vessels away from Massachusetts, where bycatch can be sold, and back to ports like Portland’s, but Brennan added that there should be limits to the practice.
Odds of winning: 5/1
In late 2007, when Brennan and Strimling were gearing up to take a shot at the Congressional seat being vacated by Tom Allen, Portland City Councilor Jill Duson explored the possibility of joining the race. She ultimately decided to sit it out.
Probably a wise move.
Duson isn’t much of a campaigner. She’s reluctant to blow her own horn. As she said to the audience at the Portland Club, her approach to governing is about “taking action, not taking credit,” and “leading by listening.” Fundraising isn’t her forte.
Most Portland voters like her approach. They elected the North Deering resident to serve a term on the school board, and Duson’s since won four consecutive citywide races for an at-large seat on the Council. In 2004, her Council colleagues chose her to be the city’s first African-American mayor, and she was appointed to the ceremonial post again in 2008.
Though she’s averse to grandstanding, Duson, 57, isn’t afraid to go it alone when her convictions clash with the crowd’s. The most well-known example of this happened in 2005 when, as mayor, she refused to support City Manager Joe Gray’s decision to hire Tim Burton as Portland’s next police chief over a black candidate from Florida. (A less well-known example: Duson does not say “under God” when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, despite the fact she’s an avid church-goer.)
Duson’s professional experience includes 14 years as a lobbyist in Augusta for Central Maine Power and Northern Utilities. Following a brief stint with Planned Parenthood, she became executive director of the Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services. Her employment with the state ended shortly after Paul LePage won the Blaine House — “I’m in the Laid-Off By LePage Club,” she said during a recent interview — and she now works part-time at L.L. Bean.
Duson is not pledging to reduce property taxes. “I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep,” she said, adding that during her time on the Council, tax increases have been relatively modest. She’s been supportive of recent tax breaks bestowed by the city, but thinks it’s worth adding staff and other resources to the economic development department so City Hall can be “more creative” in these situations.
In 2006, Duson was among the slim majority of councilors who supported a controversial ordinance limiting the number and location of “formula” businesses downtown. The law was subsequently taken off the books, but Duson remains concerned about the spread of chains, particularly in the Old Port, and is willing to consider limiting them again, though she is not sure of the best way to do so.
Duson’s also not sure about the civic center renovation plan. She said she’d like to see the facility improved, but is concerned that Portland’s share of the financial burden is too large. She’s still concerned about the need to pay for improvements to the Maine State Pier, and supports a renewed effort to “save” it, preferably through a public-private partnership with a “benevolent developer.”
Duson supported Ocean Properties’ plan for the pier, which included a waterfront hotel at its base, but is opposed to allowing hotel development on top of Portland’s piers. She expects recent zoning changes, which she supported, will be revisited in another three or four years. She’s still mulling the numbers involved in the lobster bycatch debate.
Like most candidates in this race, Duson said city services and functions like the permitting process can and should be improved. Having served on the Council for 10 years, the question naturally arises: If that’s the case, why haven’t you fixed the problems already?
Duson’s reply is that as a part-time councilor, she hasn’t had the time to tackle those issues. Even being mayor was a “less than part-time job,” she said. The new full-time position would enable her to focus on improving City Hall,
Odds of winning: 1/1
In the topsy-turvy world of Portland politics, the choice to keep Nick Mavodones in the mayor’s chair amounts to a protest vote. If you’re among the nearly 50 percent of voters who, like Mayor Mavodones, opposed the creation of the elected mayor position last year, the ultimate “fuck you” to the system would be a vote to give the appointed mayor four more years with the gavel. (Actually, an even better “fuck you” would be to vote for Charles Bragdon, but let’s not go there yet.)
At a campaign event last month put on by the League of Young Voters, candidate Jed Rathband, who fronted the campaign to create the elected-mayor position last year, challenged Mavodones on his opposition to the post he’s now seeking. Mavodones explained his opposition by saying, “I felt if we were going to have an elected mayor, it probably should be a stronger position, a stronger CEO-type position.” As crafted by the charter commission, the new mayor’s job description does not include the ability to hire or fire staff or develop the annual budget, powers mayors in other cities typically have.
Mavodones has been on the City Council since 1997. Before that, he served two terms on the Portland School Committee. This is the fourth time the mild-mannered councilor has been appointed to serve as mayor. He’s held leadership positions with the Maine Municipal Association, which lobbies state lawmakers on behalf of towns and cities, and has worked for many years at Casco Bay Lines, where he’s operations manager. His work on civic and governmental boards is too extensive (and boring) to list here.
Mavodones, 51, is a busy guy, which may explain why he did not return calls requesting an interview for this voters’ guide. Either that, or he’s dangerously flakey (see Ralph Carmona’s profile for more on that). His record, however, speaks for itself.
How would he handle property taxes? Much the same way he has during past stints on the Council’s Finance Committee: go over the city manager’s budget line by line, tweak a few things here and there, and vote for passage. Tax breaks for developers like the team behind the Thompson’s Point project and businesses, like the law firm Pierce Atwood, that threaten to leave town unless they get a deal? Mavodones supported both, and even bent over backwards to accommodate the Thompson’s Point team’s request to push the deal through in a hurry.
Mavodones was among the councilors who voted for the notorious formula-business limits in ’06. He supports current zoning on the waterfront and has previously told The Bollard that he supports allowing lobsters caught in fishing nets to be sold in Maine. He lives in the Back Cove neighborhood.
Odds of winning: 2/1
The one thing folks never feel about Ethan Strimling is ambivalence. You either love him or loathe him. He’s a hero of the people or a phony with a microphone.
Strimling’s first foray into city politics gained him plenty of notoriety — and not the good variety. He narrowly lost a Council race in 1999 to incumbent Jack Dawson. Then, during the recount, his lawyer and supporters on the Council pulled the sorts of shenanigans that gave George W. Bush the presidency a year later.
Strimling, 43, conceded that race before it hit the courts, and went on to win three terms in the Maine Senate, where he drove Republicans and, at times, even fellow Democrats nuts with his idealistic positions, like his 2007 effort to introduce a resolution in the Legislature urging Congress to impeach Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, or his push a year later to ban energy-inefficient light bulbs because they contribute to global warming.
When he finished fourth in the 2008 Democratic primary for Congress, some observers figured the West Ender’s political career was over. Then came the opportunity to be mayor.
Strimling’s campaign is the most sophisticated, well-financed and, frankly, obnoxious of all 15 candidates’. His crew has carpet-bombed stretches of public property along the roadways with yellow signs declaring “He’s proven we can do better.” (As one wag recently pointed out on Facebook, that slogan can be interpreted two ways.) Thanks, in part, to an aggressive e-mail campaign, Strimling raised over $26,000 in August and was close to meeting the goal of adding another $15,000 to his war chest in September.
High-profile Strimling supporters include Bob Baldacci (of Ocean Properties and brother-of-the-governor fame), commercial real estate broker Joe Malone, Portland Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek, gallery owner Andy Verzosa, and former sheriff Mark Dion, now a state representative.
To lower property taxes, Strimling said the city should take advantage of a state law that allows municipalities to give tax rebates to low-income homeowners. He also champions more economic development, and says City Hall can attract more business by being more efficient and adopting a customer-service approach. He was mildly critical of recent tax breaks given to the Thompson’s Point developers and Pierce Atwood, calling the former’s take “a bit high” and saying he’d have preferred to see a new tenant move into the waterfront building Pierce Atwood acquired, rather than have the city subsidize the firm’s move across town. Local job creation should be a formal part of such tax deals, he said.
Strimling’s wary of efforts to limit chains in Portland. “It’s always dangerous to set policy across the board,” he said. He supports the bond to upgrade the civic center and wants to restart efforts to find a private developer for the Maine State Pier. The city has to do some “serious visioning” for the entire waterfront, he said. The stretch along West Commercial Street is “the DMZ,” and the city should push to have it developed.
Strimling does not support allowing the sale of lobster bycatch. He said doing so would not make much of a difference in the effort to bring groundfishing boats back to Maine.
THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK
Odds of winning: 12/1
Ralph Carmona is scrappy. The 60-year-old retiree grew up in East L.A. amid poverty, domestic violence and discrimination, and rose to become a lobbyist in Sacramento for Bank of America and a large public utility. He’s been active in civil rights issues, affirmative action and immigration reform, has taught political science at the college level, and served on the University of California Board of Regents.
Carmona has only lived in Portland about a year, but the Munjoy Hill resident wasted no time getting involved in community affairs. He’s been vice chair of the Portland Democratic City Committee, serves on the police chief’s community advisory board, is part of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association and president of the Portland chapter of United Latin American Citizens. He and his wife have been active with groups including Portland Trails, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Maine Historical Society, and more.
Man, this guy can talk. He’s a natural salesman and a snappy dresser. At the Portland Club forum in September, Carmona, like Brennan, eschewed the podium and addressed the audience without written remarks. He called himself “the three S man,” saying he has the “spirit, basic smarts, and stamina” to be mayor. (Actually, that’s two S’s and a BS, but who’s counting?)
Carmona managed to get an hour-long, in-person meeting with Gov. Paul LePage to discuss the impact proposed state cuts would have on our city. He said he invited Mavodones to join the discussion, and that the mayor was initially excited to do so, but then failed to return phone calls for four or five days. Carmona said Mavodones e-mailed a day or so before the meeting to say he couldn’t make it and that perhaps another councilor would be able to attend, but none of them seemed to know anything about it, Carmona said.
“They’re not responsive and don’t take active leadership,” Carmona said of city officials. “I’m the outsider, the anti-establishment guy.”
The way to lower property taxes is to attract more business to the city by doing a better job marketing Portland to the world, said Carmona. He supported the Thompson’s Point tax break, and said that in evaluating future requests, “the bottom line for me is whether there’ll be increased revenue and jobs.”
On the topic of limiting chains, Carmona said “anyone should be invited” to do business here, but also said he would “reflect the concerns of the citizenry” and work to stop a chain or franchise from setting up shop if most people opposed it. He supports the bond to fix the civic center and feels the city should have been trying to find a new developer for the Maine State Pier “the minute” the previous proposals fell through. He added that he’d be comfortable having the city manager handle that deal as long as the Council is kept informed of his progress.
Carmona opposes any further loosening of waterfront zoning restrictions and would not support the sale of lobster bycatch, preferring to give groundfishermen a tax break equal to the revenue they lose by not being able to sell those lobsters in Maine.
Odds of winning: 10/1
The prospect of being Portland’s first real, honest-to-goodness mayor in nearly 90 years has brought several former state legislators out of the woodwork, including Brennan, Strimling and John Eder. It’s like 2002 all over again.
That was the year Eder, now 42, made headlines and history by becoming the first Green Party candidate to serve in a state legislature. The West Ender won again two years later, but by 2006 Eder seemed to have lost the fire in his belly, and was beaten by Democrat Jon Hinck.
To everyone’s surprise, the next time Eder made news was in 2008, when Ocean Properties hired him as a green-building consultant for their Maine State Pier proposal. The cynical (and most likely correct) explanation for this is that OP thought Eder’s involvement would lure the Greens on the Council to their side. The ploy failed.
“The whole thing was very regrettable on all sides,” Eder recalled in a recent interview. “I made a couple hundred bucks on that and that was it. I got to sit in a room with George Mitchell, and that was nice and all, but later I thought, ‘No wonder he couldn’t broker a Middle Eastern peace agreement — he couldn’t even get past two Greens on the City Council.’”
In the meantime, Eder’s worked as a community organizer on a variety of progressive initiatives, including Sensible Portland (the effort to make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest priority of Portland police), the failed attempt to give non-citizens the right to vote in local elections, and the campaign to create the elected mayor position he’s now seeking. In 2008, Eder ran, and won, as a write-in candidate for the commission that rewrote Cumberland County’s charter.
Eder is studying government and political science (“the dark arts”) at Southern Maine Community College. To pay the bills, he works for Youth Alternatives Ingraham, helping the disabled and addicted.
Like Strimling, Eder said the city should participate in the state property tax rebate program for low-income homeowners as a way to ease the burden. He said the city’s been too generous giving out tax breaks to projects that “have dubious economic development possibilities.’
Eder is keen to limit chains and franchises in Portland. He said he was “really disappointed” when the city’s formula business ordinance was repealed. “Now we’ve got Urban Outfitters moving downtown,” he said, referring to reports the retailer plans to open a location on Middle Street. “We see slowly that the Old Port is becoming an outdoor mall.”
Eder supports the civic center renovation bond and opposes selling or leasing the Maine State Pier for private development. “The pier belongs to the people,” he said. “That’s public space and should remain public space.”
Eder would not loosen working waterfront zoning protections any further. He’s not up to speed on the bycatch issue, but said he would support “anything that would keep fishermen landing here.”
Odds of winning: 7/1
Jed Rathband has been taking credit for leading last year’s campaign to create the elected mayor position, but City Councilor Dave Marshall has been advocating for the same thing for five years.
Shortly after being elected in 2006 to represent the West End and Parkside, Marshall and cohort East End Councilor Kevin Donoghue went public with a plan to create a mayoral position much like the one the city charter commission drew up. The Marshall Plan (sorry, couldn’t resist) envisioned a directly elected mayor who would serve a three-year term. Like the position Marshall is now running for, the mayor would not have the authority to hire or fire staff or make his or her own budget.
Marshall and Donoghue were unable to convince their fellow councilors to make the change, but their patience has since paid off.
Now in his fifth year on the Council, Marshall, 33, has grown to become a thoughtful and proactive member of that body, particularly on issues related to housing, sustainability and the arts. He serves on a number of arts-related boards and makes his living as a landlord, gallery owner (Constellation Gallery, on Congress Street) and painter of neon-colored landscapes and portraits.
Until now, councilors have appointed one of their own to serve for a year in the largely ceremonial post of mayor. The councilor who’d served the longest without being mayor and expressed interest in the position usually got the nod. After winning a second term in 2009, Marshall was next in line, but the Democrats who dominate the Council dissed the young Green in favor of Mavodones. Marshall’s ability to win support across the aisle — and off the peninsula — is the central question of his candidacy.
Marshall said growing Portland’s population will help reduce the overall property tax burden, as will ongoing efforts he’s worked on to lower energy costs in city buildings. In fact, he wants to move every business and home in town off heating oil and onto natural gas. He’s been supportive of the Council’s recent tax breaks, but noted that many requests for tax deals are denied before they ever become public.
Marshall, an active member of the Portland Buy Local campaign, co-sponsored the motion to repeal the controversial formula-business ordinance in early 2007 while a task force examined the issue. He said he’s still open to discussing limits, but not inclined to support any at this time. He does support the bond measure to renovate the civic center.
Before the city makes another effort to find a developer for the Maine State Pier, Marshall said it must first resolve a dispute with the state over ownership of the submerged land beneath it. He would support a “moderate sized development” at the landward end of the pier once the dispute with the state is settled.
Marshall opposed the most recent zoning change that allows non-marine uses on as much as 45 percent of the first floor of waterfront buildings. Even 5 percent non-marine use can adversely impact water-dependent businesses, he said. Marshall would support changing state law to allow the sale of lobster bycatch.
Odds of winning: 9/1
The cosmos has spoken: Markos Miller will be the next mayor of Portland.
OK, maybe not the whole cosmos, but according to a tarot-card reading Miller got when he was contemplating a run, if he did so he would face “challenges,” but they would “result in success.”
So stop reading now. The race has been decided.
Still reading anyway? OK, here’s the background on Miller. He’s 43, lives on Munjoy Hill, and teaches Spanish at Deering High School. He and his wife, Heather Nichols, own Stones & Stuff, a shop on Congress Street that sells crystals and offers tarot readings and astrological advice. He helped lead the board of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization for two years, but resigned in the fall of 2007, having grown weary of the antagonistic antics of some fellow members.
Miller has served on city task forces that tackled matters like grant funding, housing, and the hiring of a new police chief. His most prominent civic work has been leadership of the effort to redesign Franklin Arterial.
Miller’s approach to reducing local taxes would start in Bayside, where he says the city should be fostering the construction of thousands of new housing units — not hundreds, as a past plan for the neighborhood envisioned. The eastern and western ends of the waterfront are also ripe for development, he said.
Miller thinks the city has been too generous providing tax breaks. “We’ve been blackmailed,” he said in reference to Pierce Atwood’s deal. “We need to be willing to call someone’s bluff.” Thompson’s Point was a similar situation, he said, in that the city should have recognized it’s a desirable property that doesn’t necessarily need public money to be developed.
Miller is not inclined to limit formula businesses. He’s leaning towards support of the civic center bond, but isn’t sold yet. And he’s opposed to revisiting the Maine State Pier’s redevelopment, given the unresolved submerged land issue and his belief that Bayside and property to the east of the pier should be the focus of attention first.
Miller said he’s “pretty comfortable” with current waterfront zoning, and he would not be a strong proponent of changing the bycatch law; he expressed doubt that it would be enough to bring the boats back.
Odds of winning: 7/1
Jed Rathband’s got most of what it takes to be a successful politician. He’s got the smarts, he’s got the looks, he’s got the demeanor, and he’s got the sex scandal. The question is, will he have the votes?
Rathband, 39, is a public relations consultant who lives in East Bayside. He serves on the boards of the East Bayside Neighborhood Association, the Quimby Family Foundation, and … wait, what did you say? You want to hear more about the sex scandal? OK, we’ll stoop there for a minute.
It’s really not all that juicy, but after Rathband announced his candidacy, several readers excitedly asked if The Bollard planned to mention the time our editor caught Rathband practicing public relations in the bathroom of a local restaurant on election night 2007. There’s your answer.
Now back to the boring stuff. Rathband’s done work for the Maine Small Business Alliance, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. He drew Portlanders’ attention after he was hired in 2007 to help pitch The Olympia Companies’ proposal for the Maine State Pier. And he got ink statewide (the bad kind) for his PR work on behalf of the Maine Green Energy Alliance, a politically connected group that was compelled to return federal grant money last January after it was found to have served only a fraction of the homeowners it was supposed to have assisted with energy audits and weatherization projects.
A sloppily written attack piece in The Portland Maine Gazette, a free weekly started last July by rival candidate Bragdon, tried to paint Rathaband as a pig at the trough of politically directed pork-barrel spending. The blame for the alliance’s failure can’t be laid solely at Rathband’s feet, but his communications work for the group is, needless to say, absent from his official campaign bio.
Rathband’s cure for high property taxes is denser development. He wasn’t opposed to the tax break for the Thompson’s Point project, but he thinks city officials got “strong-armed” by Pierce Atwood.
Rathband said it’s appropriate that customers continue to be the ones who limit chain and franchise businesses in town, but added that design standards should be tightened to prevent “horrific” buildings like the Verizon store off Franklin Arterial from turning Portland into the Maine Mall. He supports the civic center bond.
Though he was once a cheerleader for the Maine State Pier’s redevelopment (albeit a paid cheerleader), Rathband is now reluctant to have the city seek another proposal for the property from the private sector. The completion of a new cruise ship berth at Ocean Gateway has lessened the need to shore up the pier, so the city should “entertain a whole host of other ideas for what the Maine State Pier could be,” he said.
Rathband is satisfied with current waterfront zoning rules and is not familiar enough with the lobster bycatch issue to have a position on it.
THE DARK HORSES
The six remaining candidates have a total of zero years of political experience under their belts. None have held public office of any sort before. But hey, you gotta start somewhere.
Cabbie/publisher Charles Bragdon (100/1) has run for public office four times in the past three years. He lost a City Council race in 2009 and another in 2010. In between, he briefly converted to the Green Party and lost a primary for a state House seat. Now he wants to be mayor.
Bradgon, a 43-year-old Munjoy Hill resident, did not respond to interview requests for this year’s voters’ guide. In response to questions for last year’s guide, when he was running for an at-large Council seat, Bragdon said he opposed any further loosening of waterfront zoning. He had no position on the redevelopment of the Maine State Pier and no specific proposals in mind to help small, locally owned businesses, though helping “mom and pop kind of businesses” succeed is key to the city’s economic recovery, he said at an event last month.
Peter Bryant (50/1) is a 68-year-old retired merchant seaman who lives in Back Cove Estates. His signature issue is the resumption of heavy-item pick-up, in the spring and the fall. “I’m known as the Trash Man now,” he said with a laugh during an interview. The Trash Man would also like to throw away the blue-trash-bag program.
A straight-talkin’ smoker and disabled vet with a sardonic attitude, Bryant comes across like a stand-up comedian at campaign events. Asked during the League event if he had a plan to help people who lose federal heating assistance stay warm this winter, Bryant replied, “Yeah, listen to this one.” The crowd cracked up. “We got a goldmine here in Portland and we don’t even know it, and why they’re not advertising — I mean the gas company, natural gas … Natural gas is 40 percent cheaper than oil, and we got it here. We gotta get the word out.”
Asked about his political experience, Bryant, a native Portlander, cited the time back in ’61 when he was vice president of the union at American Can Company, and then told the story of how he had to explain what sexual harassment was to the workmen and tell them to stop doing it.
To lower property taxes, Bryant said the city needs to “take a hard look” at all the properties being granted tax-exempt status and discern which should be paying something. The Thompson’s Point tax break deal “kind of got out of hand,” he said. In exchange for granting tax breaks, Bryant said developers should be required to hire Portlanders.
Bryant doesn’t favor limits on franchise businesses, but “the only thing is, you can’t have [chains] on corners,” because that causes traffic problems. He favors the civic center bond and thinks the city should take another crack at finding a private developer for the Maine State Pier. “Sell it in summer, not winter,” is his advice.
Bryant wants to see big construction projects for the oil industry being done along the western waterfront. The bycatch issue is moot in his opinion because lobsters caught by groundfishermen can be landed here and shipped to New Hampshire for sale, he said. “There’s no goddamn fish, is what it is.”
Richard “Ric” Dodge (25/1), a.k.a. Fudge (50/1), is a 59-year-old commercial broker who operates a lobster-bake business on the side. In the 1990s he served alongside Brennan on the Portland Housing Authority Commission, including a turn as chairman. Back in the day, he operated the Old Port rock club Kayo’s. More recently, he’s made news in his role as spokesman for United Bikers of Maine, a motorcycle rights group whose motto is “Education Not Legislation.”
Dodge is old school Portland — big heart, no bullshit. His facial hair served in the Civil War. On the door to his office at Magnusson Balfour is a little picture of a mouse wearing a helmet and eyeing a trap baited with cheese. “Be determined in achieving your goals,” it says.
Dodge’s catch phrase in this campaign: “We need to stop running the city like a charity and start running it like a business.” He’s the lone Republican in the race. His cure for high property taxes is to expand the tax base by making it easier to do business with City Hall. He doesn’t think the city has been too generous giving tax breaks to developers. He supports the civic center bond and is “not at all” in favor of limits on formula businesses.
Hamza Haadoow (100/1) is a Somali immigrant to Portland who’s been here over 10 years. He works as the assistant manager of Goodwill’s sustainability and recycling program. Like Bragdon with his Gazette, Haadoow’s English is still a work in progress.
To lower property taxes, Haadoow said he would focus on reaching full employment in Portland and promoting local products and businesses to the world. He supports tax breaks and the civic center renovation bond. He said he needs to know more about waterfront issues, including development of the Maine State Pier, to form a position on those matters.
Jodie Lapchick (100/1) is a 49-year-old West Ender and independent marketing strategist. Her experience qualifies her to create a marketing campaign for the city. Instead, she’s campaigning to run it.
Lapchick was the founding president of the West End Neighborhood Association. Her former marketing firm, Lapchick Creative, worked with government clients including Maine Housing, the Maine State Treasurer’s Office, and Portland’s Downtown District. Her agency created the “Love.Portland.More.” campaign you may have seen on streetlamp banners downtown.
To lower local taxes, Lapchick said the city should develop new business around its creative economy and seek to lure more biotech companies to town. She supports the Thompson’s Point tax break, the civic center bond, and the idea of finding another developer for the Maine State Pier. Lapchick also supports limits on chain and franchise businesses. She’d start with design standards and then look into what other communities have done to curtail chains.
Chris Vail (25/1) is a 40-year-old Portland fireman who lives on outer Washington Avenue. His house isn’t hard to find: as of early October, it was apparently the only one in town with a Vail for Mayor lawn sign out front.
Vail, an unenrolled voter, is fed up with partisan politics and its attendant rhetoric. He finds the phrase “reaching across the aisle” especially galling. “You know who reaches across an aisle?” Vail said at the Portland Club event. “An adult … I’m an adult.”
Vail proposes “common sense ideas” to lower property taxes, like a small (say, $5) fee charged to summer tourists who arrive via port or airport. A similar fee could be charged to non-residents who get in a car accident or otherwise require emergency services at tax-exempt institutions within city limits.
The city’s willingness to give developers and well-heeled law firms tax breaks doesn’t sit well with Vail. “At its core, some of it frustrates me as a blue-collar, low- to middle-class citizen,” he said. “We’re helping big money make big money.” The bottom line: “We [taxpayers] need to still be first.”
Vail is wary of efforts to limit chains, but at the same time, he wonders why there’s a Starbucks inside the jetport and not, say, Coffee By Design. The city should give local businesses preferential consideration is these situations, he said. He’s also wary of the civic center bond measure. “If I had a dream or a blank check, I’d love to see the city purchase it and renovate it on our own terms,” he said. Color him undecided on this one.
Vail said the city first needs to figure out what it wants from the Maine State Pier before seeking another developer to take it over. And city officials need to develop a new plan for the waterfront, including the wasteland of West Commercial Street, Vail said. Allowing bycatch lobster to be sold in Maine wouldn’t make a dent in the loss of the fishing fleet, said Vail, who added that the city should reexamine its commitment to the Portland Fish Exchange, too.