Frances Frost (left) and Susan Hopkins are vying with Jaimey Caron (photo not available by posting time) to represent the city on the Portland School Committee. (photos/courtesy Frost and Hopkins)
Citywide race for school board mirrors at-large council race
Campaign could split city Democrats, give fourth seat to Greens
By Chris Busby
A female activist endorsed by the Green Independent Party is challenging an older woman with ties to the city’s Democratic base and a father in his forties who could split that base’s support.
This scenario describes both the race for the at-large seat on the Portland City Council and this fall’s match-up for the vacant at-large seat on the Portland School Committee.
The candidates vying to replace Tae Chong on the school board are Susan Hopkins, 40, an attorney who specializes in immigration law and child protection cases; Frances Frost, 68, a consultant and former school board member; and Jaimey Caron, 40, a structural engineer and former member –and chairman – of Portland’s Planning Board.
Hopkins has been endorsed by the local Green Independent Party, which already has three members on the nine-member board – one of whom, Ben Meiklejohn, is an at-large representative (that is, he represents the entire city, rather than one of the five voting districts).
Hopkins, who is single and has no children, has also garnered the support of the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute, a national political organization that supports openly gay candidates through its Victory Fund and related efforts.
In addition to her work as an immigration lawyer, Hopkins works part-time for the University of Southern Maine’s Student Legal Services office, which provides discounted legal work to undergraduates and the university’s student government. Jason Toothaker, a Green Party member who won the seat representing District 3 on the board last fall, worked as an assistant in the same office. Hopkins lives in the Back Cove neighborhood.
Frost is a “public affairs consultant” with extensive political experience at both the state and municipal levels of government. In the early 1980s, she became the first woman elected to the Auburn City Council, and in that position, given the way that city’s government was set up, she served concurrently on Auburn’s school board.
In the 1990s, Frost moved to Portland and became USM President Richard Pattenaude’s “special assistant for public and legislative affairs.” She served on the Portland School Committee from 1994 to 1996, representing District 1, which includes the East End and downtown, and still lives downtown. She is single and has three grown children.
Caron is a married father of two sons, one of them a kindergartner, the other a second grader at Lyseth Elementary School. He was appointed to Portland’s Planning Board when he was 28, and served three three-year terms, including four years as the board’s chairman, before leaving that post in the spring of 2004.
Caron feels his experience on the Planning Board and his work as an engineer will be an asset on the school board, especially as it prepares to improve its aging elementary schools. He lives in the suburb-like northern part of town, District 5.
Caron said he sees the school board as the natural next step in his public service, since he has two kids in the system. Frost stresses her continued, and “growing” interest in city government, the level of government “where everyone practices their democracy, where they learn about it and where hard issues bubble up and become part of society’s considerations.”
Among the hard issues that have bubbled up recently on the school board are debates over how much access the Boy Scouts and the U.S. military should have to students. Both groups have policies that discriminate against homosexuals, and the military’s recruitment program has drawn additional fire fueled by angst over the global war on terrorism.
Though one might expect Hopkins to make these issues a ralling cry in her campaign, she said she actually thinks “things are pretty good” in the School Department these days, and adds, “that’s what I’m hearing from voters, too.”
“Sometimes it’s good to step back and count your blessings,” said Hopkins. “The people screaming and jumping up and down the most are the people who are kind of perpetuating their situation…. The sky is not falling, and the voters I’m speaking to don’t think the sky is falling.”
Like Carol Schiller, the at-large council candidate the Greens have endorsed, Hopkins is positioned to best two opponents who are likely to split the vote of Democrats who dominate the city electorate. Hopkins is actually a recent convert to this third party, having previously worked as a campaign volunteer for former Democratic Senator George Mitchell. She also volunteered for the Clinton administration in its communications office, where she helped review correspondence to the president – and, when necessary, alerted the Secret Service of potential threats.
Though she didn’t mention this possibility in a recent interview, Hopkins’ help from the Victory Fund could provide her with much more than campaign cash. The statewide measure to repeal Maine’s law protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination will be on this fall’s ballot, and heavy turnout by Portland voters opposed to the repeal effort could give a big boost to the sole gay candidate in this race.
Frost said she was “asked to run” again for the school board, but was circumspect when asked who did the asking. “You can imagine who my friends and cohorts might be in political circles,” said Frost, a Democrat. Noting that school board races, like council races, are ostensibly non-partisan, she said, “these things aren’t official” and added that she’s received support from people affiliated with other political parties, as well.
Caron is not enrolled in any political party, and thus, by his own admission, he lacks “a natural constituency” to help promote his candidacy. However, Caron said he has the support of several prominent public officials – among them Democrats like State Representative Boyd Marley, House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, and city councilors Jim Cohen and Will Gorham.
“There are other folks who can’t be as public” with their support, Caron said. Asked to elaborate, he said, “there are a lot of people on the City Council who like the fact that when I was on the Planning Board, I was a pretty fair guy.”
Every councilor except Cheryl Leeman is a Democrat.
Editor’s note and correction: In the version of this article posted on Sept. 25, The Bollard inaccurately interpreted candidate Frances Frost’s description of her past and present work as that of “a lobbyist.” After Frost lobbied The Bollard for a correction – sorry, clarified the nature of her work – it was agreed that the term “lobbyist” was inaccurate, and it has been removed from the current version of the article below. Frost has never registered as a lobbyist, nor has she appeared before state legislative committees or attempted to promote specific legislation through lobbying activities. We regret the error.