From top: At-large city council candidates Loretta Griffin, Carol Schiller and Ed Suslovic. (photos/The Fuge)
Voters’ Guide: City Council At-large
The candidates on issues past, present and future
By Chris Busby
Three contenders have stepped up to vie for the at-large Portland City Council seat being vacated by longtime councilor and former mayor Peter O’Donnell. Former State Representative Ed Suslovic faces neighborhood and community activist Carol Schiller and Loretta Griffin, the widow of former at-large councilor John Griffin.
For more on the candidates’ backgrounds and the dynamics of this race, see our Sept. 11, 2005, article: “At-large race could be a brawler.” Indeed, this has been a highly charged campaign since then, with all three candidates working hard for every vote.
For our Voters’ Guide to the three council races this fall, The Bollard asked candidates about a range of specific issues. Their answers shed some light on their broader approach to government.
For example, earlier this fall, O’Donnell proposed a new local law that would have banned smoking on public recreation trails and fined offenders. His fellow councilors defanged the proposal, watering it down to a suggestion that smokers voluntarily comply and refrain from lighting up on the Back Cove trail and Eastern and Western Promenades. The candidates’ responses indicate whether they’re inclined to take a fine-based approach to so-called “quality-of-life” issues.
A couple years ago, the council implemented a local property tax relief program that raised taxes on property owners citywide in order to subsequently give homeowners a tax rebate. The program was challenged in court and found to violate the state constitution, but there’s been talk of reviving this “rebate program,” perhaps in a form that will pass legal muster. We got the candidates’ views on that.
The future council may consider a proposal to extend the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad to Hadlock Field along tracks running through Bayside; it may also face a request from Peaks Islanders to secede from the city, or another effort to build a new Civic Center using revenue from a tax levied locally on meals and lodging (what’s known as a “local-option” sales tax). Griffin, Schiller and Suslovic weighed in on these prospects, too.
Finally, in a little test of the candidates’ general knowledge of local government, we asked them if they knew who the Number Two Man in county government is these days. The answer is Deputy County Manager Bill Whitten, hired last June to help spread awareness of county government and promote Cumberland County. Based on the candidates’ answers, Mr. Whitten’s got his work cut out for him.
Voter’s Guides for the District 4 and District 5 council races will be posted later this week, as will the guides to the three school board races this fall. The candidates’ answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Should people be fined for smoking in public parks?
Loretta Griffin: No.
Carol Schiller: No.
Ed Suslovic: No.
Should the property tax rebate program be revisited?
Suslovic: Not the exact same program, but a variation should be explored.
How should the new police chief be different than Mike Chitwood?
Griffin: “I’d like to see him bring more of his ideas to the table, change things around for him and his officers. I imagine he will bring some new ideas anyway.”
Schiller: “My key areas would be public safety… communication and keeping the morale up in the department.”
Suslovic: “Number one: Be very open and accessible in the department and the community at large. Number two: Lead by example in terms of openness, integrity, fairness, customer service and responsiveness. Number three: Uphold the highest standards within the department.”
Is it a good idea to extend the Narrow Gauge Railroad through Bayside?
Schiller: “I like the idea, but would like to have the input from the community (before deciding).”
Suslovic: Supports using only one rail corridor for Narrow Gauge and Amtrack trains, a line running along Interstate 295, not through the neighborhood.
Should Peaks Island be allowed to secede if most islanders want to?
Suslovic: No, “that’s going in the wrong direction.” Stresses the need for greater cooperation and consolidation between existing municipalities in the region.
If people using the city’s shelters refuse treatment or other services, should they be allowed to stay?
Suslovic: Undecided; would first want to look at the availability of services and other factors.
Would you support a city council resolution urging the state to legalize gay marriage?
Griffin: “Why not?”
Suslovic: “Absolutely.” Would personally sponsor such a resolution if elected.
Should Portland have a local option sales tax to fund a new Civic Center or renovate the old one?
Griffin: “No, not for those reasons.”
Schiller: Yes, but also use those tax revenues for social service costs and other expenses.
Suslovic: Yes, but make it a county-wide tax and give some of the revenues to individual municipalities for other needs.
Who is the deputy county manager of Cumberland County?
Griffin: “I don’t know.”
Schiller: Did not know.
Suslovic: “I don’t his name, but I know he comes from the private sector.” (This is true, but no half-credit awarded.)