From top: Current District 5 City Councilor Jim Cohen and challenger Al Schulman. (photos/The Fuge)
Voters’ Guide: City Council District 5
Two would-be mayors go head-to-head
By Chris Busby
The race to represent District 5 (Deering, North Deering and Riverton) on the Portland City Council has been the most entertaining match-up of the season. Alvin “Al” Schulman is challenging incumbent councilor Jim Cohen — and then some. In Schulman’s view, his candidacy is a chance to remake the entire structure of city government through the initiatives of an elected mayor – that mayor being Schulman himself, of course. Cohen, meanwhile, is in line to be Portland’s next appointed mayor. For more on this match-up, see The Bollard‘s Oct. 2 story, “Mayor Cohen vs. Mayor Schulman.”
Cohen is not in favor of revisiting the elected mayor issue. The idea has failed to take hold among the Portland electorate the past few times it was brought forward, and Cohen doesn’t feel the time has come to discuss it again.
Aside from that fundamental split, the two candidates differ on several other policy matters, as their answers to our Voters’ Guide questions below show. (Note: Cohen was the lone council candidate this fall to correctly answer our pop quiz question about county government. He does, however, have an edge, in that he’s currently serving on a county budget committee.) Some answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Should people be fined for smoking in public parks?
Jim Cohen: “No. I don’t support people smoking in parks, but it don’t think people should be fined for smoking.”
Al Schulman: No.
Should the property tax rebate program be revisited?
Cohen: “No. It’s not that I’m against property tax relief, I’m just not in support of that particular program. That program was not constitutional [it violates fair taxation language in the Maine State Constitution], and I support property tax relief that benefits all taxpayers.”
Schulman: “Only after they [the people] change their City Council and elect a mayor.”
How should the new police chief be different than Mike Chitwood?
Cohen: “I hope he continues [Chitwood’s] strong emphasis on public safety, and hope that the new chief operates an inclusive department that carries on the recommendations of the Department of Justice. [I also hope] he’s open to working with other law enforcement agencies in the region.
Schulman: “He should not be so beholden to [City Manager Joe Gray], who is a city employee rather than the elected mayor…. He’s an employee telling [elected] city officials what to do.”
Is it a good idea to extend the Narrow Gauge Railroad through Bayside?
Cohen: “Maybe. As chair of the committee evaluating it, we’re looking hard at alignment options, but have not had an opportunity to explore broader cost and benefit issues…. If it’s able to be extended in a way that is consistent with the interests of neighborhood, area parks and traffic, then it would be worthy of extension.”
Schulman: “I don’t think it should go through Bayside. It should be extended on its original path: straight down the waterfront… and just past B&M [Baked Beans].”
Should Peaks Island be allowed to secede if most islanders want to?Cohen: “No. I think Peaks and Portland are better off together than apart, and I believe secession moves Maine in the wrong direction….”
Schulman: “If the islanders want to secede, it’s not up to the city, it’s up to the state.”
If people using the city’s shelters refuse treatment or other services, should they be allowed to stay?
Schulman: “I believe in ‘workfare.’ If you don’t want to participate in the workfare program, then you don’t get any benefits…. [People who are] homeless, who are disabled, should be deemed workable to do certain jobs that, naturally, won’t take away form any union jobs. Like in winter, they can shovel the sidewalks. Also, I’d put in a residency requirement [limited shelter services to Portland residents].”
Would you support a council resolution urging the state to legalize gay marriage?
Cohen: “I support Maine’s anti-discrimination law. I’m supportive of gay marriage, and would be happy to advance both causes on an individual basis, [though] I prefer the City Council to focus on city issues.”
Schulman: “This is a very tough question to answer. I’ll answer it in the only way I can. I myself will not legislate morality. What people do behind closed doors is up to them. Marriage is a thing between two people and God. Everyone has a right as long as they don’t infringe upon someone else’s right.”
Should Portland have a local-option sales tax to fund a new Civic Center or renovate the old one?
Cohen: “I support local-option sales taxes to diversity the local tax base, and support having a portion of revenues dedicated to facilities like convention centers, but… for regional facilities, there should be a regional tax, and all proceeds should not be directed to support such projects.”
Schulman: “Civic and convention center funding would have to come from Cumberland County, in conjunction with the city of Portland, federal development money, and bonds.”
Who is the deputy county manager of Cumberland County?
Cohen: “Bill Whitten.”
Schulman: “Who the hell knows? Why the hell do we have to have one of those? I don’t even think we need a county board [of commissioners].”