At a recent candidates’ forum, City Councilor Cheryl Leeman spoke of her work thus far on the council, while challenger Stephen Lovejoy listened — and visibly winced whenever Leeman mentioned her experience as mayor. (photos/The Fuge)
Voters’ Guide: City Council District 4
The claws come out in a previously staid race
By Chris Busby
This could have been a routine affair. City Councilor (and twice former Portland mayor) Cheryl Leeman would run for re-election in District 4, an area that includes the off-peninsula neighborhoods on both sides of Washington Avenue. Buoyed by the solid support of constituents she’s gotten to know quite well during her seven previous council terms, Leeman would win yet again, trouncing whatever sacrificial lamb the city’s Democratic party tossed her way (Leeman is a registered Republican, and though council races are officially nonpartisan, party politics are usually a factor in these campaigns).
Yup, Leeman’s campaign for an eighth three-year term could have been a snoozer, but her opponent this year, college professor Stephen Lovejoy, went on the attack. And with a week to go before Election Day, Leeman’s fighting back.
“It’s time for a change!” announces Lovejoy’s campaign flyers, which have found their way into homes throughout the district. This slogan rang hollow at campaign events earlier this fall, as Lovejoy attempted to justify that need mostly by pointing to his own experience in banking, finance and economic development.
“I think it’s time for a change,” he told The Bollard in early October. “There needs to be more of a focus on job development, economic development.”
These latest flyers, however, don’t point to Lovejoy’s previous experience so much as they point a jabbing finger at Leeman.
“Unlike 21-year incumbent Cheryl Leeman,” one reads, “Steve [k]nows how to promote economic development… supports expanding the circuitbreaker program to lower property taxes… will fight for quality neighborhood schools [and] will end City Hall’s long neglect of District 4’s neighborhood sidewalks and bike paths, and will side with neighborhoods against irresponsible drivers and businesses.”
These campaign materials also feature a list of supporters that contains some pretty big political names: State Senate Majority Leader Mike Brennan, State House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, State Senator Ethan Strimling, Representatives Joe Brannigan and Ben Dudley, Mayor Jill Duson and at-large councilor Jim Cloutier (a former mayor himself). All of them, not coincidentally, are Democrats like Lovejoy — “a life-long Democrat,” he makes a point of saying.
When Leeman saw these flyers, the gloves came off.
“Councilor Leeman asks opponent to apologize to the voters of District 4,” reads the headline of a press release sent out today. “In my 21 years as a Portland City Councilor, no opponent has surrendered to his party’s machine and allowed it to so grossly distort my record of service… the way Steve Lovejoy has,” it reads. “He owes every voter in District 4 an apology for presuming that they are not smart enough to see through the party machine’s blatant distortions of my record.”
“I am personally offended that Mr. Lovejoy has chosen to take the low road in this campaign by attacking my long record of public service… as well as the hardworking people of the [Public] Works Department,” Leeman continued.
(Lovejoy said by phone, in response to this comment, that he is not criticizing city employees, but rather the councilors – one in particular – who make the decisions as to what work they do.)
Leeman ends by issuing a challenge: “For every citizen that Mr. Lovejoy’s party machine finds to criticize me, I will produce 10 citizens who will testify that my experience makes things happen for the citizens of District 4.”
By 9 p.m. this evening, Lovejoy had issued an apology – though not the kind Leeman is seeking.
“Lovejoy Apologizes!” its heading shouts, “For Leeman’s Lack of Leadership on the Portland City Council.” It then goes on to state many of the same points, but more specifically accuses Leeman of having “allowed Baxter School to close” and having “favored commercial developers over strong neighborhoods.” How this last point jibes with Lovejoy’s theme of promoting economic development is not fleshed out, but as political rhetoric, it makes its own point.
The Bollard did not attempt to reach Leeman for comment at this late hour, but will continue to follow this fight as the week progresses.
In the meantime, more background on this race can be found in our earlier article, “It’s politics vs. experience in the District 4 council race.” Both candidates’ answers to our Voters’ Guide questions are below.
Note: The “property tax rebate program” referred to in the second question is the same program Lovejoy calls an expanded version of the state’s Circuit Breaker Program in his campaign materials. This city program, which raised property taxes for all property owners in order to create a fund from which some homeowners got rebate checks, was successfully challenged in court by business advocates and others who said it amounted to unfair taxation (commercial property owners did not get rebate checks). Lovejoy contends that changes in state law have now made it possible to re-implement the program, though Leeman and others say it would still violate a clause in the State Constitution, and is still unfair.
Should people be fined for smoking in public parks?
Cheryl Leeman: No.
Stephen Lovejoy: Yes. “If you pass an ordinance, as [the City Council] did, there should be enforcement to it. Otherwise, it’s just a gentle suggestion.”
Should the property tax rebate program be revisited?
Leeman: “No. [It’s] illegal. It’s a shell game meant to dupe the public. It’s a scam.”
Lovejoy: “Absolutely. The state has changed the law to make that legal for us to do now.”
How should the new police chief be different than Mike Chitwood?
Leeman: “He should be his own person. He should work to make sure everyone’s rowing the boat in the same direction, from the bottom up to the top.”
Lovejoy: Mentions Chitwood’s personal appearance at a small D.A.R.E. certificate ceremony his daughter attended in middle school, and said the former chief was “very good in terms of [that type of outreach], however, the confrontational part of Mike Chitwood and the desire to always get out his name in the paper needs to go away. There needs to be much more of a focus on the community and the people, and less on the individual.”
Is it a good idea to extend the Narrow Gauge Railroad through Bayside?
Leeman: “Sure, up against the interstate (I-295).”
Lovejoy: “Only as a larger part of redevelopment down there. It doesn’t make sense as it its now.” Would support an extension if the narrow gauge line “was tied in to a train terminal for the Downeaster.”
Should Peaks Island be allowed to secede if most islanders want to?
Leeman: “I don’t think it’s our decision to make. Probably no.”
Lovejoy: “Yes, if they insist, but I would hope we could convince them not to [secede].”
If people using the city’s shelters refuse treatment or other services, should they be allowed to stay?
Leeman: “I’ve always been on the side of ‘you conform or you’re out,’ so [no].”
Lovejoy: “As long as they’re not disruptive or creating a danger to anyone else or themselves, yes. We just can’t decide we’re going to put people out without any support.”
Would you support a council resolution urging the state to legalize gay marriage?
Leeman: “It’s a state issue.”
Should Portland have a local option sales tax to fund a new Civic Center or renovate the old one?
Leeman: “Yes. The only time I’ve ever supported a local option tax is when there’s specific language about how the money could be spent. It would have to have very narrow parameters.”
Lovejoy: Yes, “however, not just to fund a civic center. In my opinion, you use that to fund tax relief for the people who can least afford to live here, seniors especially, and to fund economic development in other sectors.”
Who is the deputy county manager of Cumberland County?
Leeman: “Do they have one?”
Lovejoy: “I haven’t got a clue.” (Lovejoy subsequently remembered that he had recently met the deputy county manager, Bill Whitten, but did not immediately put the name together with the title.)