Suslovic wins race, quits job
Caron wins three districts, loses race, eyes return
By Chris Busby
Ed Suslovic is on the City Council, but out of a job.
The former state representative took a leave of absence from his position as development director for Shalom House, the non-profit that provides housing and support for mentally ill people, in order to concentrate on his council campaign. Now that he’s won the at-large seat on the council, Suslovic has resigned from Shalom House in order to spend more time on council business and with his family.
“The reality hit me of what kind of commitment it takes to be an active city councilor and at least a part-time husband and father,” Suslovic said. “Shalom House was more than a full-time job.”
The new citywide representative said he’s looking for part-time work. “I’ll do windows,” he quipped.
With incumbent councilors Cheryl Leeman and Jim Cohen winning re-election, Suslovic is the only new face on the nine-member council.
How will this council be different than the last?
“Clearly, with me on the council, the meetings will last a lot longer,” the loquacious Suslovic quipped again. On a more serious note, Suslovic, who calls himself “Mr. Regionalization,” said he looks forward to working with Councilor – and incoming Mayor – Cohen, also a big fan of regionalization, to find ways Portland can cooperate with surrounding towns and cities to save taxpayer money.
Suslovic also said he hopes his experience in the State House will help improve relations between city and state officials and legislators. Suslovic is replacing longtime councilor and former mayor Peter O’Donnell, who not infrequently used his council pulpit to strongly denounce state lawmakers on taxation, school funding and other issues.
O’Donnell, particularly over the past year, has also been one of most easily distracted councilors, frequently engaging in side conversations and wandering around the room during council meetings. Suslovic did not single out his predecessor, but said that while campaigning, he heard “loud and clear” that citizens are fed up with councilors who ignore the people speaking before them.
“I heard from people that the councilors are not paying attention,” said Suslovic. “If people perceive that they’re not being listened to, paid attention to, or are not being given proper respect, that’s a problem we need to deal with…. If we want people to respect government, we have to set the tone.” That includes “keeping side conversations to a minimum,” he added. “If you’re going to be there, be there totally.”
Suslovic enters municipal office having won in four of the five city voting districts. Challenger Loretta Griffin, widow of at-large councilor John Griffin, carried her home district, District 1, which includes the East End, much of downtown and the islands. The other contender, Carol Schiller, made a strong showing in the two on-peninsula districts (1 and 2), but trailed badly in off-peninsula districts 4 and 5 , and finished third, with nearly 24 percent of the vote compared to Griffin’s 29 percent and Suslovic’s 47-percent take.
Pondering another run? Loretta Griffin, left, and Carol Schiller. (photos/Fuge)
Griffin did not return a call seeking comment, but sources close to her campaign, speaking on condition of anonymity in deference to the candidate’s prerogative, said Griffin is likely to make another run in two years, when two at-large seats on the council (currently held by Jim Cloutier and Jill Duson) come up for a vote again.
Schiller could not be reached for comment before this article was posted, but she’s not likely to disappear from the local political scene either. Schiller remains very active in neighborhood issues, and within a day or two after the election she was sending off press releases about neighborhood organization meetings and community events.
In the other council races, District 5 challenger Al Schulman got clobbered by incumbent Cohen, who took 85 percent of the vote in the Deering, North Deering and Riverton neighborhoods. But Schulman said he will continue to pursue his main campaign issue – creating an elected mayoral position in Portland – and will begin collecting signatures in hopes of forcing a referendum on the issue next year.
In District 4, which includes off-peninsula neighborhoods east and west of Washington Avenue, incumbent Leeman held off challenger Steven Lovejoy. A first-time candidate, Lovejoy went partisan and negative in the last stage of this race, trumpeting his Democratic Party ties (Leeman is a Republican) despite the fact council races are officially nonpartisan, and questioning Leeman’s work on behalf of constituents. Leeman fired back a shot and Lovejoy returned one, but when the smoke cleared on Nov. 8, the incumbent had won with over 58 percent of the vote.
Lovejoy did not return a call seeking comment, but his strong showing in this race may position him for a second council run in the future.
Unlike the at-large council race, the three-way campaign to be the next citywide representative on the School Committee was a close one. Susan Hopkins defeated challenger Jaimey Caron by just over 500 votes among the over 16,400 ballots cast.
You take the yuppies, I’ll take the hippies: Jaimey Caron (left) took off-peninsula neighborhoods, Susan Hopkins took the peninsula — and won.
(photos/courtesy Caron, Hopkins)
Caron took all three off-peninsula districts, but Hopkins, who was endorsed by the local Green Independent Party, swept every on-peninsula and island voting precinct in Districts 1 and 2. The third candidate, former school board member Frances Frost, also made a strong showing in the East and West Ends, but got little traction on the other side of the interstate.
Hopkins attributed her victory to extensive door-to-door campaigning and her performance during a candidate forum aired on Public Access Channel 3. She also said her focus on facts and statistics — rather than theories and generalizations — during candidate forums and debates was a factor.
Hopkins downplayed the influence of her Green Party support, saying she didn’t get much during this campaign. “They were busy [and] tired,” she said of the local Greens.
Likewise, though Portland voters came out in big numbers to soundly reject the effort to repeal the state civil rights law protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination, Hopkins said her endorsement from the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute, a national organization that supports openly gay candidates, was not a big factor, either.
“I didn’t tout that too much,” said Hopkins, an attorney specializing in immigration and child-protective matters. “I just wanted to run on my merits.”
Both Caron and Frost said they will consider another run for public office in the future.
Caron, a first-time candidate who previously served several terms on the Portland Planning Board, said he learned a lot during this race. He attributed his weak on-peninsula showing to unfamiliarity with the nuances of campaigning door-to-door in Portland’s urban, on-peninsula neighborhoods.
He also said he was unprepared for the onslaught of politicking his opponents unleashed in the final days of the race.
Shortly before Election Day, Caron said he “was surprised to get a recorded call [on his home answering machine] from Frances and Susan urging me to vote for them.” Caron also said he’s learned that it’s important to start these campaigns early.
Caron is not enrolled in a political party, and Frost, though a Democrat, said she has not been active in Donkey Party politics lately. Like the council races, school board campaigns are also officially nonpartisan. However, Frost and Caron seem to have split the vote of Democrats who dominate the city electorate, thereby giving the Greens a fourth seat on the nine-member school board – much to the chagrin of local Dems.
On election night, one prominent Democrat was asked privately how two candidates with strong party support ended up in the same race.
“Communication,” the source said — as in, a lack thereof.
That said, Portland Dems do have reason to celebrate the school board results. Party activist Lori Gramlich knocked off incumbent Teri McRae (a Republican) in District 4, and John Coyne (a registered Dem) handily beat Chris Breen (of the Elephant Party) in District 5. Coyne replaces conservative board member James DiMillo, who did not seek re-election this year.