Greens come out swinging in City Council races
Call for campaign donation caps, partisan support
By Chris Busby
Two members of the Green Independent Party announced their candidacy for the Portland City Council last week, and in doing so challenged their incumbent opponents to endorse a strict cap on the size of campaign contributions in city races.
Kevin Donoghue, a self-described “housing and transportation activist,” is running against Councilor Will Gorham for the District 1 council seat, which includes Munjoy Hill, the Old Port, the Bayside neighborhood, and the islands in Casco Bay still part of the city of Portland.
In District 2 (the West End and Parkside neighborhoods), incumbent Councilor Karen Geraghty is being challenged by Green artist and community activist Dave Marshall, an employee of the social services agency Portland West.
In an April 2 e-mail announcing their candidacy, Donoghue and Marshall said they are making a “fundraising pledge not to accept any contributions from outside the City of Portland or in excess of $100.” Furthermore, the two said they are challenging Gorham and Geraghty to make “a similar pledge,” and to endorse the idea of lowering the cap on campaign contributions in city races from $250 to $100.
In a recent interview, Donoghue said that while researching past campaign finance reports, he found “a correlation between $250 checks and out-of-town checks.”
Asked if he felt $250 contributions from people living outside Portland had somehow corrupted local government, he replied, “I can’t cite a particular instance, but on the face of it, it seems like poor form…. If we had a lower [contribution cap], the incentive for, I won’t say ‘cheating,’ but, working the system, is less.”
Gorham scoffed at the idea that his vote could be influenced by campaign contributions. “I don’t see that a $250 campaign contribution is going to buy my vote in any way…. If anybody thinks the $150 difference they’re talking about would mean my vote could be bought, I can assure people they shouldn’t worry that’s going to be buying any votes on this councilor.”
Gorham noted that he returned $750 in campaign contributions from Scotia Prince officials when he first ran for office three years ago. The city was negotiating a lease agreement with the ferry company at the time. “I think my ethics are pretty clear on all of that,” he said. “My record is clean.”
In their e-mail announcement, the Green candidates said they are running to correct a “lack of vision and respect for citizen review on the Council.”
Asked to elaborate, Donoghue and Marshall both cited the council’s recent decision to accept three statues from Portland Sea Dogs owner Dan Burke as a gift of public art. The Portland Public Art Committee, a nine-member body made up mostly of citizens appointed by the council to review public art projects, strongly recommended that the council not accept the statues as presented by Burke.
Gorham and Geraghty both voted to accept the statues – the vote was unanimous – though Geraghty, a member of the Public Art Committee, was quite vocal in her criticism of the way Burke presented the gift.
“People put in a lot of time, a lot of deliberation, and their counsel is not respected,” said Donoghue.
The citizen committee raised valid objections to the statues, said Marshall, a prolific painter with a home studio on Pine Street. But “when push came to shove, none of them stood up for it.”
“I think it would have done a lot for the arts community if [Geraghty] had been that one dissenting vote,” Marshall continued. “I was pretty surprised she voted in favor of it after paying lip service” to the opposition.
Geraghty did not return calls seeking comment, but confirmed earlier that she is running for another three-year council term. Geraghty has represented the West End on the council since 1997.
City Council and School Committee races are officially non-partisan – for example, candidates’ political party affiliations do not appear on the ballot – but city campaigns have become increasingly partisan in recent years, much to the consternation of some candidates and members of the public. There are no registered Greens among the nine current councilors, eight of whom are registered Democrats.
Donoghue and Marshall are openly declaring their Green Party affiliation (Donoghue is co-chair of the Portland Green Independent Committee, his e-mail announcement notes) and seeking the support of local Greens. Neither has yet been officially endorsed by the local Green committee Donoghue co-chairs.
Asked if he feels city politics is becoming too partisan, Donoghue said, “I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it should be more overtly partisan, but it should be more honest to the extent it is partisan.” Asked if he would cry foul if Geraghty and Gorham openly appealed to fellow Democrats for political support, Donoghue said, “I would not find that a dishonest move. It’s just the nature of the system.”
Gorham said the Greens are trying to have it both ways: decrying partisan politics in city government, but trumpeting their party affiliation when it serves their political ends. “Then they’ll stand back and say it’s not partisan, but let’s call a spade a spade here,” said Gorham. “They don’t have a lot of credibility.”
“I want everyone to vote for me,” Gorham continued. “I don’t care whether they’re Republican, Democrat, Green or independent. I want people voting for the candidate best qualified to do the job.”
In addition to the Districts 1 and 2 council seats, the at-large seat currently held by Councilor Nick Mavodones is on this November’s ballot. Mavodones, a councilor since 1997, said he plans to run again this year.
Neighborhood activist Christina Feller announced April 10 that she plans to run against Mavodones. Feller attempted to challenge Gorham for the District 1 seat three years ago, but was not able to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.
Feller is a registered Green, but she is not making the same fundraising pledge her counterparts are. Recounting her campaign announcement during an event at the Cumberland Club, she said she told members of the Harvard Business School Club in attendance that while “others may ask for a little, I ask for a lot.
“I told them to make the check out for between $100 and $250,” she continued. “I need it.”
The seats representing Districts 1 and 2 on the Portland School Committee are also up for grabs this year, as is the at-large board seat currently held by Jonathan Radtke. Radtke is not seeking reelection this year, he said. No candidates have yet come forward expressing interest in that seat. Candidates do not have to file official paperwork with the City Clerk’s office until this summer, so additional contenders in all these races may emerge in the coming months.
District 1 school board representative Otis Thompson said he has not decided whether he will run again this year. Green city committee co-chair Rebecca Minnick, an environmental educator, is said to be interested in that seat.
In District 2, incumbent Stephen Spring has announced his intention to seek a second term on the school board. Spring is one of four registered Greens on the School Committee, which has been wracked with partisan infighting since last fall (the other five members are enrolled Democrats).
School Committee member Ben Meiklejohn is running to represent the East End and the Old Port in the Maine House of Representative this year. A registered Green and high-profile party activist, Meiklejohn said he’s “psyched about running with a party on my name” after having previously campaigned in non-partisan school board races.
“I never got my full credit for being in a party that’s so alternative, and I want that credit, the ability to say I’m part of a transforming movement,” he said.
Meiklejohn faults Democrats and Republicans for being preoccupied with “majoritarian control” – maintaining or acquiring a majority of the seats in the Maine House and Senate. He said the Greens are more focused on “ideas and the ability to accomplish goals” than political control, and quotes state government’s sole elected Green, State Rep. John Eder of Portland, who calls the Greens “the anti-party party.”
Meiklejohn faces a formidable opponent in his quest for the District 120 seat being vacated by Rep. Ben Dudley, a leading Democrat in state politics.
Former state representative and state senator Anne Rand is returning to politics after being forced from office by term limits several years ago. Rand, a Democrat, served four consecutive terms representing this district in the House, followed by four consecutive State Senate terms.
Rand said she enjoyed her time off, but “it’s time to get back in the fray and see what I can do.”
Republican Douglas Calderbank is also seeking the District 120 seat. The first-time candidate deferred comment until a later date.