The Bollard’s View

Portland’s secession negotiation Dream Team

Mayor Jim Cohen has chosen five city officials to represent Portland in negotiations with Peaks Islanders who want to secede from the city.

As a mainlander, I couldn’t be more disappointed.

During these closed-door talks, expected to begin later this month, the two parties will discuss how the city’s debts and assets should be split if secession is successful. There’s a lot of public money and property at stake here, and the Peaks team will be trying to get the best deal possible for islanders. The city’s team will have to fight for the rest of us, making sure a secession deal doesn’t end up costing mainlanders more than we already fork over to keep this “gem” in Casco Bay shiny and precious.

Cohen’s team consists of himself, City Councilor Ed Suslovic, Assistant City Manager Larry Mead, city attorney Gary Wood and finance director Duane Kline. All five are mild-manned, reasonable people – exactly the wrong type of people we need on our side during what will surely be a series of long, hard haggling sessions.

Portland needs a “Dream Team” of shrewd, steely, bare-knuckle negotiators who’ll stand up for our interests with attitude. As the late Johnnie Cochran would say, we must intimidate, not accommodateIf the deal is shit, you can’t split. Catchy, isn’t it?

If The Bollard could pick the city’s negotiating team the way Fantasy Baseball teams are chosen, here’s the five we’d draft…

photos/Bollard staff

1. City Councilor Karen Geraghty – lead negotiator

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the Peaks team starts telling Geraghty what share of Portland’s assets they “deserve.” When it comes to fighting for the interests of her constituents in the West End and Parkside, Geraghty is the council’s Mike Tyson: if she can’t win by pummeling you with persistent demands, she will chew your ear off (figuratively speaking). If, by some fluke, Peaks’ secession bid succeeded following negotiations with a Geraghty-led team, you can bet you’d see islanders filling potholes on Brackett Street and tutoring Reiche School students for free.

2. City Councilor Cheryl Leeman
Leeman, like Geraghty, is a tenacious advocate for her district’s interests who’s not afraid to get – how to put this respectfully – snippy to get her way. Plus, putting Leeman and Geraghty on the same team has the added advantage of keeping the opposition off guard. These two are as likely to go for each other’s throats as the islanders’ jugulars. The Peaks team would find the prospect of negotiating with Leeman and Geraghty as appealing as refereeing a pit bull fight wearing a bacon body suit. 

3. Former Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood
Chitwood’s been gone about a year now, but his authority on local law enforcement matters would still be persuasive to islanders, many of whom worry how a town of Peaks Island could maintain the level of public safety Portland’s police force provides. Media Mike wouldn’t have to sit in on negotiation sessions – number-crunching was never his forte anyway. He could simply call a press conference on Peaks to warn islanders of the consequences of going it alone…

“Look, you people don’t have the nerve to shoot a deer. You secede and try to form your own police force, the biker gangs and drug fiends will be over here in five minutes, raping and pillaging at will while you lie in a pool of your own blood clutching a garden hoe. OK?” 

That would pretty much end the secession process. 

4. Joe Soley
Mayor Cohen’s team consists entirely of city officials obligated to play by the rules, make fair deals, and respect authority. Big mistake. Cohen should have chosen someone from the private sector – ideally, from the cutthroat world of real estate, where nothing is “fair” and rules are bent and broken until an authority settles a long and costly court battle. 

No businessman has bedeviled city government more than Old Port landlord Joe Soley has for the past couple decades. To return to the Fantasy Baseball metaphor, you may not like Barry Bonds, you may not think he’s played fair, but you damn sure want him on your team. Likewise, we’d draft Soley.

The Peaks team, being idealistic and naïve, would accept a Soley-crafted secession deal. It’d look good on paper, with the city seemingly responsible for continuing to provide a host of services and amenities. Six months later, when trash on the island still hasn’t been picked up, the toilets are all backed up, and the rats are getting “bitey,” Peaks Islanders can bring their complaints to Soley, who would address them in his customary fashion – in this case, eviction from the island.

5. Moses Sebunya
Batting clean-up on Portland’s Dream Team would be Moses Sebunya. The fiery former head of Portland’s NAACP chapter, Sebunya’s been relatively quiet for the past few years, though he showed up last fall when the city hired Tim Burton to be police chief over a black candidate, and of all those who spoke against that appointment, Sebunya delivered the most cutting tongue-lashing by far.

Again, we can only daydream of being a fly on the wall when Peaks’ team tries to explain why their almost entirely white, wealthy neighborhood shouldn’t have to help cover the cost of services and programs for Portland’s diverse urban population. 

You think the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s presence on Peaks would have been disruptive? Wait ‘til the Rev. Al Sharpton shows up. 

— Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of 
The Bollard.

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