Vote or Quit Bitchin’ 2006
Local election coverage
Voters’ Guide: Portland City Council At Large
Mavodones: sitting duck or sitting pretty?
By Chris Busby
You might think City Councilor Nick Mavodones would be an easy target to pick off this election, a sitting duck for critics of government spending and tax increases, or those fed up with what they perceive to be poor leadership at City Hall. Not only is he one of the nine people directly responsible for the size of your property tax bill, the at-large councilor chairs the Finance Committee, the one that works out the details of the city budget before it gets to the Council for a vote.
Throw in some (only slightly below the belt) insinuations about the state of Casco Bay Lines – Mavodones is operations manager of the tumultuous ferry service – and practically anybody can enjoy the distinct pleasure of spending alternate Monday nights sitting between Ed Suslovic and Jill Duson.
Yet Mavodones doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing that privilege. He’s sitting pretty on the eve of a fourth three-year term, maybe even another turn as Mayor.
There are four main reasons for this, two of them being his opponents this year: Christina Feller and Andy Verzosa, both first-time candidates for public office who haven’t hammered Mavodones on these issues in their campaigns. (Feller talks tough on spending, but doesn’t lay that squarely at the incumbent’s feet.)
The third reason is the fact relatively few people pay any attention to city government spending. And fourthly, Mavodones and his colleagues haven’t screwed things up to the point people would really start to take notice (“Holy shit! The City Hall clock tower just fell off! What bozo flaked on funding its repair?”).
A married mother of four (her “campaign team”), Feller, 56, is a fund development officer for a non-profit organization whose activities don’t involve the exchange of funds. Rather, Maine Time Banks is a “service exchange” entity dedicated to improving lives through complementary volunteerism. A Munjoy Hill resident, Feller attempted to run against Will Gorham for the District 1 Council seat three years ago, but failed to get enough nomination signatures to qualify for the ballot.
“When Nick came up [for re-election], I thought, ‘He’s the weakest link in the City Council,'” Feller recalled.
Thus her current campaign, which, again, has been more positive than negative, in keeping with Feller’s aggressively upbeat personality. It’s this energy that fuels her civic work, as well, from her involvement in the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization and volunteering for Catholic Charities of Maine, to her role as director of the League of Maine Neighborhoods, a statewide networking and advocacy group that puts on a big annual conference.
Verzosa, 44, is also possessed of an aggressively upbeat, energetic personality. The gregarious gallery owner (Verzosa owns Aucocisco Gallery, on Congress Street) has been an active member of the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance, a non-profit local arts promotion organization; the city’s Public Art Committee; the AIDS Lodging House board; and the Western Cemetery Planning Committee. The single West Ender was involved early on in organizing the popular First Friday Art Walks in town, and continues to promote the monthly events on the Web and in printed brochures.
Verzosa worked at Casco Bay Lines over a decade ago, when Mavodones was still a captain there and the waters, so to speak, were calmer. But Verzosa doesn’t bring that up. The closest he’s come to confrontation is the time he interrupted a woman destroying his campaign signs. She turned out to be an artist pissed off that his gallery won’t show her work.
Mavodones, 46, is a divorced father of three, currently partnered with the principal of the elementary school on Peaks Island. Prior to his election to the Council in ’97, he served two terms on the Portland School Committee, including two stints as its chairman.
Mavodones is the incoming president of the Maine Municipal Association, the statewide association of towns and cities that lobbies state lawmakers and provides studies and other resources to its nearly 500 members. He also serves on the board of ecomaine (formerly Regional Waste Systems), among several other board memberships past and present.
Feller has occasionally sought to highlight Mavodones’ multitasking as evidence he lacks sufficient time to devote to the Council, but Mavodones’ deep resume of public policy experience hasn’t exactly become a liability on the campaign trail.
The guy’s like Teflon – Teflon Nick? – due in no small measure to his calm, agreeable, can-do demeanor. (Actually, “Teflon” sounds too mobbed-up for someone as squeaky clean as Mavodones. Has “Zen” already been taken? Nevermind.)
The candidates’ responses to our Voters’ Guide questions are below, edited for your maximum edification and enjoyment (we took most of the boring stuff out).
(And finally, a couple facts in the interest of full disclosure: This reporter’s wife,Bollard contributor Meghan Busby, works for Mavodones at Casco Bay Lines, and Verzosa provided The Bollard with financial assistance, in the form of an in-kind contribution for Web design work, prior to our launch in the summer of 2005.)
Should taxes be increased for all property owners to pay for a property tax rebate program for homeowners/renters?
Feller: “No. The City Council and the state have got to stop using property taxes as the issue. The issue is not property taxes. It’s the will of the City Council to stop spending.”
Mavodones: “I voted on this a few times. Yes, I’m comfortable with that.”
Verzosa: Undecided, needs more information.
Would you support a proposal to build a hotel on the eastern waterfront?
Feller: “From Day One, I have been opposed to any overnight accommodations, other than residential, on the water side of Portland. Nothing to do with the tax base or kind of hotel. To me, the issue is: As global warming occurs and as weather patterns become more unpredictable, I do not want the emergency services of Portland to have to evacuate tourists on the waterfront before they evacuate residents of Munjoy Hill, downtown, and the West End.”
Mavodones: “I’m OK with that.”
Should bar owners be subject to a special tax to help cover police overtime costs?
Feller: No. Though Feller supports the previous “seat-tax” rate, since tripled by the Council, she said the cut in the number of available Old Port liquor licenses has resulted in a “corresponding increase in the number of fights, drunkenness and sexual harassment” in the area, which in turn requires more police coverage. “To pick out people [to tax] who by your actions have been placed in that situation – I’m amazed at that thinking.”
Is Portland’s community policing program effective?
Feller: “Yes, I support it tremendously. They know every kid in the neighborhood and they know every kid’s parents and older brothers and sisters. They do so much work you and I never see…. Could they do more? Couldn’t we all?”
Mavodones: “I believe so…. Guess it depends how you measure it.” Noted city funding for five additional officers last year, and said, “It probably could be more effective with more personnel.”
Who is the officer assigned to your neighborhood?
Feller: Coreena Behnke.
Mavodones: “I don’t know that we have a community police officer” in Rosement, his neighborhood.
Verzosa: Did not know.
If consolidating elementary schools would save money but lead to some increase in class sizes, would you support consolidation?
Feller: No. Does not believe consolidation will save money at present.
Mavodones: “As long as class sizes are within [Portland] School Department guidelines, I’m fine with that.”
Do you support a ban or restrictions on formula businesses?
Feller: “No, certainly not…. That falls to me in [the area of illegal] restraint of trade. I do not believe people elected to run a city should be involved in those kinds of issues. Even Hooters does not stay in its locations for more than a few years.”
Mavodones: Yes. Recently voted in committee to send a measure limiting formula businesses to the City Council.
Do you support establishing “drug-free safe zones” in Portland?
Feller: “I would have to say no. Just like, economically, I’m against restraint of trade, this is about actually restricting children’s movements by telling them, ‘OK, you’re in a “safe zone” now.’ There are no safe zones. The issue here is freedom of movement….
Our dear, dear Sgt. Scott Pelletier [of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency] knows exactly where every big drug operation in the city is. And you know what? The City Council doesn’t. Why do something like that when you don’t know whether it’s helping the situation?”
Mavodones: “I think I would generally be supportive of that, but you have to be careful about what we’re defining in the zone. I’d need to see better what the zones are going to be, but I’m generally supportive.”
What can be done to help the fishing industry in Portland?
Feller: “I don’t know and I wish I did.”
Mavodones: Enact a state diesel fuel tax exemption for fishing vessels and allow groundfish harvesters to sell lobsters caught incidentally in their nets (bycatch) in Maine.
Verzosa: Not sure. “It seems like a bigger issue than the city” can address.
Should voters citywide get to vote on Peaks’ secession?
Should the city revisit the idea of an elected mayor?
Mavodones: “I think people spoke very clearly [against it] last time it came up in a Charter Commission [referendum vote]. I don’t know if it’s ever the right time to revisit the issue.”