What part of Portland will try to leave next?
By Chris Busby
The real source of inter-city division in Portland isn’t the rift between Peaks Island and the mainland. It’s the perennial political push-and-pull between the urbanized peninsula and the suburbanized neighborhoods of Maine’s largest city. The gripes mostly originate from the peninsula, where the people have elected a string of punchy characters to represent them on the City Council—Karen Geraghty, Peter O’Donnell, Will Gorham, and, at present, the young Greens Kevin Donoghue and Dave Marshall. But for all their moxie, their protests mostly fall on the deaf ears of off-peninsula councilors and the four at-large councilors elected by voters citywide, who seldom pick peninsularites.
Here’s just a taste of the vitriol spewing from this simmering crater.
Councilor Marshall, whose district is dominated by the West End and Parkside, is pissed at the way the off-peninsula City Council majority keeps hording city money for public improvement projects. Because many old, gritty, peninsular neighborhoods qualify for federal neighborhood improvement funds, these seven suburbanites figure the peninsula shouldn’t get its full, fair share of the $10 million pie that is the city’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budget—the annual borrowing done to pay for projects citywide.
“Seeing as how seven of our nine councilors live in the Deering neighborhoods, getting our fair shake of CIP money is a pretty slim hope,” Marshall said. “We’re hoping to run some more peninsula candidates in the future for at-large seats to correct this inequitable situation.”
Asked if he thinks there’s a peninsula/off-peninsula divide, especially during budget season, at-large councilor and former mayor Jim Cloutier, a resident of Rosemont who’s up for reelection this fall, said, “I never thought of it that way … Sometimes you’ll get a bit of a squawk when you look at the capital budget.”
A bit of a squawk? That’s the kind of dismissive attitude that keeps the Peaks secession waters boiling: “Problem? What problem?”
Yesterday, it’s millions in neighborhood improvement money. Today, it’s huge tax and fee hikes for downtown and Old Port businesses that happen to get people drunk sometimes. Little by little, inch by inch, the divide widens, the lava of public resentment rises. Will it be too long after Peaks’ latest secession bid before some peninsular patriot—or wise-ass magazine satirist—decides it’s time the movement began for…
Good citizens of the Portland Peninsula, the time has come to cast off the yokes of our masters on the mainland and establish the free and independent city of Portinsula! Think about it…
• Portland’s Peaks Island neighborhood is fighting to becoming a separate town. Rising sea levels caused by global warming will soon make our peninsula an island, too. We must act now before the mainlanders make us pay through the nose for crummy ferry service!
• Property taxes on the peninsula are too high! Home values have doubled, even tripled in recent years. Some seniors on fixed incomes are facing a difficult choice: sell the old family homestead and make a bundle, or divide it into condos and then sell for twice the dough?
• As these greedy seniors sell out to other wealthy retirees and out-of-staters, our unique peninsular culture is eroding. The traditional character of our community—families working hard, often life-threatening jobs, for unpredictable pay, surviving on an unsteady diet of sea bugs, instant noodles and watery beer—is at stake!
• The peninsula is home to about half of Portland’s population, but only two of the nine Portland City Councilors live here. Young people these days call that taxation without representin’, yo! We agree.
• We will have the upper hand in secession negotiations with the mainlanders, because we’ve already got all the expensive public stuff, like the library, and City Hall, and the waste treatment plant. They wanna haggle over how much of our stuff they already paid for and thus “deserve”? Fine. Time to unveil our new sewer fee program for off-peninsula residents. It’s called “Buck-a-Flush.”
• Our only public bathroom, at the base of the parking garage across from Gritty’s, is as inviting as a cell in Gitmo. Then, when we wee on Wharf Street, they sic the cops on us and spray us with lake water.
• They have burdened our bars, restaurants, and corner stores with oppressive booze taxes; quashed the after-hours scene downtown (while conveniently leaving their off-peninsula, late-night tittie bar, Platinum Plus, relatively unmolested); and created a Byzantine zoning scheme designed to decimate what few struggling live music venues remain. It’s called “the pursuit of Happiness,” Jack. Look it up. You’ll find it atop the Declaration of Independence.
FAQ’s about Portinsula
Q. Is this a joke?
A. That’s exactly the kind of dismissive attitude mainland city officials have always had toward residents of the peninsula! This question is exactly why we need to secede!
Q. What about all the tax money we get from the mainlanders?
A. Any decrease in tax revenue will be offset by the savings we’ll realize once we no longer have to pay for police, fire protection and teachers in the outlying mainland regions. Plus, we’ll have other sources of revenue, like the Buck-a-Flush fee and the toll booth we plan to install on our side of the Casco Bay Bridge. North-bound mainlanders will be charged $1.75 per trip.
Q. Won’t they just use Veterans Bridge?
A. This maze of shifting lanes makes voice-activated gps vehicle guidance systems sob in frustration. We still haven’t figured out how to get to Danforth Street from the highway—there’s no reason to expect mainlanders will.
Q. Will there be a second vote?
A. Sure. Why not? After all, that’s our motto: “Portinsula: Think about it …” This is just a vote to say, “Yes, I want to keep pondering the idea of a free and independent Portinsula!” (Disclaimer: After the vote, majority support for this measure will be characterized as demonstrated support for secession.)
Portinsula Secession Timeline
November 2007: Hold legally binding “advisory” vote on secession.
December 2007: Begin snubbing friends, neighbors and family members who oppose Portinsula when planning holiday social events.
January 2008: Make a big show of refusing to “come to the table” with the mainland’s negotiation team. Hurl insults (wormy organic fruit optional). Insist negotiations take place on the peninsula—at Norm’s Downtown Lounge, on a Friday night, at 7 p.m., when they’ll never get a booth.
February 2008: Conclude negotiations by accusing mainlanders of refusing to negotiate and insisting on “solutions” that do not include the secession solution voters supported last November. Tip generously.
March 2008: Recruit Portland-hating state lawmakers to introduce secession bill. (Note: This will be as easy as fishing with dynamite.)
April 2008: Hire super-lobbyist Severin Beliveau. Hire spin-master Dennis Bailey. Bring John Eder on board as “green consultant.” Give George Mitchell a cut of the action in exchange for his endorsement.
May 2008: Legislature approves bill calling for a second secession vote by peninsula residents. Mainlanders complain the state bill, which does not give them a vote, is unfair. Point out that people in Hell continue to thirst for ice water.
June 2008: Secession approved in second vote. Portinsula Inaugural Ball held at Geno’s, featuring Darien Brahms, of Munjoy Hill; Seekonk, from Bayside; Parkside’s Cult Maze; Confusatron, from the West End; and from a van parked down by the waterfront, Eldemur Krimm.