Vote or Quit Bitchin’ 2007
Local election coverage
Voters’ Guide: Portland City Council At Large
Four candidates vie for two seats
By Chris Busby
The big question in this year’s race for two at-large seats on the Portland City Council isn’t whether John Anton can win one, but rather which incumbent councilor the first-time candidate will replace if he does. Will it be Jill Duson, the city’s first African-American mayor? Or will it be Jim Cloutier, the longtime councilor whose hold on influential committee posts makes him seem like the de facto mayor of Portland?
Then again, it’s possible Cloutier and Duson will both be watching future Council meetings from their respective couches.
The fourth candidate in this race, Mark Reilly, is not considered a contender by the political powers-that-be. After all, the 38-year-old letter carrier has run for a Council seat three times in recent memory, to no avail.
But the last time Reilly threw his hat in the ring, three years ago, he got 20 percent of the vote in a five-way race. Cloutier and Duson were both reelected that year with about 30 percent each, but two fringe candidates each took about 10 percent of the tally. Had either not run, the anti-incumbent vote may well have given Reilly, the commander of a local VFW post, his first term in public office.
Anton, 42, is generally considered the more formidable challenger this time. A married father of two, the West Ender has previously served two years on the Portland Planning Board and four years on the Portland Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners. A Yale graduate with a graduate degree in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Anton is president of the Northern New England Housing Investment Fund, a non-profit that provides funding and other assistance to developers of affordable housing.
Remarkably, Anton’s candidacy has attracted support from the establishment and the anti-establishment. A registered Green Independent, Anton has the backing of Councilors Kevin Donoghue and Dave Marshall, the two young Greens elected to represent the peninsula last year. The League – a liberal, youth-oriented political group originally named The League of Pissed Off Voters – has endorsed him, but so has the Portland Growth Coalition, the newly formed political action committee of the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce.
Duson, a 53-year-old, divorced mother of two, is seeking her third three-year term representing the entire city on the Council. Prior to her election to the Council, the North Deering resident served a term on the Portland School Committee, including a year as its chairwoman. She currently chairs the Council’s Housing Committee and serves on the influential Community Development Committee (CDC).
Duson has an undergraduate degree from Antioch College and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Early in her career, she worked as a legal advocate for the elderly. In 1987, she took a job as a lobbyist and manager for Central Maine Power. After 10 years with CMP, Duson landed a high-level lobbying position with Northern Utilities. Four years later, she left Northern Utilities to head the Portland lobbying firm Perkins Thompson Consulting.
Though it does not appear in the “resume highlights” section of her campaign Web site, duson4council.com, Duson left Perkins Thompson in 2003 to work for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England as the organization’s director of public affairs. She left that job after less than a year to become the executive director of the state Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, part of the Maine Department of Labor that helps disabled workers find and maintain employment.
Earlier this year, there were rumors that Duson would be appointed by Gov. John Baldacci to head the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. Had she landed that state position, it was expected that she would have to resign her Council seat, but the post did not pan out. Instead, Duson, a Democrat, publicly explored the prospect of making a run for Tom Allen’s Congressional seat next year, but dropped that idea in early September, citing the challenge of raising sufficient funds to compete in what promises to be a hotly contested primary.
Among Duson’s Democratic supporters is Cloutier, 53, who’s seeking a fourth term on the Council. A University of Maine Law School grad and real estate attorney with the local firm Cloutier Barrett Cloutier & Conley, the Rosemont resident is married and has two children. He served as Mayor of Portland in 2002, chaired the Finance Committee from 1999 to 2001, and has chaired the CDC since 2003.
What some might consider a bureaucratic overachiever, Cloutier has a resume packed with years of work on regional boards and projects, including a long term on the board of Regional Waste Systems, which he also chaired, prior to its reincarnation as ecomaine.
Cloutier and Duson have been central players in the issues that dominate this campaign. Both support Ocean Properties’ proposal for the Maine State Pier; both voted for the since-repealed limits on national chain and franchise businesses; both support closing Nathan Clifford and using state money to build a new elementary school; and both voted for a resolution calling for the commencement of impeachment proceedings against President Bush, a measure that failed to pass by a slim margin and sparked a debate over the Council’s proper role in national matters.
After getting the candidates’ take on these and other relevant issues, we posed a slightly less serious question about Portinsula, the subject of a satirical piece in the Summer 2007 print issue of The Bollard. All answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
How would you proceed with the Maine State Pier?
John Anton: “I think we owe it to the developers to select someone to work with,” but added that the selection should be followed by a “waterfront-wide look at our zoning,” with additional public input and discussion, before closed-door lease negotiations with a private developer begin.
Jim Cloutier: Select Ocean Properties. Is “comfortable” including construction of a megaberth at Ocean Gateway in negotiations for the pier’s lease, but said its inclusion would warrant an additional public hearing before a contract is voted on.
Jill Duson: “Get it done.” Supports Ocean Properties. Called building a megaberth at Ocean Gateway “a red herring” in the process. “If both developers are willing to include a megaberth, and the city wants to include a megaberth, that’s fine. It doesn’t need to be a roadblock.”
Mark Reilly: “I think [the city has] made some mistakes. I didn’t like the length of time the RFP [request for pier redevelopment proposals] was out, didn’t like that [the CDC] seemed to have changed the deadline to accommodate Ocean Properties. I’d like to say start from scratch, but I’m a little hesitant to. At this point, with the megaberth coming into play, it’s best to look at new proposals and see if something can work through the city, then make a judgment.”
If the city allows hotels, office buildings and other non-marine uses on its public waterfront land, should it allow the same on privately owned waterfront property?
Anton: “Yes, but that might mean we need to do less on the Maine State Pier. I don’t think [zoning] has to be exactly the same across the waterfront, but there has to be some rationale, some understanding of the relationship between Maine State Pier and the other waterfront sites.”
Cloutier: “It should under the same types of conditions that attach to the city’s use. In the case of office buildings, [city zoning] already does.”
Duson: “I would prefer not to see a hotel on the pier. I want it to be on the [land] side of Commercial Street. I think it is a major concession that we made in permitting a hotel even at the head of the pier… I have great sympathy for other pier owners who would love to put a hotel on the water. One reason for choosing Ocean Properties is there’s not a hotel on the [pier].” Also, the Maine State Pier developer would be “making a major public investment other pier owners are not required to make. When one of them is willing to give us $13 million for some public infrastructure, then we’ll talk.”
Reilly: Would “feel most comfortable sending that out to the voters to get input from them. I personally wouldn’t be opposed to being open to that sort of use, but you have to have a good balance. You can’t just abandon the working waterfront.”
Should restaurant and bar owners pay higher taxes or fees to support increased police coverage?
Cloutier: Co-chaired the Old Port Nightlife Task Force, which recommended a fee hike on bars and restaurants citywide to raise an additional $61,000 for extra police coverage. The Council (including Cloutier) approved that fee hike. Thinks it was “appropriate, but [fees] don’t need to be expanded.”
Duson: No. “I think we all pay for police coverage… My preference is not to have a special tax.” (Duson also voted for the fee increase recommended by the Old Port task force.)
Should chain or franchise businesses be limited?
Anton: No. “[W]e instead need to take an affirmative strategy around promoting locally owned businesses.”
Cloutier: Yes. Specifically supports limits in the “pedestrian, historic neighborhoods in the downtown. I favor a dispersion requirement.”
Duson: Yes. “I think we should get back to the table and figure out a reasonable policy to balance the presence of formula retail and formula restaurants in the Old Port in particular. I feel very firmly about that.” Regarding similar businesses in the Arts District, “I’m more flexible and would probably compromise a little more.” Believes it was a mistake to include Bayside in the original limits.
Reilly: “Buy Local is a wonderful marketing campaign, but it shouldn’t be public policy in the form of ordinances.”
Do you support forming a charter commission next fall to consider changes like instituting an elected mayor?
Cloutier: “Probably,” depending on the specifics of the proposal to form the commission.
Duson: “I would support the people of Portland if they want to do a charter commission… I do not support it coming from a gaggle of councilors… I do not want it to be a politically motivated, contentious process that starts at the Council.”
Reilly: No strong opinion one way or the other. “I would have to be convinced it’s really necessary.”
How would you reduce property taxes?
Anton: “Honestly, I don’t see property taxes going down in the near term.” Favors renewed examination of city spending and more “realistic” financial projections.
Cloutier: Continue to foster development in Bayside and the eastern waterfront, including the Maine State Pier. “In terms of specific programs I would cut, the answer is [there are none]. I would have already proposed to cut anything I thought needed to be cut.”
Duson: “I wish I knew – I’d write a book and be on Oprah. It’s serious for a lot of people. It’s serious for me. I struggle to pay my own darn property taxes.”
Reilly: “Right now, it would be difficult in the short term… If I’m elected, I will not vote for a budget that increases property taxes.”
Should the city close Clifford school and use state money to build a new elementary school?
Anton: “I would like to see [Clifford] renovated.”
Duson: “Yes, take the money and run.” Said a new school at either of two sites being considered would be “a neighborhood school for many, many more families” than Clifford is. Added that her son is bussed to Clifford and would be bussed to either location being considered for a new school.
Reilly: “It’s awfully difficult to say no to using the state money [to build a new school] instead of funding renovations with city money. I would lean toward closing the school.”
Is it appropriate for the City Council to formally weigh in on national issues through official resolutions?
Anton: Yes. “If we’re gonna say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of every meeting, then we can weigh in on issues of national significance in an equally symbolic way.”
Duson: “Absolutely. Why not?”
Reilly: No. “It’s a colossal waste of time” given more pressing city issues.
BONUS QUESTION: Would you support the establishment of a free and independent City of Portinsula?
Anton: “Only if you change the name. I would support the creation of a Grand Duchy of Portinsula, but not a municipality. It would have to be a discrete nation, something equivalent to Vatican City or Monaco.”
Duson: “I think the two peninsula districts of Portland are important. They’re a strong part of Portland’s economy. But a whole lot of the economic activity on the peninsula is generated by we who live in districts off the peninsula. So no, I wouldn’t.”
Reilly: “Can’t we all just get along?”