One happy family (clockwise from top left): John Myers, Tina Smith, Dory Waxman and Ed Suslovic. (photos/courtesy candidates)
Voters’ Guide: City Council At-large
How low can it go?
By Chris Busby
There’s one burning question about this year’s race for an at-large seat on the Portland City Council: can it get any nastier?
The answer is, of course, yes. A sharp-tongued, quick-witted bartender has entered the scrum, Bollard contributor John Myers, and if he’s invited to participate in the remaining debates, look out — public access TV will suddenly get a whole lot more watchable.
The main battle thus far has been between Mayor Ed Suslovic and Dory Waxman. Suslovic, 48, is seeking a second three-year term on the Council. Waxman, 52, is gunning to unseat him. Tina Smith, a 31-year-old first-time candidate enrolled in the Green Independent Party, has largely (and wisely) steered clear of the flack being exchanged between the two high-profile Democrats. (Myers, for the record, is unenrolled; he’s 41.)
As we do every year, we must remind you that municipal races are officially non-partisan. But also, as usual, party politics is a huge factor.
Waxman is the candidate of the Democratic Party establishment in Portland. She’s previously held leadership positions on the party’s Portland committee. Most of the fellow Dems on the Council are actively supporting her: Nick Mavodones, Jill Duson and Dan Skolnik.
Suslovic is the maverick Dem more aligned with the three Greens (Dave Marshall, Kevin Donoghue and John Anton) and lone Republican (Cheryl Leeman) on the Council. Anton is publicly supporting Suslovic. Marshall is supporting Smith. Donoghue is not publicly backing any Council candidates, but has contributed $100 to both Smith’s and Suslovic’s campaigns.
Leeman, who is running unopposed this year for her District 4 (East Deering) seat, is keeping her head down, but one assumes she’d rather have Suslovic return than return to the days when the Donkey Party establishment ran the Council and kept her at the margins. Plus, a Suslovic victory would likely propel Leeman to a third mayoral term next year.
For more on the Dem-vs.-Dem dynamic in this race, see our August print issue cover story. For more on the sniping taking place in this campaign, see “Ethics charges fly in council race” and “Mayor ‘shouted down’ by fellow councilors at Dem forum.”
As we recently reported, Myers works at The Grill Room, a restaurant and bar in the Old Port. This is his first run for public office, and since he did not join the race until this month, he is a write-in candidate. A resident of Munjoy Hill about to move to the Old Port, Myers is single, has no kids, and spent two-and-a-half years at Bennington College, where we assume he studied something.
Smith is also making her first foray into the wonderful world of politics. She is unemployed, but previously worked for the League of Young Voters, the youth-oriented political group that endorsed Suslovic this year. Smith has an associate degree in video production from Southern Maine Community College, and is currently finishing work for a bachelor’s degree in media studies from the University of Southern Maine. A lesbian active in gay-rights efforts, she has a partner and lives in the West End.
Suslovic, a married father of three, lives in the USM neighborhood. He holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and previously worked for the Red Cross and in real estate. These days, the mayorship is his full-time job (his wife, Jen Southard, works for the Maine Community Foundation). In addition to the past three years on the Council, Suslovic served a term in the Maine House from 2002 to 2004. Other wonky civic work on his resume includes service on the Greater Portland Council of Governments and the Maine Municipal Association’s legislative policy committee, as well as his current post as vice president of the Metro Transit District (the people who run the public bus system).
Waxman is a “community relations specialist” — don’t call her a lobbyist — and community organizer who’s been active in the Bayside Neighborhood Association. She lives on Stevens Avenue with her husband, Dan Waxman (a singer and guitarist on the side), with whom she raised three children (including local groove-soul singer Adam Waxman and former school board student rep Josh Waxman). The couple also helped raise two kids from other families (one from Liberia, one from Puerto Rico) when those kids were in their teens.
Waxman did not go to college. She currently works as a “community liaison” for Northern Utilities, and previously did similar work for Ocean Properties, the New Hampshire-based development company that narrowly lost its bid to redevelop the Maine State Pier last year. Her copious community and political work includes a stint as statewide field director in the campaign against Maine tax activist Carol Palesky’s failed tax-cap measure a few years back, and work for Opportunity Maine, the group formed to promote a tax break for college graduates who stay and work in the state. She served one term on the Portland School Committee (1995-1998).
Before we jump into the candidates’ answers, a few notes on this year’s questions…
• A “megaberth” is a large dock capable of supporting cruise ships. Suslovic famously (notoriously, some would say) made construction of a megaberth at the new Ocean Gateway marine passenger terminal part of the Maine State Pier debate. After initially agreeing to set aside money to build it, The Olympia Companies decided they could not afford to do so, so city officials are trying to find another way to get the job done.
• A question on the Portland ballot this November asks voters if they want to have a charter commission formed. Such a commission would examine and make recommendations about the structure of city government, including the role and powers of the mayor, who is presently appointed by fellow councilors to a one-year term and has little additional authority.
• No local officials are presently suggesting the city sell Riverside Municipal Golf Course. In the wake of the ongoing global credit and financial system meltdown, some cash-strapped municipalities are selling non-essential public assets and property. Portland is poised to face another tight fiscal year, so our question assesses the candidates’ willingness to consider sale of the city-run golf course and city-owned clubhouse to help balance the budget.
If negotiations with The Olympia Companies to redevelop of the Maine State Pier don’t produce an agreement, what should the city do next?
Myers: “I’m torn between sending it out for [new bids] and entering into negotiations with Ocean Properties.”
Smith: “Hold a public forum, set up a public task force with city council members, put together some sort of committee, do the research and have more public forums to figure out what the community wants.”
Suslovic: “My preference would be to open up the [request for development proposals process] again,” but rework the original request in light of the “significant weaknesses” of the previous process.
Waxman: “I’m not really sure.” Said issuing another request for proposals would be “a waste of taxpayer time and money.” Would “rely upon my fellow councilors to collectively make the best decision so we have tax revenue coming in here sooner rather than later.”
Should a megaberth be built at Ocean Gateway, and if so, how?
Myers: No. Cited the uncertain future of the cruise industry and the prospect its construction would eliminate the use of the Maine State Pier for cruise ship visits.
Smith: Would seek public input as to whether it should be built.
Suslovic: “I absolutely believe that should be completed,” and done before any work begins on the Maine State Pier. Believes it should be done through a “city-state partnership,” because “clearly the benefits of the cruise ship business extend beyond Portland’s borders.”
Waxman: Undecided. Would need to see more information on the economic health of the cruise industry and its future prospects.
Do you support any restrictions on chain or franchise businesses?
Myers: No. “The market does that for us pretty well in Portland.”
Smith: Is inclined to support measures to protect locally owned and independent businesses; would need more information on specific proposals to restrict chains.
Suslovic: “I would support that if evidence was presented [showing] the entrance of such types of businesses were unfairly squeezing out locally owned and operated businesses. To date, I have seen no evidence of that.”
Waxman: Review new chain or franchise businesses on a “case by case” basis, taking location and economic impact into account.
Should Portland have a directly elected mayor who serves for more than one year and has more power than under the present system?
Myers: Yes, “even though it’ll be a shit show to reform the charter and all that.”
Suslovic: Yes, “one who has the ability to campaign on, and get elected on, their vision and longer-term plan for carrying out city policies and priorities.”
Waxman: “I lean toward a strong mayor,” but would rely on charter commission recommendations.
Should smoking be banned after 10 p.m. on bar and restaurant outdoor decks and patios?
Myers: “Absolutely not.”
Suslovic: Is “not inclined” to support that; wants to evaluate effect of current ban; wants the state Legislature to take up a similar ban.
Waxman: No. “I think 10 o’clock is a reasonable time.” Evaluate current ban after one year: “If it’s working and people feel comfortable, it suffices.”
Should the ban on smoking in and around city playgrounds and athletic fields be extended to include city parks and public squares?
Suslovic: Wants to first evaluate effectiveness of current ban.
Waxman: Not sure. Said current ban is “adequate.” Would reevaluate its effectiveness in the future.
Do you support repeal of the law prohibiting bars and restaurants with liquor licenses from offering entertainment if their entrance is within 100 feet of a similar establishment?
Myers: “Absolutely… particularly in the so-called ‘Arts District,’ because [of] the irony [of] the Arts District [having] restrictions on art.”
Smith: “I do indeed. I think [the law] is doing no good. If anything, it’s hurting the local creative economy. It’s hurting the opportunities for new venues to open up [and] encouraging bar sprawl, which is a really dumb idea…. It’s good to have more bar density.”
Suslovic: “I’m open to the discussion because I think there’s a certain case where you look at it and it seems kind of ridiculous — someone playing guitar illegally in the Thai restaurant, and you go, ‘C’mon.'”
Waxman: “I question the fairness of that [law].” Is open to reexamining the issue.
Would you support any further reduction in library hours or branches?
Myers: Only if library administrators deem it wise to do so.
Smith: No. “I would extend [hours] if anything.”
Suslovic: “I refuse to make any pledges or promises until we see what the revenue picture looks like.” Said maintaining the current hours next year will require a $150,000 increase in funding.
Should the city sell Riverside Municipal Golf Course?
Myers: Yes, “but only to another golf concern that [would] keep it as a public, non-member course.”
Smith: Look at reducing wasteful spending first; if still facing a deficit, consider asset sales.
Suslovic: “Everything is on the table.” Would consider present and future revenues and expenses at the facility first, and whether a new operator would continue to allow public access for recreation.
Waxman: No. Values its recreational use and doubts its sale would make sense in the long term.
Should councilors make resolutions supporting or opposing national issues beyond the city’s control?
Myers: “Absolutely not.”
Smith: Yes, when there is “community support” for such resolutions.
Suslovic: No. Said he has consistently voted against resolutions that “do not have a direct impact on the city of Portland’s operations.”
Waxman: “I think we could make resolutions as long as it doesn’t bog us down from doing our important work….”