Duson poised to be mayor again

Eying another year with the gavel: Portland City Councilor Jill Duson. (photo/courtesy Duson)
Eying another year with the gavel: Portland City Councilor Jill Duson. (photo/courtesy Duson)


Duson poised to be mayor again
New Council minority grumbles, defers

By Chris Busby 


Portland City Councilor Jill Duson will apparently become Portland’s next mayor when councilors caucus to choose their new leader tomorrow afternoon. Now in her second three-year term as an at-large councilor representing the entire city, Duson made history when her colleagues chose her for the post four years ago, making her the city’s first African-American mayor.


This time around, several of Duson’s fellow councilors are considerably less enthused by her prospective appointment. They see it not as a sign of progress but as a signal the Council is regressing back to the days when the Democratic Party majority Duson belongs to ran the city, effectively squashing opposing views. 


“The citizens of Portland are never served when you have a block of five [councilors controlling the agenda], regardless of who they are,” said District 4 (East Deering) Councilor Cheryl Leeman. 


The lone Republican on the ostensibly non-partisan Council, Leeman was expected to attain a third term as mayor had either current Mayor Ed Suslovic or District 5 (North Deering) candidate Naomi Mermin won a Council seat this year. Now entering her ninth term, after winning a battle with breast cancer and running unopposed, Leeman was mayor in 1988 and 2000.  


The loose coalition of Leeman, registered Green Independents Dave Marshall, John Anton and Kevin Donoghue, and maverick Dem Suslovic lost whatever collective influence or power they had when Democratic Party favorite Dory Waxman defeated Suslovic and school board chairman John Coyne beat Mermin last week. Waxman and Coyne are joining fellow Dems Nick Mavodones, Dan Skolnik and Duson to form what’s perceived to be a new block of Donkey Party power.


Duson did not return a call seeking comment. Councilor-elect Coyne said Duson was the only councilor to call him seeking support for the mayorship, and he intends to back her bid. Waxman did not return a call seeking comment, and Mavodones was out of town.


Leeman, Marshall and Donoghue all said they believe Duson has the five-vote majority necessary to win the post at tomorrow’s caucus. Referring to similar partisan battles over school board leadership posts in years past, Donoghue said there’s no motivation among what remains of the multi-party coalition to challenge Duson on this matter. There are “bigger battles” ahead, he said.


One of those battles will undoubtedly be the decision to redevelop the Maine State Pier. Leeman is heading the city’s team in negotiations with The Olympia Companies, and said a master development agreement is nearly complete and will be made public later this week. The agreement will be placed on the agenda for the Council’s Nov. 17 meeting, but consideration of the deal is expected to be postponed until the new Council’s first meeting next month.


Members of the new Democratic majority favored the rival development proposal submitted by Ocean Properties, the politically connected company whose development team included Bob Baldacci (brother of Democratic Gov. John Baldacci) and former Democratic U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. If the new majority rejects the deal with Olympia, it’s possible they’ll turn to OP, which is said to be willing to revive and again pursue its pier plan. 


In years past, councilors chose the mayor by considering who among them had the most seniority, had not yet served in the post and wanted to do so. That tradition began to fray two years ago, when then-Mayor Jim Cohen expressed interest in serving a second consecutive term. Councilors Marshall and Donoghue opposed Cohen’s unusual bid and supported at-large Councilor Mavodones’ ultimately successful bid to serve as mayor again after a six-year break. Suslovic — then the most senior councilor who had not been mayor and wanted the post — succeeded Mavodones last year.


This year, Donoghue and Marshall are the most senior councilors who have not been mayor. Donoghue has said he is not interested in the post this year, and he and Marshall, as well as Anton, favored another mayoral term for Leeman. Anton declined to comment on Duson’s apparent ascendancy. 


The mayorship is a largely ceremonial post in Portland, but Portland’s mayor does have authority to determine the makeup of influential Council committees, like the Finance and Community Development committees. Members of the new Council minority are already grumbling, albeit in private, about the prospect Duson will assign them to less influential posts.


In related political news, the final tallies from last week’s election are in, and the result in the at-large Council race is interesting as pols look ahead to next year, when Marshall and Donoghue expect to defend their peninsula district seats against Democratic Party challengers.


Green candidate Tina Smith finished third in the four-way race that included Waxman, Suslovic and write-in candidate John Myers (a Bollard freelance contributor who got 33 votes). Smith got just over 20 percent of the total to Waxman’s 41 percent and Suslovic’s 38 percent finish. But she got more votes than Waxman in District 1 (the East End and Bayside), and came close to edging out Waxman in District 2 (the West End and Parkside). Suslovic won both peninsula districts by over 100 votes, but lost in the three off-peninsula districts, where Smith was crushed.


Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization president Will Gorham, who lost a Council re-election bid to Donoghue in 2006, will likely challenge Donoghue in District 1 next year. Marshall is also expected to face a strong Dem challenge, but Smith’s showing indicates it won’t be easy for the party to dislodge the Greens from their district seats.    


Mavodones would also be up for re-election next year. Earlier this year, there were rumors he would not seek a fifth term, but now that his party’s back in power, those same sources say they expect he will run again, and Mavodones himself never ruled that out.