PORTLAND — The three-way race for an at-large City Council seat involves two elected officials and a candidate who ran unsuccessfully two years ago.
Incumbent Councilor Jon Hinck is challenged by School Board member Pious Ali, and two-time council candidate Matthew Coffey.
Hinck, 62, of 142 Pine St., is completing his first term on the council, and also served three terms in the Maine House of Representatives. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012. Hinck is married and has a college-age daughter.
Ali, 47, of 184 Pearl St., is completing his first term on the School Board. He is single, and has two children.
Coffey, 37, lists his address as 5 Portland St., the Preble Street Resource Shelter. He ran unsuccessfully in 2015 for the at-large seat held by Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. He is single and has no children.
City Council elections are conducted without party affiliations. Election Day is Nov. 8.
An attorney with Lewis Saul & Associates, Hinck is a co-founder of Greenpeace USA. If elected, he said he will continue his work to make the city more sustainable and fiscally responsible.
“I am primarily interested in seeing our city flourish by adopting and implementing good public policy, it is why I ran the first time,” he said.
The solar farm coming to the former Ocean Avenue landfill and energy benchmarking in city buildings are two items Hinck has supported as chairman of the City Council Energy & Sustainability Committee.
He said he would like to revamp solid waste collection in the city as well by eliminating the “pay-per-bag” program in favor of lidded bins and automated trucks.
“I would like to lift the requirement that residents buy plastic bags,” Hinck said. “I said it when I first ran; I am still there.”
Hinck has yet to support a city budget and said he will not support property tax increases that go above and beyond the additional funding that may be needed due to the loss of federal or state aid.
“Getting the most value out of the taxpayer dollars we spend enables us to do more to make this a livable, fair, equitable and caring city,” he said.
He supports a bond to renovate elementary schools, but is concerned about the proposed $70.6 million cost.
“I think (it) would be too much for the city and ties our hands in all the other things we do with bonding,” he said.
To alleviate the city housing crunch, Hinck suggests financially assisting low-income renters affected by mass evictions; the City Council Housing Committee said Sept. 28 it will study the relocation fund.
He supports regulating commercial short-term rentals such as Airbnb, tax breaks to property owners providing 20 percent of units “affordable at certain rates,” and zoning to allow building more units if the prices meet affordable income guidelines.
Hinck wants a closer look at law enforcement and policing in Portland, with “a dialogue, forum or series of forums … including issues related to potential bias and racism by the police,” he said.
“I tend to believe our city does better under the leadership of Chief Sauschuck than other jurisdictions, but I think it would be beneficial for us to examine issues that have been raised, mostly elsewhere, in the absence of a bad incident or raging controversy or crisis,” he said.
Ali’s 2013 election to the School Board made history; he was the first Muslim elected in Maine. He said a shift to City Council would help broaden his commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“I am running to serve everybody. I am bringing a voice I think is a needed voice,” he said. “Our community is changing drastically and I have an in-depth understanding of the people who are marginalized in our community.”
A native of Ghana who worked as a photojournalist before coming to the U.S. in 2000 and Maine in 2002, he is now a youth and community engagement specialist at the University of Southern Maine Muskie School of Public Service.
Ali has promised transparency and engagement and wants to replicate the community meetings with residents outside normal meetings the School Board now hosts.
He would also like a fresh look at the city charter and the role of an elected mayor, although he has not proposed policy changes yet.
Ali strongly supports the $70.6 million bond proposed to fund expansion and renovations of four city elementary schools as needed for education and the economy.
“We owe it to the children of Portland to make sure our school buildings and environment they learn in is up to date with where they will grow up and work,” he said.
Ali praised the ad hoc committee of councilors and School Board members reviewing the bond proposal.
“By working together we will come out with a combined solution that is just to our taxpayers and kids,” he said.
The city housing crunch is in need of short-term and long-term approaches, he said. He would like to see more projections on growth and demand while considering supply and demand.
“Where do we want to build? How are we going to build to maintain what Portland wants to look like?” Ali asked.
Ali would also like to see a more diverse police force to reflect city demographics, which could be something for the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee to consider. A ride-along with Portland Police taught him a great deal, said Ali, who urged police to take on more community engagement.
Ali also supports setting up required internships for high school students at local businesses for academic credit.
“I want to see education beyond the classroom,” he said.
A landscaper who lived in the encampment behind the Pine Tree Shopping Center on Brighton Avenue before being ordered out by police, Coffey said he is a libertarian looking to help the city.
“I am running because I don’t feel the current City Council is an accurate representation of the city,” he said. “I want to serve my community. I am not a big bad ass, I can’t serve in the military.”
Coffey’s approach to the housing crunch would create tax incentives for lower income housing.
“I don’t understand why they give tax breaks to gentrify a place,” he said. “I get it they want a bunch of hotels, but who is going to sweep the floors? You need some places for people to live.”
Then he would mix in vocational training for the city’s homeless, and would like to build a garden on top of Preble Street to be tilled by agency clients.
“You give a man an apartment, does he really care about that? If you give a man a trade, then he earns it,” he said.
Opioid use and addiction is the signal to look again at drug policies, Coffey said, and could include ensuring drug users have a safe supply.
“I think the problem is, the people are dying because it is fentanyl, not heroin,” he said. “All we do by keeping drugs illegal is putting money into the pockets of the Mexican cartel and Al Qaeda.”
Coffey said legalizing drugs and controlling distribution could also create tax revenues to fund addiction treatment and recovery programs.
“Let them do what they are doing and know what they are doing,” he said.
Coffey said he is uncertain if the $70.6 million bond to fund school repairs is needed.
“It seems like an awful lot of money. I don’t understand why we could not fix what we already have,” he said.
Coffey said he “loves and respects” city police.
“They don’t go out of their way to arrest people,” he said, but added some arrests, such as for public drinking, may be unnecessary.
“I’m not saying it is not illegal, but if you are homeless, are you going to the bar and spend $5 for beer or go to a store and spend $1?” he asked. “If they are harassing people, by all means arrest them. But if they are not being a problem, don’t make it a problem.”