Coffey challenges Ray for District 1 seat on Portland City Council

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PORTLAND — City Councilor Belinda Ray, seeking her second term representing District 1, is opposed by Matt Coffey, who is making his third try for election.

Coffey, who uses the Preble Street Resource Center, 5 Portland St., as his address, is an advocate for the homeless who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2015 and 2016.

Ray, a founder of the East Bayside Neighborhood Association, served in a variety of capacities with the group before defeating four other candidates to win her seat in 2015.

District 1 encompasses the Casco Bay islands, Munjoy Hill and Bayside to High Street.

City races are nonpartisan, with three-year terms. Election Day is Nov. 6.

Belinda Ray

Ray, 48, said she is looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“I want to continue some of the work I have begun, in health and human services in particular,” she said. “We have taken on some big issues this year, and I would love to see them all the way through.”

A freelance writer and editor, Ray currently leads the council’s Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee.

Ray said she supports a 200-bed single-shelter/service center model for homeless adults, and the city’s plan for a Brighton Avenue site near the Barron Center.

“I think it is a good plan (because of) city ownership of parcel, co-location of city services including meals, the visibility of the site, and it is on a transit corridor,” she said.

After years of discussion and study, Ray said it is time to move forward while pushing for a greater regional approach in the longer term.

“Everything I have heard thus far indicates we are going to provide superior service and get people into housing more quickly with a single shelter,” Ray said.

The HHS Committee has also been working on a proposed ordinance requiring public and private employers to provide paid time off accrued from the time of hire. As written, it would allow at six days at most annually.

Ray said she does not expect the ordinance to get a full council vote before the session ends in November, but supports the concept in principle.

“It makes perfect sense as a public health policy,” she said. “Where it gets tricky is the mandate on businesses because you are asking them to take on a cost they may not have planned for.”

Ray said areas of compromise are how soon employees could use the days, the number of days provided, or by requiring minimum number of hours worked to get paid time off.

“I think we can get something in place that works for local businesses as well,” Ray said.

Ray also supports allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections, but said a proposed charter change “lacked the necessary groundwork,” including privacy protections for those who would be eligible to vote.

“I understand people wanting to hold the line with you have to be a citizen in order to vote, but there is complexity in that people can be here for five years working through the citizenship process,” she said. “They could be putting their kids through school, running a business here, and would not have a voice in terms of a vote.”

Matt Coffey

Coffey, 39, remains persistent about seeking office.

“The common everyday man does not have a voice on the city council,” he said. “City council is supposed to be a term of service and I want to serve my community.”

A landscaper who has been homeless much of the time he has been in Portland, Coffey said he does not support moving the Oxford Street Shelter.

“I believe it can be done cheaper, they could buy the existing site and rehab it, thus leaving them in a more centralized location,” he said. “I think it is kind of a waste of money to spend $10 million and expand the beds.”

Should it come to moving from Bayside, Coffey prefers more than one site for beds and services.

“I think the idea of having smaller locations scattered throughout is city is better, it would also lessen the burden on the neighborhoods,” he said.

Coffey added the system is broken and the current approach lacks incentives to help people help themselves, as well as affordable housing options.

“I don’t agree with the model of just give somebody something, and I speak from experience,” he said.

Coffey would like to see more education and job training options for people, while the city better targets tax breaks to promote affordable housing.

“The city is being gentrified to a point where people can’t afford to live here,” he said. “As much as I love capitalism, if you turn everything into condos and luxury hotels, where do the people live who wash your dishes and mow your lawns?”

Coffey does not support an ordinance mandating paid time off for public and private employees, calling it part of the “nanny state” regulations city councilors spend too much time enacting.

“If an employer were a good one, he would compensate his employees that way, but it is not the government’s business or job to dictate this,” he said.

Coffey is also against allowing non-citizens to vote in city elections.

“Absolutely not. I’m sorry, it is not in the Constitution,” he said. “I feel everyone who would like to be an American citizen should do so and be so, but voting is a right that comes with citizenship.”

Coffey said he is worried the city is losing its essence through gentrification and over-regulation.

“It is getting hard for someone who works,” he said. “I grew up on the philosophy that all work is honest. Two people should be able to afford (housing) and put something in the bank.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Age: 48

Address: 65 East Oxford St.

Family: Married, two children

Occupation: Freelance writer, editor, business manager

Education: University of Maine degree in secondary English education

Experience: Incumbent District 1 Councilor, seeking second term, founder president vice president East Bayside Neighborhood Association

Website, social media: www.facebook.com/votebelindaray, belindaforportland@gmail.comwww.belindaray.me

Age: 39

Address: 5 Portland St.

Family: Unmarried, no children

Occupation: Landscaper

Experience: Ran for council in 2015, 2016

Education: Attended Massasoit Community College in Brockton, Massachusetts

Website, social media: None

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.