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Portland Charter Commission election likely to stand alone

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Portland Charter Commission election likely to stand alone

Cost to city: $20K

PORTLAND — Almost 20 candidates have qualified for the ballot in the city's June 9 election of a Charter Commission, which is expected to recommend whether the city should have a popularly elected mayor.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said this week that time is running out for the Legislature to set a special state election for June 9 – something the city had banked on to increase voter turnout for its local commission election. If the state does not set a special June election by Wednesday, Dunlap said, chances are slim it will.

In that case, the city will have scheduled two single-issue, special local elections within a month of each other: one May 12 for the school budget referendum, and one for the Charter Commission on June 9.

Special elections typically cost the city about $20,000.

Dunlap said it is possible the state could set a bond referendum for June 9, but they'd have to do it by April 15 because it takes time to compose, print and distribute ballots. The state has to have overseas and absentee ballots available 45 days prior to an election. 

"It makes it difficult for towns," he said, referring to the job of town and city clerks to try and anticipate each spring whether the state will set a special election or not. "They have to keep an eye out."

The City Council in March voted 5-4 against moving the May 12 school budget vote to June 9. Councilors John Anton, David Marshall, Kevin Donoghue and Cheryl Leeman were in favor of the change. Mayor Jill Duson and Councilors Nick Mavodones, Dory Waxman, John Coyne and Dan Skolnik were opposed. 

Because the school budget must be approved by voters, some councilors thought it would be more prudent to set the earlier election date in case a second vote is needed.

There are 19 people running for nine seats on the Charter Commission. The commission will be set up similarly to the City Council, with a representative from each of the city's five districts, plus four at-large members. The City Council in December also appointed three residents to the commission, for a total of 12 members.

The three appointees – Naomi Mermin, Pamela Plumb and Tom Valleau – were selected from a pool of 25 applicants by the City Council Appointments Committee.

There are at least two candidates from each district and the at-large race attracted eight contenders, including three former mayors: James Cohen, Edward Suslovic and Nathan Smith.

While the elected-mayor question is expected to be the big issue for the commission, the city also has housekeeping to do on out-of-date zoning regulations and other technical and compliance issues that have changed in the 20 years since the charter was last examined.

The council currently selects one of its members to serve as mayor for a one-year term. The job is largely ceremonial, although the mayor also functions as chairman of the council.

Advocates for an elected mayor argue that having the same person in that office for a three-year term will allow the mayor to set an agenda and follow through on it.

The Charter Commission candidates are:

•  In District 1, Benson Monaghan and Benjamin Chipman.

•  District 2, Daniel Jenkins and Robert O'Brien.

•  District 3, Joseph Malone and Laurie Davis.

•  District 4, Steven Scharf, John Spritz and Janice Tevanian.

•  District 5, Peter Rickett and Richard Ranaghan.

•  Paul Farrell, James Cohen, Madeleine Segal, Thomas Elliman, Nathan Smith, James Gooch, Anna Trevorrow and Edward Suslovic are the at-large candidates.

The city this past winter also approved consolidating voting districts, from 16 to 11. 

Voters in District 1 will vote at either the East End School or Merrill Auditorium. East Bayside and Old Port residents will now go to Merrill, along with residents from Cliff and Great Diamond islands.

District 2 already has just two polling places, but the precinct line was adjusted so more voters will go to the Portland Expo instead of Reiche School, where voter turnout historically is much higher.

In District 3, voters will go to Woodfords Church instead of the Barron Center and Temple Beth El.

The Presumpscot School is no longer a polling place for District 4. Instead, voters will be split between St. Pius Church and First Baptist Church.

District 5 voters will now go to either the University of New England Westbrook College Campus or Grace Baptist Church instead of Central Baptist Church and Riverton School.

Voting stations on Great Diamond Island and Cliff Island were closed.

City Clerk Linda Cohen said postcards are being sent out in the next couple of weeks to voters whose polling places are set to change. She also noted that for the May 12 election, the changes will not be in effect for District 5, because one of the new polling places was not available. Information about polling place changes is available on the city Web site at portlandmaine.gov/voter/pollplace.asp.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net.

More stories like this: Portland, Maine, Charter Commission, candidates, election