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Small voter turnout elects Portland Charter Commission members

News, Notebook

Small voter turnout elects Portland Charter Commission members

PORTLAND — A small percentage of voters turned out Tuesday to elect members of a commission that will make recommendations that could significantly change the face of city government.

Just 3,519 of the city's 49,086 voters – or 7.17 percent – cast ballots to elect nine representatives to the Charter Commission.

The commission is charged with reviewing and suggesting changes to the City Charter, a document that guides city government. It has not been reviewed since 1986.

Whether Portland should have an elected mayor, and what level of power that mayor should wield, is expected to be the primary issue before the commission. Other issues the commission will most likely tackle include the structure of the School Committee and several land use zoning issues that need to be updated to meet state and federal regulations.

The commission includes nine elected members and three members appointed by the City Council.

On Tuesday, voters elected five district representatives and four at-large members. The at-large winners were two former mayors and two political newcomers.

Jim Cohen, who served on the City Council from 2002 to 2008 and was mayor in 2006, received the most at-large votes, 2,215. Nathan Smith, also a former mayor, earned 1,856 votes. Jim Gooch collected 1,706 votes and Anna Trevorrow received 1,442.

Smith, an attorney, said he was happy to see political newcomers elected to the commission. 

"Now the work begins," he said.

Gooch, one of the newcomers, said he was surprised and pleased to be elected.

"It's a strong group," said Gooch, who works for the Trust for Public Land. "We've got a big job in front of us."

Cohen, an attorney, said that after the commission organizes itself an important part of the process will be to set up a public input process.

"I'm excited to begin my service on the Charter Commission," Cohen said.

Trevorrow, who ran unsuccessfully for School Committee in 2008, said she is energized and ready to start. She echoed Cohen's sentiments about establishing a public input process.

"We're going to have to put our issues on the table," she added.

In District 1, Ben Chipman defeated Ben Monaghan to represent Munjoy Hill and the islands. Chipman, a longtime Green Party and community organizer,  won 314 votes to Monaghan's 191.

"I've never held office before," Chipman said. "I'm excited to to bring new ideas to the table."

School Committee member Robert O'Brien won the District 2 seat. He beat Dan Jenkins 302-252. O'Brien has represented District 2, which includes the West End and Parkside, on the school board since 2006. He credited Jenkins with "working his tail off."

"Hopefully we'll start with establishing leadership and really define our purpose," O'Brien said.

Laurie Davis won the District 3 seat, beating Joseph Malone. Davis earned 428 votes to Malone's 337. Davis is a former city employee and now runs the Upward Bound program at the University of Southern Maine.

"We need to keep public input a critical part when crafting changes," she said.

In District 4, political newcomer John Spritz won a three-way race. He received 322 votes, while Janice Tevanian collected 281 and Steven Scharf earned 214. Spritz said he was surprised to win in his first run for elected office.

"I now look forward to what I think will be a really interesting process," Spritz, president of the Back Cove Neighborhood Association, said. 

Richard Ranaghan was elected to represent District 5. Ranaghan, a Cumberland County Civic Center trustee, said the commission should set ground rules and figure out the basics in their first few meetings.

"I'm very excited and pleased voters came out in District 5 to support me in my first run for elected office," he said.

Ranaghan beat Peter Rickett, 382-296.

Naomi Mermin, Pamela Plumb and Tom Valleau were appointed to the commission by the City Council last December.

No date has been set for the first meeting of the Charter Commission, although several candidates said they expect to meet next week.

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