Councilor, former mayor lead campaign against elected mayor for Portland

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PORTLAND — Opponents of a proposed City Charter amendment that would have voters elect the mayor will launch their campaign this week.

City Councilor Cheryl Leeman has organized what she is calling a “neighbor-to-neighbor” campaign against Question 1 on the Nov. 2 city ballot.

“It’s going to be very grass roots,” Leeman said last Friday. “It won’t be slick like the (opponent’s) campaign. We don’t have money to hire a director.”

Instead, Leeman said about 30 people so far have volunteered to work in their voting districts to campaign against the change.

“We’ll fan out and talk to our neighbors,” she said.

On Sept. 7, a coalition called Yes on One kicked off its campaign on the steps of City Hall. Members represented arts, businesses and political groups.

Leeman said the campaign against Question 1 includes volunteers from a similar cross section of the city. She said former Mayor Linda Abromson will deliver a speech at a campaign kick-off scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15, on the steps of City Hall, followed by remarks from several other prominent residents.

Leeman said she is against having an elected mayor because of the cost and the ranked-choice voting component of the proposal.

Currently, city councilors take turns serving one-year terms as mayor and are appointed by their fellow councilors. The mayor functions as a chairman of the council and also represents the city at events.

Leeman, who has served a quarter century on the council has been mayor,  said the elected mayor proposal gives the position no additional power while increasing the mayor’s salary 10 fold.

“It’s hard to justify a $65,000 salary,” Leeman said, especially when the city in the past few years has had to eliminate jobs, including some in the police and fire departments.

Proponents of Question 1 said they favor having an elected mayor because he or she will be able to develop a vision for the city during a four-year term, and have time to carry out new policies.

The mayor will also have veto power over the budget, although the veto can be overturned by a super majority of the City Council.

Leeman also said she finds ranked-choice voting “scary.” Ranked-choice voting asks voters to rank candidates in order of preference. The winner must take 50 percent of the vote, plus 1 vote, with the lowest-ranking candidate dropped from the tabulation until a winner emerges.

“It can be manipulated by a special-interest group,” she said, while also asserting that the city’s voting machines are not equipped to handle ballots with ranked choices.

“We’re going to have to hand-count the ballots,” she said, or pay for new technology.

The Charter Commission in its final recommendations to the council earlier this summer recommended the city change to an elected mayor. The council in August voted to send the question to voters Nov. 2.

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

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