Diverse groups join forces to promote elected mayor for Portland

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PORTLAND — That an organization of young, idealistic activists is joining with the Chamber of Commerce to push the issue seems in itself reason to believe the city may soon have an elected mayor.

“It’s a great issue, it really cuts across the divide,” Will Everitt, director of the Maine League of Young Voters said of a recent recommendation by the Portland Charter Commission to shake up how the city does business by adding an elected mayor to local government.

The recommendation also has support from the Portland Community Chamber, which represents 627 businesses.

Currently, the city has a nine-member City Council and a city manager. The council appoints a member each year to serve as mayor, which really amounts to being the chairman of the board.

The Charter Commission has recommended the city switch to a popularly elected mayor, one with some power to throw around. The question will go to voters in November, along with other Charter-related questions.

The commission has recommended the mayor be elected through instant runoff voting to ensure the winner has the support of a majority of voters (50 percent plus one vote).

Voters would rank candidates in order of preference. The lowest vote getter will be dropped from contention until a winner emerges.

The mayor’s job would be full time, with an annual salary of close to $70,000. He or she would shape city policy and also have some veto power and control over the city budget.

Everitt said the run-off element has strong support from the league.

“The big thing for us is to have an elected mayor with a majority vote,” he said.

Ron Ward, president of the Portland Community Chamber, said that without a strong leader the city often flounders in its decision-making process, which isn’t good for attracting businesses and promoting economic development.

“We need to have someone in charge who speaks with authority,” Ward said.  “The city manager doesn’t get sent out with one, unified voice (from the City Council) often.”

Ward said decisions must be made quickly in order to compete with other cities.

“The City Council spends months and sometimes more time than that trying to get consensus on issues,” Ward said. “That process is inconsistent with the current world.”

Everitt and Ward said that in the coming week or so, their groups will come up with a steering committee and a campaign strategy.

So far, no organized group opposed to the elected mayor proposal has emerged.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]