Election 2015: Crowded field in Portland City Council District 1

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PORTLAND — Five candidates are competing to replace departing District 1 City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who spent nine years in office.

Patrick Flynn is president of the Casco Bay Lines Board of Directors; Paula Agopian made an unsuccessful run for City Council 20 years ago.

Brandon Mazer, Belinda Ray and Sean Kerwin in their first campaigns for public office, but have civic, nonprofit and neighborhood association experiences.

District 1 encompasses the eastern portion of the city peninsula to High Street, a sliver of Back Cove, and the Casco Bay islands. Municipal races are run without party affiliations. Election Day is Nov. 3.

Paula G. Agopian

Agopian, 64, of 98 Monument St., said the city needs her experience and “common cents – c-e-n-t-s” approach.

“I just feel like there is a need for a grassroots kind of person who has been around for a long time,” she said.

A Sanford native who has lived on Munjoy Hill more than 45 years, Agopian said she is worried about how the neighborhood is evolving.

“I feel like the development that is going on is not primarily for the people who live here, it is for the people who can afford to move here,” she said. “I think we should take care of family first.”

Agopian was treasurer of the Working Waterfront Coalition, created to support a 1987 referendum that blocked non-marine development along the city’s waterfront, but declined to give an opinion on this year’s Question 2, which could limit development of the Portland Co. property at 58 Fore St.

The referendum question would also establish a task force to evaluate and recommend scenic views in need of protection and require developers seeking zoning changes to provide more detailed land use plans in the application process.

“My concern is historic preservation; the height issue is secondary,” she said.

Agopian gave qualified support to Question 1, which would establish a $15-per-hour minimum wage in the city by July 1, 2019.

“I’m in favor of the wage hike because it is going to happen in increments. However, I think $11.25 is too high for people who make tips,” she said.

Agopian supports continued public assistance for asylum seekers who are legally prevented from working.

“I think people honestly do not understand what is like to be an asylum seeker, and what these people go through before they even get here,” she said.

She also advocated taking panhandlers off street corners and median strips by making them municipal laborers.

“It would cut costs and give them money,” she said.

While worried her neighborhood is becoming too expensive for working people, Agopian also said she would like to institute permit parking for residents because too many people who work downtown are parking all day on area streets.

“I came to Portland in the late ’60s and we have talked about affordable housing since then,” she said.

Agopian said she supports inclusionary zoning to create more affordable housing while also preserving the historic elements of the district.

“Developers can still make money, they are just not going to make as much,” she said.

Patrick Flynn

A retired city firefighter who rose to the rank of lieutenant while serving more than 25 years, Flynn, 51, said he looks forward to the challenge of serving on the Ctiy Council.

The resident of 13 Centennial St. on Peaks Island said he entered the race after learning Donoghue would not be running. He has been on the CBL Board of Directors since 2004, and its president since 2009.

“I think I have done a lot of good on the (CBL) board,” he said. “I like getting in the middle of issues and trying to figure them out.”

Flynn is from a family of firefighters that includes his father and brothers. He was appointed to the CBL board after his father’s death, before being elected to the seat the next year.

Presiding over the board is a measure of his ability to work with others, he said.

“I can get along with everybody, so board members elected me to do it,” Flynn said.

Flynn said he will take more into consideration on the council than just the needs of Peaks Islanders.

He said he is concerned the district is becoming too expensive for working people.

Flynn said he opposes both referendum questions. He called Question 1, which proposes a $15-per-hour minimum wage, “anti-small business.”

“That is too extreme, I feel,” Flynn said. “I was having trouble even with the $10.10 (minimum wage enacted by the City Council). I think if we want to raise it, it should be a state thing. If the state wants to go to $15, that is fine.”

Question 2, with zoning amendments on the Portland Co. property at 58 Fore St., a task force to determine if other city scenic views need zoning protection and the requirement for developers to submit more detailed land use plans when seeking zoning changes, is also too extreme for him.

“It goes way too far, it is too restrictive,” Flynn said. “We do have a Planning Board for a reason.”

While he could support requiring developers of larger housing projects to set aside units as affordable housing, Flynn said he could not support any kind of rent control. He said he opposes control because building owners who live in a unit and rent out others would not be able to raise rents as property taxes increase.

Sean Kerwin

Donoghue’s departure was also the impetus for Kerwin, 42, of 18 Parris St., to enter the race.

“I thought it was high time to switch seats,” said Kerwin, who has served on the board of directors of the Bayside Neighborhood Association.

An attorney who works as a residential builder, Kerwin said he has seen some divergence of constituent priorities in the district.

“A lot of people on Munjoy Hill have a discomfort with the rapid rate of transformation they are seeing around them, while people in Bayside are frustrated with the lack of transformation they are seeing around them,” he said.

He lives in Bayside, home to the shelters and services used by the city’s homeless population, and advocates a more aggressive approach to providing housing.

“Housing first takes a lot of pressure off shelters and social services so they can provide help in the way they are supposed to,” Kerwin said. “An emergency shelter should be used as an emergency shelter.”

While striving to help the homeless, Kerwin said neighborhood quality of life should be well maintained.

“There is no reason why the city and neighborhoods should put up with antisocial behaviors while we are working toward long-term solutions,” he said.

Treatment opportunities for mental health and substance abuse problems are also critical, Kerwin said.

“We as a society are not funding rehab programs at anywhere near the level we need to,” he said.

Kerwin opposes both referendum questions.

He said the $15-per-hour wage proposed in Question 1 is “too much, too quick,” although he supports the $10.10 minimum wage that takes effect Jan. 1, 2016.

He also opposes the zoning changes proposed for the Portland Co. land at 58 Fore St. as part of Question 2.

“I respect the discomfort its authors have with the process, but I think that referendum is too blunt an instrument,” he said. “I don’t support as it applies to the development. I like what I have seen and the developer has a good track record.”

Kerwin promised he will have a deliberative style if elected.

“I do listen to people, particularly early on when evaluating an issue,” he said. “I seek out people who may not agree and listen to them.”

Brandon Mazer

Mazer, 29, of 45 Eastern Promenade, lives and works in the district as the general counsel for Shipyard Brewing Coy. He took out nomination papers to run before Donoghue announced he would not seek re-election.

Mazer served on the India Street Neighborhood Advisory Committee, and on the board of directors for Maine Special Olympics.

He has been endorsed by state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, and Planning Board Chairwoman Beth Boepple.

“At the very basic level, I have incredible pride in the city, but I think we have missed some key opportunities,” he said.

The “missed opportunities” include construction of the Ocean Gateway Terminal, which Mazer said “could have been so much more,” and delays on the Midtown mixed-use project on Somerset Street. (On Oct. 14, City Manager Jon Jennings and Federated Co. principal Jonathan Cox announced the $100 million project would break ground by the end of the year.)

Mazer said his concerns about development and economic growth are at the heart of his opposition to Question 2 and how it would affect development of the Portland Co. property.

“I appreciate where the residents are coming from, but I think it is a dangerous precedent to do planning by referendum,” he said. “I think the property has incredible potential.”

Mazer said the city needs housing in all price ranges and would encourage density and height bonuses in new construction and waive parking requirements to add to the housing stock.

He does not support “inclusionary zoning” to set aside units in new developments for affordable housing.

“I am not convinced it does anything,” he said. “I prefer to encourage rather than legislate.”

Mazer also opposes the $15-per-hour minimum wage proposed in Question 1. 

“I think it is too much too fast,” he said, adding he fears the city will lose business and become an “outlier.”

Mazer does support the $10.10 per hour wage that takes effect Jan. 1, 2016, and increasing the wage at the state level. 

If elected, he said he would make the expansion of public transportation a priority, and expects to draw on his experience.

“(I’ll be) taking a big-picture approach to issues, having a foundation both as a resident and working at a business in the city, and being able to understand complex issues through my education,” he said.

Belinda Ray

Ray, 45, of 65 E. Oxford St., is a freelance writer and editor who also works as a business manager. She is a co-founder of the East Bayside Neighborhood Organization and said she was drawn to the race because Donoghue is stepping aside.

“I’ve always thought I would run someday,” she said. “I found Kevin to be a very responsive councilor. As long as he was running, I didn’t see a need to run.”

Her candidacy was endorsed by Donoghue, School Board member Stephanie Hatzenbuehler, and the Portland Education Association.

Ray promised to be very involved in neighborhood and island affairs throughout the district, including attending all association meetings at least once a quarter.

She advocates shifting services and housing provided to homeless people away from its concentration in Bayside.

“People don’t want to hear this, but we need to spread this out,” she said. “With any social issue, if you cluster the people who are suffering, you make things worse. if you find a good way to distribute the need and provide the services in an adequate way, people are served better.”

Ray opposes the two referendum questions.

“I do think everybody who works deserves enough money to get by without seeking public assistance,” she said of Question 1 and the $15-per-hour minimum wage. “But there are a couple of things I don’t like. “We are talking about having a base wage by 2019 of tipped earners that is $11.25, and I don’t think there are many restaurants in Portland that could sustain that.”

She also objects to the intent and scope of Question 2.

“I am against the ordinance because I think view is a very subjective thing to try and protect,” she said. “I also believe the ordinance as it is written creates a process that would discourage developers from approaching Portland.”

She said development is still a high priority for constituents.

“The No. 1 concern for people I have spoken with is development,” she said. “People want Portland to maintain the character that makes it unique.”

Ray also considers better accessibility a key issue, whether by properly maintaining markings in crosswalks and bicycle lanes, improving curbs and sidewalks for pedestrians and people with limited mobility, or expanding public transportation options.

She promised she will promote civility if she is elected.

“I have a love of learning and information,” Ray said, “and I hope to work with a lot of people to come up with some very innovative ideas.”

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




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.