Election 2015: Trio of candidates in Portland City Council District 2

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PORTLAND — Three candidates are running to replace departing City Councilor David Marshall in District 2.

Rob Korobkin, of 85 Fessenden St., and Spencer Thibodeau, of 69 Pitt St., are political newcomers. Wells Lyons, of 97 Danforth St., is in his third council campaign.

Korobkin, 29, teaches computer skills part time at Baxter Academy, and has worked as a programmer for companies including the Maine Red Claws, Wex and PowerPay.

Lyons, 33, is co-owner and general counsel of wallet manufacturer Rogue Industries, a Portland-based company he started with his father. He lost to Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. in 2012 and Councilor Jon Hinck in 2013.

Thibodeau, 27, is an attorney at Verrill Dana, working primarily in real estate law.

District 2 is comprised of the city’s West End and a portion of the area near the Univesity of Southern Maine.

Municipal elections do not require a party designation. Election Day is Nov. 3.

Rob Korobkin

Korobkin moved to Portland to attend Salt Institute.

“I didn’t intend to stay forever,” he said, but now he has Marshall’s endorsement.

Korobkin said he supports Question 1, which would create a $15-per-hour minimum wage at private city businesses by July 1, 2019.

“I’m not going to deny it may well have repercussions, but it is the right thing to do. If you work full time, you deserve the right to provide for your family,” he said.

Korobkin said his support for the referendum is also based on research he said shows more money would come into the city economy, which is now hampered by the inability of wage earners to get the credit and capital to start their own businesses.

He opposes Question 2, which would amend zoning on the Portland Co. property at 58 Fore St., create a task force to determine which city views could be protected, and require developers to submit more details of their plans when seeking zoning changes.

“I share their sentiments; I disagree with their conclusions,” he said of Save the Soul of Portland, the group that drafted the referendum question.

Korobkin said it is possible for development to benefit all city residents, and it is needed to keep the economy sustainable.

“The only way to keep our community moving forward is to grow, and the only way to grow is up,” he said.

To help keep housing affordable, Korobkin said it is time to look at shared equity models that will benefit long-term renters and ensure the housing stock does not get priced out of reach for working families. He is part of the Greater Portland Community Land Trust, which seeks to develop and manage affordable housing through trust agreements.

Korobkin said the city should establish a program to help addicts in need of care, similar to the one set up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the spring.

“We need to end the war on drugs and enact policies of love for addicts,” he said. “Locking people up, the most it is going to do is take people off the streets for a while. It is not going to address these issues.”

If elected, Korobkin promised advocacy beyond City Hall.

“What separates me from the other guys is a dedication to social justice and community,” he said. “It makes a difference when local leaders are ready to hop in the car and drive 45 minutes to Augusta.”

Wells Lyons

Lyons is in part basing his campaign on a what the city needs to do about substance abuse and panhandlers working on street median strips.

“I think it is OK to have a conversation about panhandling to find solutions that are constitutional and help the people who are affected,” he said.

Lyons urges people not to give money to panhandlers, although he said he has bought them meals or coffee.

“I have seen situations where people have gotten money and then passed out on Congress Street,” he said. “Ask them, what do they need as people?”

Lyons said he supports public information and education, including posting links where people can contribute to programs that help the homeless and a program of privately funded vouchers for food or other necessities.

Like Korobkin, Lyons said he supports a program to help addicts get treatment when they seek it, and would also like to protect anyone who calls 911 about an overdose from any potential prosecution.

“There is no reason we can’t match people who want treatment to sponsors and get them to treatment outside Maine,” he said.

Lyons said he supports providing naltrexone, also known by the trade name Vivitrol, as a monthly treatment for people addicted to opioids and alcohol.

He said he opposes raising the city minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“I think it would be a great economic tool for South Portland and other places,” Lyons said, adding he supports raising the wage for tipped workers above the current 50 percent of the state minimum wage, or $3.75 per hour.

Lyons also opposes the zoning referendum.

“I think going back in history, the second house on on Munjoy Hill probably ruined the view of the first house,” he said. “I think (Question 2) would benefit a very small number of people at the expense of the rest of us.”

Lyons originally took out papers to run for the at-large seat now held by Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr., then shifted to District 2 when Mavodones decided to seek a seventh term. He said he “probably” would have continued his run for the at-large seat in a race without Mavodones.

He promised inclusion as he considers policy.

“I would lead by listening to constituents and to the people who are going to be most directly affected by the decisions we make,” Lyons said.

Spencer Thibodeau

Korobkin earned Marshall’s endorsement in the race, while Thibodeau has earned endorsements from Hinck, Councilor Ed Suslovic and state Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, in a campaign that focuses on the nuts and bolts of running a city.

“What I have tried to shape the message on is, we are going to focus on the basics,” he said. “My message is purely based on what people told me.”

With the property tax rate rising, Thibodeau said he wants to improve how the city delivers services − from emergency services to public works to social programs − and show constituents how their money is spent.

“If I were to say to you, I want you to give me $1,000 and I will give you a product that is not what you expected, how will you react?” he asked.

A graduate of Cheverus High School who said he could have fallen through the cracks instead of becoming an attorney, Thibodeau said he identifies with people living on the margins.

“It is something I think about. I was very easily one of those people who could have been left behind,” he said.

Thibodeau said he opposes the $15-per-hour minimum wage, and the zoning amendments proposed in Question 2.

He praised the $10.10-per-hour  minimum wage coming Jan. 1, and said the higher so-called “living” wage proposed by Question 1 does not address the true issue.

“If we want to focus on affordability, the major issue is rent; we have a supply problem,” Thibodeau said.

He suggested density bonuses to create more housing could be paired with tax incentives to upgrade older housing stock.

“There is a good amount of housing out there where people don’t want to live,” he said.

He said he supports the proposed redevelopment of the Portland Co. and said Question 2 has other potential consequences.

“The way it is drafted, it is far too broad. I have concerns about quasi-scenic view rights,” Thibodeau said.

He also favors increased education to prevent addiction, but does not favor allowing addicts to approach police for treatment referrals.

“I’d like to see the city address addiction in schools and real time, something that burns things into kids’ minds and says, ‘This is not the way to go,’” he said.

Thibodeau was the first to announce his candidacy, before Marshall announced he would not seek a fourth term.

“I say Portland pretty much chose me,” he said. “It chose me once, hopefully it will choose me again.”

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.