Forecaster Forum: Should Portland elect its mayor? Devil is in the details

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While the No Elected Mayor campaign appreciates the work of the Portland Charter Commission, we respectfully disagree with its recommendation on the elected mayor.

On the surface, the ballot question seems to be a simple question of whether or not voters in Portland want to “… provide for a popularly elected Mayor.” However, embedded in the details of the recommendation is an annual salary of more than $67,000. When you include benefits it totals $87,000 annually for the same ceremonial position we have now. For one four-year term, the total cost equals $348,000, which does not provide for the costs associated with a mayoral office.

In a survey of other towns and cities in Maine having popularly elected mayors (with more power), the salaries range from $2,400 to a high of $10,000. It begs the question as to what Portland will get for its high-salaried mayor when in comparison the position is still ceremonial with no power? And should this new expenditure of money for a political position take priority over funding valuable city services, when last year we were forced to reduce city services and eliminate 40 positions from the budget? The opponents argue that this is a small price to pay. Tell that to the people who lost their jobs and those who are struggling to pay their taxes.

Also, embedded in the ballot question is Ranked Choice Voting – something the proponents are not talking about for a good reason. It is a complex, confusing new method of voting, and does not represent a voter mandate as they suggest. Voters would rank the candidates in order of preference. If no one gets a majority, the ballots get recounted and the last place candidate would be eliminated, with the remaining candidates getting the second-choice votes cast for them until a winner can be declared.

Even the proponents admit a crowded field of candidates would almost ensure that the winner fails to get a majority, requiring a run-off election that costs the city more money. They failed to mention that new voting machines would be required at a cost of $136,000 – another new expenditure in the city budget.

Unlike the proponents, we do not have a full-time paid campaign manager and staff, but we have lots of energy and enthusiasm. The No Elected Mayor campaign is made up of volunteers getting the message out the old-fashioned way, by word of mouth, neighbor to neighbor. Please join us in spreading the word about the details of this recommendation, and vote no to an elected mayor on Tuesday, Nov 2.

Cheryl Leeman has been the District 4 city councilor in Portland since 1984. She is a two-time mayor of Portland and a staff representative for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.