PORTLAND — Three candidates are vying to replace long-time City Councilor Cheryl Leeman in District 4.
One, former Portland Police Department Officer Ray Ruby, was endorsed Monday by Leeman.
“I absolutely and unequivocally support Ray,” said Leeman, who has held the seat since 1984. “Ray reminds me of myself when I first started in politics. His only motivation is to serve the district.”
Leeman said her endorsement is something she rarely does.
“I was not going to get involved,” she said. “But I have invested a big chunk of my life in the district.”
Ruby, 30, of 181 Virginia St., is running against current District 4 School Board member Justin Costa, and Rosemary Mahoney, who works for the Maine Education Association. The seat has a three-year term, and Ruby and Mahoney are making their first runs for public office.
Costa, 31, Mahoney, 49, and Ruby are squaring off in the only contested council election. District 4 is comprised of the North and East Deering neighborhoods beyond Back Cove to Stevens and Allen avenues.
Municipal elections are run without party affiliations. Election Day is Nov. 4.
Now the unit director of the South Portland Boys & Girls Club, Ruby is a native of Waterbury, Connecticut, who joined the Police Department in 2005 after graduating from St. Joseph’s College in Standish.
“I bring an unmatched work ethic, and a leadership style I think the city deserves,” Ruby said. “I have led from the front my whole life.”
Ruby promised to continue working on issues Leeman has emphasized over the years, especially being aware of how city taxes and policies affect the largely residential district.
“People who lived here for 25 years are very frustrated, they feel like they are not appreciated anymore,” he said. “These are people who have worked here and lived here a long time, put their kids through school. Now they feel like they are in the middle of the list. They should be on the top.”
Ruby said he supports an increase in the minimum wage, but not one mandated by the City Council. He said it should be ordered by the state or federal governments.
He also said he is wary of revisions to city sewer fees to include a separate fee based on the amount of impervious surface on a property to help fund future projects to separate storm and waste water mains in the city. That proposal is scheduled to be discussed Thursday, Oct. 9, by the City Council Finance Committee.
“What I’d like to see is what other options there are out there besides a tax or a fee. Obviously, there are things that need to be addressed,” Ruby said.
Ruby said making the city and its schools more attractive to couples his age will have citywide implications and benefits, along with attention to basic needs.
“I want to make sure the potholes on Canco Road are taken care of because I am dodging those on the way to the gym,” Ruby said, adding he is pleased overall with the way the city delivers its services.
“I will walk into City Hall and there will be new things for me, but I will learn them,” he said. “I don’t have to be told or taught something twice; I pick it up and run with it.”
Now completing his second term on the School Board, Costa said the breadth of his experience and prior work with city councilors sets him apart from the other contenders.
“I think the question will be, who will get things done?” said Costa, an accountant at Auto Europe.
Costa, of 11 Sawyer St., said he will focus first on education and housing in the city. Improving both will make Portland more attractive to people between ages 30 and 45 who have families, and can help expand the city tax base, he said.
“If you don’t fix those two things,” Costa said, “other things won’t matter.”
Confident that Portland public schools have reached a point of budget stability, Costa said he would like to help steward bonds for elementary school improvements through the City Council.
“I think the schools are in a reasonable place. (But) the capital improvements don’t work like that, that is an authority given to council,” he said. “I’m not sure there is a better person to work on this on the council. When I advocate for a package, I know exactly what it means and the implications.”
Costa said the City Council should be working on a wider and longer view, especially in housing, and he would like to help develop it. He said the city has done a good job finding housing solutions for lower-income residents, and private investment is increasing, but a gap remains.
“I think the council’s role is to be more proactive in setting an overarching vision on what housing development should be,” Costa said. “It is that middle demographic again that has been squeezed.”
He said developing inclusive zoning to spur more affordable housing growth would help, but he cautioned that the council should not micromanage as much as help target areas of the city for development to attract families.
“The public needs to have confidence the city is on their side,” he said.
Costa said he supports the concept of raising the minimum wage, but will wait to see details of a city minimum wage ordinance before deciding whether to support it.
His stance on any fee to pay for improvements on storm and waste water infrastructure is similar, but Costa added he is worried the City Council may stray too far from what committees and task forces have in mind when they issue reports that may become ordinances.
Costa said conversations in the district show there is concern about the city tax rate, but it comes with an understanding of the wider picture about declining state aid.
“We do need a more supportive administration in Augusta, virtually everything that supports Portland has been disproportionately targeted,” he said.
Mahoney, of 49 Illsley St., said she is running for love.
“I am doing this because I love this city,” she said. “Portland has challenged me and given me a great life. I want to make sure the voice of the working people is heard.”
She said she sees room for commercial development in District 4, especially along Presumpscot Street, and said improved public transportation and infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists would help.
But she said she also recognizes the needs and situation in her district differ from the city peninsula.
“I totally support making the city more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, but we are in Maine,” she said. “We can’t eliminate cars.”
While not worried that gentrification is taking hold in the city because small businesses are still growing, Mahoney said she does worry that higher-priced housing under construction in places like Munjoy Hill will be detrimental because it will not attract full-time city residents who contribute to the economy every day.
“Managing the development and growth in the city is primarily the role of the council, and we will need to make some difficult judgment calls,” Mahoney said. “What are we trying to make it into? I like Portland as it is.”
Mahoney said she opposed the Midtown development in Bayside and the sale of Congress Square Park to owners of the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel.
“I don’t want to see the skyline of Portland change,” she said of the Midtown project, which is now facing a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court.
Mahoney supports an increase in the minimum wage, drawing on her own experience as a working, single mother of two.
“I was working full time and I just couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working,” she said.
Mahoney said she worries about the cumulative effects of the coming 5-cent fee on disposable bags at grocery stores, and potential new fees to pay for storm and waste water infrastructure improvements.
“The thing is, what are the priorities here?” she asked. “If the motivation on a 5-cent shopping bag is to clean up the city, and the 5 cents goes to Hannaford (Bros.), what are we gaining?”
She said District 4 residents are concerned about rising property taxes, and have high expectations.
“They do want a councilor who will respond to their concerns immediately as Cheryl Leeman has done,” she said.
Mahoney also said the city needs to keep embracing its immigrant population.
“Portland is a city with a deep history of immigration,” she said. “There was a time when the Irish, Italians, Polish and Vietnamese weren’t welcome. There is always going to be an immigrant population that gives us a new depth and flavor.”
Portland City Council District 4
PORTLAND — The District 4 City Council race between Justin Costa, Rosemary Mahoney and Ray Ruby is the only contested non-School Board election on Nov. 5.
In City Council District 5, former Councilor and Mayor David Brenerman, of 32 Overset Road, is unopposed in his bid to replace Councilor John Coyne, who decided not to seek a third term.
In the race for the Peaks Island Council, Timothy Wyant, of 130 Central Ave., and Lisa Penlaver, of 14 Upper A St., are unopposed for two, two-year terms.
No one filed nomination papers for two, three-year seats on the Peaks Island Council.
— David Harry