PORTLAND — The election for District 3 city councilor is decidedly one of youth versus experience.
Incumbent Councilor Ed Suslovic, 56, of 46 Kenwood St., is the third-longest tenured councilor, and is seeking his third, three-year term. Suslovic also served a term as an at-large councilor, and one term as a state representative.
“The reason I am running again is because there are quite a few projects and initiatives I would like to see through to fruition,” he said.
Challenger Brian Batson, 25, of 209 Stevens Ave., is new both to the city and politics. He is making his first run for office after arriving in Portland in November 2015.
“This year, specifically, it seemed like a great time to get involved; there is a lot going on,” Batson said.
District 3 encompasses the southern and western portions of Portland from Libbytown to Stroudwater and the Portland International Jetport. City Council races are run without party affiliations. Election Day is Nov. 8.
A native of Methuen, Massachusetts, Suslovic is married with three children. He has consulted in smart growth development efforts, but does not work in the Portland area, he said.
Only Councilors Nick Mavodones Jr. and Jill Duson have served longer than Suslovic, who said he likes the overall mix on the council and the leadership of City Manager Jon Jennings.
“Politics is sometimes an individual sport,” he said. “Governing is a team sport.”
Suslovic’s achievements include implementing the 5-cent fee on single-use bags at food stores and banning polystyrene packaging and cups; instituting fees for property owners to fund stormwater improvements, and funding a traffic rotary at the intersections of Deering and Brighton avenues and Falmouth Street. He also led the task force to build the new Fred P. Hall Elementary School.
Now Suslovic would like to see fully automated solid waste collection, including organic materials, and creation of a master plan for the University of Southern Maine.
“I want to continue to work on managing our financial challenges,” he said. “Over the next nine years, we have a very significant increase in debt service to cover the pension obligations.”
Those financial challenges include renovating and expanding four city elementary schools.
“I am where most of my colleagues on the council are,” Suslovic said of the proposed $70.6 million bond. “We support doing what we can for our schools, but we have some questions.”
Suslovic said he wants to be certain state funding for the schools remains an option, especially because the Longfellow and Reiche schools are moving up on the state Department of Education priority list.
Having the supply to meet all income levels will alleviate the housing crunch, Suslovic said, but that will also require cooperation.
“I would argue if you look at the last several years, we have lost hundreds of housing units proposed and not built because of NIMBY issues,” he said.
Development in the city will increase the tax base, Suslovic said, although he is wary about economic cycles.
“Having been at this long enough, I know the upward trend we are on won’t continue forever. We need to try to add as much value to the city as we can in the good years,” he said.
Combating opioid use and addiction will require re-evaluating some approaches and services, he said. The same is true in looking at all city social services and who receives them.
“Portland cannot end homelessness in Maine; it is an unfair expectation placed on the city,” he said.
A native of Ellsworth who earned a nursing degree at LaSalle University in Philadelphia and later lived in Delaware, Batson is unmarried and has no children.
He is a nurse at Maine Medical Center, and said his youth and perspective in the medical field are needed on the City Council.
“What I lack in political experience I make up for in ambition,” he said. “There has never really been anyone associated with health care (on the council) and I think that would be great for it.”
Batson strongly supports the proposed $70.6 million bond to renovate and expand four city elementary schools.
“I put a lot of support behind the professionals who work with it on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “At the end of the day, these are elected officials we trust, and who are familiar with the principals, schools and teachers.”
Batson said his work at Maine Med has made him all too familiar with the impact of opioid use and addiction.
“I see it more closely than any public official there is because I take care of people in the hospital,” he said. “There is a stigma to it and there shouldn’t be. It needs to be treated as a health crisis. These people have an illness and need to be treated as such.”
He supports making naloxone, known by its Narcan trade name, more available. Narcan is administered to block an opioid overdose.
Batson said the city’s decision to close the India Street Public Health Center was an impetus for him to run for the council; he said the expertise and confidentiality at the needle exchange and clinic, where STDs and HIV are treated, are critical for some of the most vulnerable people in the city.
Batson said he supports more protections for renters in response to the city’s housing crunch.
“I think rental stabilization is a big thing,” he said. “You can’t really have this turn into Boston, where only the upper echelon can afford to live here.”
He also supports requiring more warnings for mass evictions and not emptying entire buildings.
“It needs to be appropriate in the sense it would not be all at once, it needs to be in a staggered form,” Batson said.
He admitted he has much to learn about municipal government, but said he would like to bring a fresh voice and perspective to the City Council.
“We need new blood and a new set of eyes,” Batson said.