Photos by Natalie Conn
Last in a seven-part series on where Portland’s mayoral candidates stand on issues facing the city.
PORTLAND — Candidates to be the city’s first popularly elected mayor in 88 years have all said it’s important to sit down with the stakeholders to begin working towards positive change in the city.
This week, the candidates were asked why they are best positioned for the job and what they’d do on Day 1.
They offered interesting responses, ranging from meeting with vanquished opponents to conducting a survey to measure happiness, to consulting the city attorney to avoid getting sued.
Michael Brennan said he would begin building a partnership between the city and various universities and research institutes to make sure educational programs are giving workers the skills needed to meet the demands of employers.
He said he would also meet with the city’s legislative delegation to restore state education funding that has been cut over the years, and would start talking with small business owners to see how the city can help them expand and create new jobs.
Brennan said his experiences as a state senator (including a stint as majority leader), at the United Way of Greater Portland and in his current occupation as policy associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, make him uniquely qualified to get results.
“There’s nobody else in the race that can pull together the partnerships I’m talking about,” he said.
City Councilor and Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said he would work from Election Day to inauguration on meeting with councilors and community members on a vision to move forward. He said his first day would be spent laying out the “nuts and bolts” of creating jobs and improving public education.
Mavodones said his experience, both as a School Board member and a 14-year councilor, separates him from his competitors. He said he worked behind the scenes with the developers of Thompson’s Point to line up support for the project.
“I do have a track record working on these issues,” he said.
Ethan Strimling said if he’s elected mayor he will make it known on Day 1 that he is responsible for the city’s successes and failures. He said he’s campaigning on the belief that the elected mayor will essentially be the city’s chief operating officer – even though those duties lie with the city manager.
“I’ve made it clear we need a strong mayor,” he said. “I’ll be elected or not based on that.”
Strimling has also campaigned against current city leadership, pointing to the undeveloped Maine State Pier as an example. He said he’s not concerned that he’ll encounter obstinacy from other councilors or city staff if elected, because he’ll be open their ideas.
“I’m not worried about anybody’s egos getting in the way of that success,” he said.
City Councilor David Marshall, however, said he has a clear understanding about the mayor’s powers under the City Charter (there are nine of them) and said he would clearly articulate his vision on Day 1.
He said he would immediately establish himself as the city’s spokesman and leader, calling local, state and federal leaders, including the governor. His knowledge of the mayor’s role, along with knowing how City Hall works and his policy goals, best position him for the job, he said.
“These qualities will allow me to get moving on implementing and moving the city forward in a much faster time frame,” he said.
Markos Miller said he would use the 30 or so days from the election to inauguration to research “the things we don’t know” about Portland politics.
As a classroom teacher, he said he believes his facilitation skills and dedication to process, including his emphasis on community input, will better allow him to build relationships and find common ground with the City Council.
“That applies whether it is a room of 100 concerned citizens or if it’s eight other city councilors,” he said. “I think I’ve shown I’m able to not get caught up in power struggles or tugs of war over stuff. But (I) sit down with people, find the ground and see what we can all do together.”
But Jodie Lapchick said she is best positioned to build those relationships – because of her gender. “I am an expert relationship-builder,” she said. “I think because I’m a woman that comes easier to me.”
If elected, Lapchick said she would meet with other mayoral candidates to catalog their ideas, including John Eder’s idea of putting public school students on METRO buses for free.
“There are a lot of candidates with a lot of good, single ideas that aren’t big global ideas,” she said.
Eder said he would begin his term in office by commissioning a survey based on a “happiness index” used in other cities. He said once the community communicates what it values, what it’s willing to pay for, and what it’s willing to do without, he can begin developing budget priorities.
The happiness index, he said, is one way to have a more positive conversation about the budget, rather than talking about potential cuts, which is divisive and mobilizes interest groups.
“If I have to spend my own funds on that I will,” he said.
City Councilor Jill Duson also said she would spend her first day in office reaching out to the community. But she would take to the streets and ask people three questions: What should we keep doing? What should we start doing? What should we stop doing?
“For me it will be an opportunity to immediately engage and continue to be an assertive collaborator,” she said.
Duson also said she believes her seven years directing the state Bureau of Rehabilitative Services sets her apart. She said she also has experience serving on the boards of the Portland and state chambers of commerce, as well as experience working in the private sector.
But Jed Rathband said the city needs new leadership. He said he considers himself the only “outsider in the top tier” with a chance at winning the election.
“I’m an outsider,” he said. “I have a fresh voice.”
Rathband said he would immediately communicate the concerns he has heard on the campaign trail to city department heads. He would also incorporate the ideas of other candidates into his platform.
“People want a responsive city government,” he said. “They want a city government that anticipates their needs in a way that is not antagonistic or appears to by any kind of animosity.”
But Christopher Vail said he is an outsider who has first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of City Hall, since he has been a firefighter since 1999.
“I’ve the seen the worst of our city. And I’ve seen the best of our city,” Vail said, noting his blue-collar roots. “It’s an angle none of them can bring to the table.”
Vail said his early days in office would be spent setting up regular monthly meetings with community and city groups. His top priority would be tackling areas of overlapping services, he said.
Richard Dodge also said tackling overlapping services would be his top priority. He said he would assemble a committee to look for redundancies and streamline government services. He again pointed to Superintendent of Schools James C. Morse’s reform work in the schools as an example.
He said the top-down review would leave open the possibility of removing department heads, saying a recent accident involving the city fire boat is an example of where things have gone wrong.
Dodge said he’d also look or opportunities to outsource services that can be better provided by the private sector.
“We need to review the all to make sure we’re getting the best bang for our buck,’ he said. “The buck stops at the head of the department.”
Ralph Carmona said his “temperament and prudence” makes him best positioned to get results from stakeholders. Although he is a registered Democrat and sits on the Portland Democratic Committee, he said he has worked with legislators on both sides of the aisle in a nonpartisan way.
Carmona said he also knows when the timing is right to press an issue, and to connect with people on an emotional level. He said he would also have the immediate recognition of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Peter Bryant said if he is elected he would first meet with the city attorney to make sure he’s “not speaking harshly to the wrong person.” Although the mayor doesn’t have the power to hire and fire people, he’d like to see how he can influence staffing.
“The city gets sued too much, and I want to see I can I do and what can’t I do,” he said. “I want to lay out to (the attorney) what I want to do and he can advise me.”
Charles Bragdon said no candidate can do something that anyone else cannot.
“I don’t think anyone can do anything stellar on their first day that can make somebody stand out in a crowd,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an answerable question without putting an answer out there that isn’t being honest.”
Hamza Haadoow did respond to an email or phone calls seeking comment.