Portland city councilors don't shine on progressives' scorecard

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PORTLAND — Progressive Portland is keeping score, and it doesn’t like the results.

“If Portland got to pick the president, we would have elected President Bernie in a landslide,” organization co-founder Steven Biel said in a Feb. 16 press conference. “So why do we have a city council that consistently votes for landlords over renters and handouts for wealthy developers?”

Biel, who is a former campaign treasurer for Councilor Pious Ali and the husband of Democratic City Committee Chairwoman Emily Figdor, announced findings that councilors voted in a progressive fashion only 57 percent of the time in 2016.

“Like all scorecards, this document by itself is insufficient to evaluate the performance of any elected official,” Progressive Portland noted in its report. “By sticking to objective, hard data, we are unable to factor in less quantifiable but often very important aspects of councilors’ work, such as constituent service or leadership on key issues.”

Biel, former School Board candidate Bill Linnell, Marena Blanchard, Michael Langenmayr and Patricia Washburn, who is secretary emeritus at the PDCC, form the steering committee that released the report.

On two items used to score councilors, the committee refers to results from a PDCC poll released last October.

Mayor Ethan Strimling was scored the most progressive, at 83. Former Councilor Ed Suslovic ranked lowest at 37. Among current councilors, Nick Mavodones scored lowest with a 42.

“We could be bolder, more progressive,” Strimling said Feb. 16 in response to the rating. “I want to help the council step into that.”

The scorecards were based on 19 council votes last year on development, tax policy, land use, public health and LGBTQ issues.

“We consulted about two dozen people in developing the scorecard, including multiple members of the council, media, activists, and even some Republicans who we knew strongly disagreed with most of our positions,” Biel said.

Mavodones and current Councilors David Brenerman, Belinda Ray, Justin Costa, Jill Duson and Spencer Thibodeau were scored. None of them were contacted by Progressive Portland, they said Feb. 16.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” said Duson, a Progressive Portland member who scored a 56.

Strimling was contacted, and said two of his vote suggestions were rejected.

Brenerman, who scored a 44, said the votes were more accurately a reflection of how a council should work.

“Good government requires compromise sometimes, and not everything is a black-and-white issue,” he said.

Councilors were given negative scores for moving forward on and eventually passing a budget that shifted care for patients with AIDS and HIV from the India Street Public Health Center to Greater Portland Health. They received positive scores for an amendment that retained other services at the city-run India Street center.

In some instances, councilors were ranked for voting on issues that were not on specific agendas.

On Jan. 20, 2016, councilors approved rezoning land at 1945 Congress St. for office development. Five councilors and Strimling were found at fault on the scorecard because the property will not be a residential development.

Mavodones opposed the order, saying he preferred housing, but no firm proposal from a housing developer existed. Rezoning opponents, including Linnell, had drafted conceptual residential plans as a suggested alternative.

“We think the council could have left that property zoned for housing and should have made a greater effort to find a plan,” Biel said.

On Sept. 19, 2016, a tax increment finance zone granting $374,000 over 12 years to assist biotech company Immucell’s expansion near Riverside Street was approved. The TIF agreement is anticipated to add $232,000 in tax revenues to the city.

Progressive Portland criticized councilors for allowing “a loss of city revenue,” and because there were no provisions governing construction labor practices.

Strimling wanted requirements for labor practices, but never introduced any as an amendment. Instead, Brenerman promised the council Economic Development Committee would review TIF regulations.

“The fact is, it will yield high-paying jobs and will keep a business in Portland,” Brenerman said of Immucell’s expansion.

Strimling opposed the TIF. He and Biel said it should have been amended.

“We disagreed and thought the correct progressive vote was no on the no-strings-attached TIF for ImmuCell for the reasons in the vote description,” Biel said.

On Feb. 15, Washburn, a former journalist, said the way the scorecard was developed, it was too difficult to learn how councilors voted. Votes are listed on the city website, and added to agenda listings after councilors approve meeting minutes.

“This is information the voters need to know, but the city doesn’t exactly make it easy to find,” Washburn said.

Progressive Portland did not link the specific agenda texts or available backup material used as criteria to its online scorecard.

“That’s a good idea,” Biel said. “We hadn’t thought of that.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Mayor Ethan Strimling topped the list at 83 percent for his votes on 19 items last year in a scorecard released Feb. 16 by Progressive Portland.

Among current councilors, Nick Mavodones scored lowest in the eyes of Progressive Portland, at 42 percent for 19 votes last year.

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.