Portland Democratic leadership regroups

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PORTLAND — The Democratic City Committee has a new executive board and is hoping the new composition attracts more involvement from rank-and-file Democrats.

Although nearly half the city’s enrolled voters are Democrats, the local committee has struggled to find members during the past few years and all but disappeared after the November 2008 elections.

Of Portland’s more than 47,200 registered voters, nearly 22,900 are Democrats, according to the City Clerk’s office. That’s about 48 percent.

“There are lots of active Democrats,” said Reb Brann, the new chairwoman of the committee. “They are just not active within the city committee.”

In August, the Portland Dems called a meeting to discuss the future of the organization. Enough people showed interest that the committee was kept alive. In addition to Brann’s new leadership role, Steve Gordon was elected vice chairman, Burt Wartell will serve as treasurer and Will Nelligan has assumed the duties of secretary.

“Nineteen people came and said they’d help,” Brann said. “We’re the biggest city in Maine. We must have a Democratic City Committee.”

Sive Neilan, the leader of the committee for several years, stepped down last November. She oversaw a Democratic caucus in February 2008 that brought out record numbers and some chaos, as 4,000 people tried to navigate Portland High School.

In addition to its responsibility to host the caucus, the local committee puts on the annual Truman Dinner (which did not happen this year) and supports issues it feels are important. For example, they have committed themselves this fall to campaigning against TABOR.

Brann said the executive committee will turn its attention to organization and membership. It plans to update and improve the portlanddems.org Web site, and work on fundraising and communicating with Portland’s Democrats. 

Brann said she was concerned to hear more than once, while speaking with fellow Democrats about the lack of interest in the city committee, that “you’re not an inclusive organization.”

“I don’t ever want to hear that,” she said. “We want to encourage people to see where they can fit in.”

The committee was expected to meet this week and finalize a schedule for future public meetings.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net