Portland voters narrowly OK election of mayor

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PORTLAND – Voters on Tuesday approved changing the City Charter to allow popular election of a mayor.

The measure passed 12,957 to 11,821, according to unofficial results posted Tuesday night.

Two other charter amendments also earned approval. The School Committee will now be renamed the Board of Public Education, and its members will receive an increase in pay, from $3,000 to about $5,600. The raise brings them in line with the salary paid to city councilors.

Voters approved the school changes 18,978 to 5,493.

Technical changes to the charter, needed to bring the city up to date with local and state regulations, were approved 16,656 to 5,737.

The elected mayor question was a divisive one. Supporters said an elected mayor would give the city an accountable leader with the ability to develop and implement a “vision.”

Opponents argued an elected mayor would have no more authority than current city councilors, who take turns serving one-year terms as mayor and, essentially, chairman of the council.

The full-time elected mayor will get a salary of about $67,000 and serve a four-year term.

The mayor will be elected through ranked-choice voting, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. The system is also known as “instant runoff voting.”

The winner must receive more than 50 percent of the vote; if the top vote-getter does not earn more than 50 percent, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated and their non-first-place votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates. The process continues until a candidate has more than 50 percent of the total.

The first mayoral election is set for November 2011.

Jed Rathband, organizer of the elected mayor campaign, said Tuesday night he was relieved the question passed. He said supporters recognized throughout the campaign that it would be a close call.

“Ultimately, I think people agreed that what we need is leadership at the local level,” Rathband said.

The elected mayor campaign was also supported by the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 1o6 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net