PORTLAND — Christian McNeil has dropped out of the Green Independent primary race in House District 119. His decision means that his only opponent, Kris Eckhardt, will be the Greens’ candidate on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Or not.

Eckhardt, a guitarist and vocalist in the neo-rockabilly band King Memphis, was presumed by party leaders to be a “place holder,” someone who would withdraw his candidacy after the primary and let the party choose a replacement at a caucus in July.

Eckardt now plans to run a competitive campaign for the general election, says Mike Hiltz, his campaign manager.

He would run in the fall against the winner of the June 8 Democratic primary, Jill Barkley or Mohammed Dini.

The district, covering Portland’s Bayside and Parkside neighborhoods, is important to the Greens because it is among the few in Maine where they can be competitive.

McNeil said he decided to drop out because he was promoted recently to a full-time job at Maine Audubon and wouldn’t have had time to campaign or serve in Augusta.

He said that Eckhardt was a place holder candidate.

Anna Trevorrow, the party’s spokeswoman, also said Tuesday that Eckhardt was a place holder candidate. She didn’t know much about him or how to reach him.

Despite Hiltz’s assertion that Eckardt’s campaign is for real, his intentions remain a mystery.

He did not list a phone number with the Secretary of State’s Office, and Hiltz declined to provide one. Eckardt did not respond to an e-mail message.

Hiltz said that he and Eckhardt are outside the party’s establishment, and that party leaders are saying Eckhardt is a place holder to lower his credibility among voters.

“It’s a campaign trick to de-legitimize Kris as a candidate,” Hiltz said.

On Tuesday, Ben Chipman, a longtime Green activist, filed a nomination petition with the Portland City Clerk’s Office to run as an independent in the general election.

Chipman worked in the Legislature from 2002 to 2006 as the Green party’s staff when it had one member in the House, John Eder.

Chipman also has worked as campaign coordinator for the Greens and as chair of the Cumberland County Party Committee.

He said he unenrolled from the party on March 1. He said party affiliation doesn’t seem to matter much to voters in the district.

“Being independent allows the debate to be more open and not limited to a party platform,” said Chipman, a self-employed community organizer.

It also allows him to run in District 119, even though he doesn’t live there – yet.

Chipman said he is buying a three-family house on Mayo Street, with the closing scheduled for Friday.

According to state law, that’s too late to establish residency for a primary race. But it may not be too late for the general election.
The city clerk has until June 1 to certify that Chipman is a resident of the district and has the signatures of at least 50 voters who live there.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn said she believes that Chipman can qualify as a resident if he is living in the district at the time the city clerk certifies his nomination papers.

He has already qualified as a clean election candidate, giving him access to state funds to run a campaign.
Because McNeil withdrew so late, his name will appear on the June 8 primary ballot.

If he does win the primary and then notifies the state that wants to withdraw, the Greens will be able to select a new candidate in July.

If Chipman’s nomination papers are certified by the city clerk’s office, he will be eligible to be the Green candidate on November’s ballot, Flynn said.

Trevorrow said she would encourage Chipman to come back to the party.

“His roots are with the Green party,” she said, “and I believe he has a sense of loyalty to the party.”

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: tbell@pressherald.com