PORTLAND – Opponents of a proposal for a popularly elected mayor to lead Maine’s largest city plan to run a low-budget campaign focused on the projected cost to taxpayers.

They say that paying a mayor $66,000 a year — plus benefits and a support staff — would be too expensive at a time when Portland is making cuts elsewhere to keep spending and taxes down.

It will likely cost $150,000 a year to establish a mayor’s office in City Hall, said City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who is leading Citizens to Retain Responsible Government.

“Are people not looking around at the economy?” Leeman asked.

Jed Rathband, manager of the Elect Our Mayor, Yes on 1 group, said the $66,000 salary would be “very modest.”

He said the mayor wouldn’t have a staff, and the mayor’s expanded role would allow the council to reduce staffing in the city manager’s office, such as one of the two assistant city manager positions.

Rathband said the mayor would be able to veto the budget, and it would take a vote of six of the nine councilors to override the veto.

“A mayor with veto power over the budget will create a more efficient city government,” he said.

Leeman announced her campaign during a press conference Wednesday at City Hall. Her supporters include Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr., Councilors Dory Waxman and John Coyne, former Councilors Jim Cloutier and Linda Abromson, and former Planning Board Chairman Cyrus Hagge.

Councilors who support an elected mayor include Jill Duson, John Anton, David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue.

Under the current city charter, the council selects one of its members to serve as mayor for a one-year term.

Question 1 on Portland’s Nov. 2 ballot, proposed by the Portland Charter Commission, calls for voters to elect a mayor for a four-year term. As in the current system, the mayor would be a voting member of the City Council and chair its meetings.

Cloutier said he has long supported establishing an elected mayor with executive authority. The mayor in this proposal would be too weak, he said.

“This is simply another way to pick the chairman of the City Council,” Cloutier said.

Mavodones said the elected mayor would have the same duties as the current mayor, and no more power.

“If five councilors disagree with him, this mayor is basically neutered,” he said.

Mavodones said he doesn’t like the proposed system of electing a mayor: ranked choice voting.

Voters would rank candidates in order of preference by filling in a first-choice bubble next to their favorite candidate, a second-choice bubble next to their second favorite, and so on.

The first-choice votes would be counted for all candidates. If no candidate got a majority, the ballots would be recounted and the last-place candidate would be eliminated. The remaining candidates would get any second-choice votes cast for them on the ballots won by the eliminated candidate.

Mavodones said the system is so convoluted that it would confuse many voters and fail to produce a political mandate.

The elected mayor and ranked choice voting are bundled together in Question 1. Mavodones said the Charter Commission should have given voters the ability to vote on the issues separately.

Rathband said a crowded field of candidates would almost ensure that the winner fails to get a majority, requiring a run-off election that would cost the city more money.

Ranked choice voting, he said, would eventually produce a winner with a majority.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: 

[email protected]

 This article was amended at 11:24 a.m. on Thursday, September 16, 2010 to remove Dan Skolnik’s name from the list of city councilor’s who support an elected mayor of Portland.