What’s one way to stand out in a field of at least 18 candidates? Insist that you don’t really want the job.

Jay York, an artist who opposed the city charter change that created Portland’s popularly elected, full-time mayor, said he’s running for the position primarily to highlight his opinion that the post is essentially powerless.

As he circulates his petition to get on the ballot, York said, he tells voters his objections to the position and adds a request to those who sign the papers.

“To everyone of them, I’ve said, ‘I don’t want this job and please don’t put me in your top 10 choices,’ ” a reference to the ranked-choice voting system that will be used in November.

York argues that the post grants little power beyond that of the current mayor – who is selected by the council from its nine members for a one-year term in a part-time role. The only expansion of power, he said, will be the mayor’s authority to veto the budget – and a veto can be overridden by six councilors.

Most people believe the mayor will have the kind of power that many other mayors in Maine and around the country have, such as hiring and firing the city manager and department heads. That, and the authority to veto some council measures, creates a balance of power between the council and the mayor, York said.

The lack of powers given to Portland’s mayor, coupled with the visibility of the role and the annual pay of $65,000, will simply create animosity with councilors, he said.

“People are going to get screwed on this,” York said, although the right person could make the job a little more meaningful.

All of which creates an interesting dilemma for York. He could “very possibly” endorse one of his opponents during the campaign. And he dreads the prospect of winning the race.

“I’d want someone to shoot me, probably, after the first year,” he said. “I find the whole thing a very interesting mess.”

SURVEYING CROWDED FIELD

Portland Tomorrow is likely to endorse a candidate, but probably not tomorrow. Or the day after.

The group was formed after the charter change by supporters of a popularly elected mayor. Mike Bourque, a top executive at MEMIC, the worker’s compensation insurer, said the group is still trying to figure out how to make an endorsement, given the crowded field.

“It’s a little daunting, given the number of candidates,” said Bourque, who noted that groups that typically sponsor candidate forums and debates may have to rethink their formats if anywhere near 18 candidates get on the ballot. “I don’t think you can do one that works well with that many candidates.”

Bourque said he and others in the group, which includes former City Councilors Pam Plumb, Jim Cohen and Nathan Smith, talked to people they thought would make good mayors, but none was interested in running. He declined to identify them.

That means the organization will have to survey the field to find someone who meets Portland Tomorrow’s criteria of having a vision for the city, a broad base of support, commitment to Portland and an ability to govern and lead.

He said there’s even a chance that the group will support several candidates, given that the election will use ranked-choice voting.

Portland voters will be able to rank their choices for mayor. After the votes are tallied, if no candidate gets a majority, the last-place candidate will be dropped and his or her voters’ second choices will be distributed to the other candidates. The process will continue until a winner with a majority emerges.

BOY, 4, CIRCULATING WITH DAD

One “candidate” isn’t observing the formality of circulating city-approved nominating papers this summer.

Markos Miller said his son, Oliver, 4, is emulating Dad as he gathers signatures for a spot on the ballot.

While the elder Miller is using city-issued forms, Oliver is using blank sheets of paper to gather signatures. Those who sign Miller’s forms use a pen and those who help Oliver use a marker.

Oliver is not averse to adding his own “signature” several times while Dad talks to voters, Miller said.

Oliver “may have nearly as many as I do,” Miller said, although it’s unlikely the city clerk would approve of Oliver signing multiple times for himself.

Miller said that beyond creating some father-son time, he thinks Oliver’s absorbing some lessons about democracy along the way.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]