PORTLAND – The city’s first mayoral debate in nearly nine decades quickly turned into a 15-person boxing match.

Quite a few of the participants Thursday night tried to make City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones their punching bag.

The debate, hosted by the League of Young Voters at Lucid Stage on Baxter Boulevard, included a “challenge” round, in which candidates could ask one question — about any subject — to any person in the race.

Of the 11 candidates who asked questions, five targeted Mavodones, the incumbent mayor seeking re-election Nov. 8.

Richard Dodge and Charles Bragdon accused Mavodones of doing little to promote business in his 14 years on the City Council. “What are you going to do different than the status quo?” Bragdon asked.

Markos Miller, a Spanish teacher, wanted to know why Mavodones has let Hall Elementary School fall into disrepair, without advocating for any funding for it.

And Jed Rathband pointed out that Mavodones campaigned against the city charter change that created a popularly elected mayor, describing it as “overpriced” and “worthless.”

“How can you be an effective mayor when you hold the position in such low esteem?” Rathband asked.

Mavodones mostly laughed off the bull’s-eye on his back. He stuck with his message that the city has moved in the right direction, and will continue to do so under his leadership.

“We have a great city,” he said. “I’m proud of the business we’ve got.”

He noted that Portland is ranked as a top destination for young people and retirees, and that more developments like the Forefront at Thompson’s Point are on the way.

A total of more than 100 people, most younger than 30, crowded into Lucid Stage, filling the seats and sitting on the floor to watch the debate.

Three candidates at a time stood at a colorful podium and answered questions from the League of Young Voters’ elections committee, the audience and representatives of organizations like the United Way.

The candidates stood beneath a sign that said, “So you think you can mayor?” To their right was a colorful Wheel-of-Fortune-esque wheel with relevant topics on it, like education, the economy and neighborhood development.

Before the challenge round, each group spun the wheel once to see what topic they would be questioned about.

Moderator Suzanne Murphy said the league designed the venue and format to bring “flair and fun” to the event, and the mood was mostly lighthearted, outside of the challenge round.

Peter Bryant, a retired merchant seaman, made the audience laugh on numerous occasions. He said his biggest challenge as mayor would be “working with City Council,” which drew laughs.

He said he wouldn’t table issues for weeks if one or two city councilors didn’t understand them. That happens too often, he said. “If you don’t understand it, get out of the way. … Just don’t vote.”

The night mostly framed the race as politicians versus nonpoliticians. Candidate Chris Vail, who is a firefighter, asked former state Sen. Michael Brennan why voters should vote for any “career politicians” in the race.

Brennan, Mavodones, City Councilors Jill Duson and David Marshall and former state Sen. Ethan Strimling focused on positive projects they have worked on in government.

As they did on Tuesday, at The Portland Club’s mayoral event, candidates rolled out specific policies they would pursue as mayor.

Miller said he wants to quicken the development of Bayside — something city officials have talked about for 10 years, he said, but haven’t done.

Rathband and former state Rep. John Eder said they want to focus on creating more affordable housing in the city. Marshall and marketing strategist Jodie Lapchick said they want to better promote the creative economy, and help local talents turn their ideas into products that can be sold.

Strimling said he would like to help immigrants with English and literacy skills through adult education. Some immigrants come to Portland with impressive backgrounds, he said, but because of the language barrier they can get only jobs cleaning offices.

“We’ve got to teach people to read and speak English as quickly as possible to get them integrated into our community,” he said, then Portland can unleash their talents to help the city prosper.

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be reached at 791-6437 or at:

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