PORTLAND – About 60 people crammed into the Reiche Community Center on Wednesday night for a mayoral forum hosted by the West End Neighborhood Organization.

Fourteen of the 15 candidates in the Nov. 8 election attended the event. Ethan Strimling was absent.

Earlier in the week, the organization mailed the candidates 31 possible questions. Each candidate was asked two, determined by drawing questions from a hat.

At the beginning of the night, the candidates also answered seven quick questions such as date of birth, they’re favorite and least favorite things about Portland, and the one word that would describe their four years in office.

At the end, the audience also asked a half-dozen questions.

Here are a few highlights:

• In response to an audience question, former state representative John Eder and City Councilors Jill Duson and David Marshall defended Occupy Maine’s right to continue to protest in Monument Square.

As mayor, Duson said she’d defend their right to continue, as she would a tea party or Ku Klux Klan rally. “They are voicing their opinion and that’s their right,” Duson said. “The role of mayor is not to agree with the subject matter of the protest, but ensure everyone in the city can exercise their First Amendment rights.”

• Former state senator Michael Brennan had the room laughing early and often. After candidate Peter Bryant, the field’s oldest candidate at 68, joked about Brennan’s age, 58, Brennan playfully shot back, “We’re going to need a calculator for yours.”

His least favorite and most favorite things about Portland also drew laughs. His least favorite: “Winter.” His most favorite? “I know I probably shouldn’t say this to this crowd,” he said with a wry smile, “but I love the Eastern Promenade.”

“But the West End is my second favorite,” he added.

• Some answers to how candidates would describe their four years in office: “Good” (Peter Bryant); “Jobs” (Richard Dodge); “Transformative” (David Marshall); “Proactive” (Jed Rathband); “Engaging” (Markos Miller); “Uniter” (Chris Vail).

• Dodge, the field’s lone Republican, and Eder, a Green Independent Party member, agreed on a contentious issue: affordable housing. Both said the city needed to use a tax break to entice private developers to build affordable housing for Portland’s middle class and elderly residents.

“What we’re doing to the elderly, driving them out of this city because of the high cost of living, is criminal,” Dodge said.

• City Councilor and incumbent Mayor Nick Mavodones was asked to address “mobility issues” for the elderly. He suggested building retirement homes near downtown, instead of on the city’s outskirts. That would give residents easier access to the city’s urban amenities, he said.

• Thirteen of the 14 candidates came out in favor of the Cumberland County Civic Center renovation. Only Peter Bryant said he doesn’t support the bond issue.

• Hamza Haadoow said he disagreed with the city’s decision to conduct a nationwide search for a new police chief. “I believe we have local capable people,” he said. “I support them.”

• Jodie Lapchick was asked, “What will you do to get buildings on surface parking lots throughout the city?” Using tax breaks, she said, she would encourage developers to build upward, with parking on the ground floor, so the city doesn’t lose spaces but still increases density.

• Jed Rathband said he’d like to push Portland Public Schools to establish a nationally acclaimed “Gifted and Talented Program” for high-achieving students. That will attract more families to Portland, and in turn, broaden the city’s tax base.

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: [email protected]