This story was updated at 7:15 a.m. to correct Marshall’s party affiliation and to clarify the circumstances of the arts district tax increment financing district.

 

PORTLAND — City Councilor David Marshall is a technocrat. For his five years in office, he has a list of accomplishments that rival those of his competitors.

He came up with the idea for Portland’s first tax increment financing district involving the arts.

He helped find money for improvements to the Reiche Community School.

And as chairman of the council’s Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee, he led the push for an energy-service contract to make city-owned buildings more energy-efficient.

When he talks about what he will do if he is elected mayor Nov. 8, he notes how he plans to pay for each item, whether it’s through TIFs, federal and state grants, revolving-loan funds, adjustments in the city budget or other financial mechanisms.

“The difference between me and the other candidates,” Marshall said at one debate, “is that I know how to get done the things that I talk about.”

Marshall’s five-point platform includes investing in the city’s school facilities, converting homes and businesses from oil to alternative fuels, and creating a streetcar line.

Those programs would cost a significant amount up front, as some opponents have pointed out. Marshall calls them “investments.”

He points to a record of saving the city money.

In 2010, he led the approval of the energy-service contract, which cost $11 million up front. It involved energy upgrades for 45 city-owned buildings, including new windows, high-efficiency lighting, roofs and other improvements.

The upgrades will save the city about $1.7 million per year, officials said. So over the long run, Marshall said, the investment will pay off.

“There’s a difference between investing and spending,” Marshall said during a recent interview at Hot Suppa!. “With investments, you get a return on your money.”

The same holds true for his streetcar plan, he said. It would cost millions up front. But Marshall said it could be funded with a mix of federal funds and a TIF district, much like the Arts District. In the end, he said, it would bring in significantly more money than it would cost.

He cited two other cities that created successful streetcar systems. In Tampa, Fla., a 2.5-mile streetcar system has spurred more than $1 billion in private investments nearby, according to the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships. One in Portland, Ore., has attracted $2.5 billion in private investments since it opened in 2001.

“A modern streetcar system is an economic tool to create growth,” Marshall said. “People invest more around a streetcar line than a bus line because a streetcar system is more permanent. It shows a long-term commitment.”

Marshall’s plans have critics, and hurdles to overcome. Mayoral candidate Chris Vail called the streetcar idea “too grand” and said there wouldn’t be money for such a project.

Candidate Richard Dodge said all of the city councilors – three are running for mayor – must take blame for the city’s current economic shortcomings.

“David should accept the blame like the rest of the council for the lack of progress,” he said. “The council as a whole has been dysfunctional the last several years. … You have to own what you’ve done.”

In addition to being a city councilor, Marshall is a painter, a businessman and a landlord. He owns Constellation Gallery on Congress Street and property in the West End.

He is popular with progressives and young voters. He has more than 100 volunteers – mostly young – working on his campaign. The League of Young Voters named him its top candidate early this month, and his campaign team has knocked on more than 12,000 doors.

Marshall’s challenge will be to appeal to the broader electorate. He has never run for a citywide seat; he represents District 2 on the council. 

State Rep. Ben Chipman, whose district overlaps with Marshall’s City Council district, said he likes Marshall’s chances.

“He’s run a heck of a campaign, a very active campaign,” Chipman said this week. “I’ve heard a lot of good things. (His team) has knocked on more than 10,000 doors, and they’ve still got almost a month to go before voting day. That’s a lot of doors.

“I’d say he’s one of the three or four people who have a really good chance to win this thing,” Chipman said.

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: jsinger@mainetoday.com