PORTLAND – Mayoral candidate Jodie Lapchick had never run for political office. She’d never even worked on a political campaign.
But after the city’s residents approved an elected mayor’s position last November, Lapchick felt the stars had aligned for her to run for mayor.
“I don’t remember the exact day, but it occurred to me the job didn’t require a politician,” Lapchick said. “It required a special set of skills that I had and that I felt I could bring to the table.”
Lapchick, a Pennsylvania native, moved to Maine in 1993 from the Philadelphia suburbs. She considered moving to San Francisco, too, but ultimately settled on Portland.
“My family has a culture of consciously choosing where you want to live,” she said. “(Portland) was like nothing I had ever seen before in my suburban hometown. The music, the arts, the restaurants, the people, the skateboarders — I found it all just wonderful.”
In 1998, Lapchick, a marketing strategist, opened Lapchick Creative, an ad agency on Maple Street, which quickly made an indelible mark on the community.
Her company designed the “Love Portland More” campaign in the early 2000s for the city’s Downtown District, which was ubiquitous in the city for many years. She also nabbed high-profile clients such as the Amtrak Downeaster, Port City Music Hall and Maine & Company.
On the campaign trail, Lapchick has vowed to implement Portland’s newly unveiled comprehensive economic development plan, the first of its kind in the city. Officials spent 18 months creating it in collaboration with many of the city’s stakeholders.
Lapchick said other candidates have “indicated” or “implied” they won’t follow the plan, or will come up with their own plan. This would be a mistake, she said.
“If we elect someone who will do that, we’ll have four more years of planning and no action,” she said. “I want action.
“This plan will solve a whole host of problems,” she said. “I’m one of the few candidates who is willing to implement it. I’m also one of the few candidates with the skills to do so effectively.
“There are a few candidates in each of those categories. I’m the only one in both.”
The city’s plan mentions “marketing” more than a dozen times, including a call to market the city’s creative economy on a national scale. “Who better to do that than a strategic marketing consultant?” Lapchick said.
But the transition from marketing strategist to mayoral candidate hasn’t always gone smoothly. Lapchick has had trouble getting high-profile endorsements, raising money and making her campaign stand out.
She said if she could do it again, she would have begun fundraising and reaching out to supporters earlier. At times, she has also struggled in debates.
At a mayoral forum hosted by the West End Neighborhood Association, she admitted to not knowing enough information to answer her two questions, even though the group mailed the candidates all of the potential questions in advance.
“She’s obviously very smart and likable,” said Michelle Hunter, who has attended multiple debates. “But there’s clearly been a learning curve for her, which some of the other candidates haven’t had because they’ve done this before.”
Lapchick is one of 15 candidates running to become the city’s first popularly elected mayor in 88 years. Several city councilors, the current mayor and candidates with state legislative experience are among those on the Nov. 8 ballot.
But Lapchick has gained perspective as a business owner and knows firsthand the economic difficulties Portland has faced in recent years. In January 2009, she closed Lapchick Creative, her 10-employee business, after more than a decade in the city.
When the national and local economies tanked, many of her clients had to cut or eliminate their marketing budgets, she said. She reopened in February 2009 as Lapchick & Co., a marketing consultant firm, but she is now its only employee.
Supporters praise Lapchick’s management style and say it would transition perfectly to the mayor’s position. Michelle Morel, the former vice president of Lapchick Creative, said Lapchick creates an atmosphere of collaboration. She knows how to listen to and get the most out of her employees.
“She really took the time to listen to each person’s individual interests and get to know each person’s strengths,” Morel said. “She would change the team around for each client, and would put us in spots we were best at and in places we could succeed.
“Because we were successful, it gave us all confidence, and it made the organization much stronger as a whole.”
Morel conceded that running a 10-person small business is different from being the mayor of a city. But in an ad agency like Lapchick Creative, you have to convince different stakeholders — the clients, your employees — of a vision for each client.
The mayor would have similar responsibilities, Morel said.
“In both, you have to build consensus and work collaboratively,” she said. “Jodie knows how to do both, and do it efficiently and effectively.”
Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: