In July 2010, a local committee hired Jed Rathband to run the “Elect Our Mayor” campaign. Fast forward 15 months, and Rathband now has a chance to become that elected mayor.
In a field of many former candidates and elected officials, Rathband has painted himself as the only front-line contender who provides new leadership.
“I’m the only top-tier candidate offering a truly fresh voice,” he said. “I don’t have ties to the local Democratic machine. All the other candidates have served and run in Portland before, collectively probably more than 100 years. We need new leadership, not the same ones that got us here.”
Rathband was born in Mystic, Conn., and moved to Portland in the early 2000s. His background mixes business and politics.
In the late 1990s, he worked for a high-tech company in China that hoped to one day use phones as cameras. Rathband recruited English-speaking clients.
After the tech-bubble burst, however, Rathband turned to politics. In 2002, he helped his former college adviser, San Francisco politician Harry Britt, run for the California Assembly.
Since moving to Portland in 2003 and opening Stone’s Throw Consulting, Rathband has worked on or run some of the most high-profile campaigns in the state.
In 2003, he worked as a field organizer on the “CasinosNo!” campaign. In 2004, he worked with the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Council of Maine on environmental issues.
In 2006, he worked for The Olympia Companies, a developer vying to build a large multi-use project on the Maine State Pier. Last year, he spearheaded the “Elect Our Mayor” effort.
Rathband is running on a business platform. If elected mayor on Nov. 8, he said he would make 25 calls to out-of-state businesses per week to try to entice them to relocate to Portland.
His top goal, however, is to improve the city’s gifted-and-talented program at Portland public schools to help attract high-achieving families, he said. Because of budget issues, the district has significantly scaled back the program — called Chapter 104 — over the past 10 years.
“Innovators want good schools for their children — high-achievement programs — and in turn, great schools produce the educated work force that innovators need for their companies,” Rathband said. “Schools can be the No. 1 economic driver.”
He quoted author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman about how innovators will produce jobs in the 21st century. “We’re not going to find one company to land us 10,000 jobs,” he said. “We’re going to find 1,000 individuals who create 10 jobs apiece. That’s development in the modern era, and great schools can attract those people.”
Rathband’s business focus has earned him numerous endorsements from local businesses. Bob Van Wert, owner of Portland Renovations, said Rathband “is a businessman. City Hall is better off with that mindset than a political mindset.”
Deb Cook, former director of the Maine Small Business Alliance who hired Rathband in 2004 as its advocacy director, said his ability to motivate people, communicate effectively and get along with small-business owners, legislators and voters makes him her top choice.
“There’s a lot of diversity in Portland: Diversities of opinions, of needs, et cetera,” Cook said. “Jed’s a big-thinker. He’s a self-starter. He understands competing priorities and he’s an excellent collaborator and listener. … These are the skills that will make an effective mayor.”
Despite the praise, however, Rathband still seems a step behind Michael Brennan, a former state senator who has racked up a number of endorsements, including one from Portland Tomorrow. The founders of that group, working with members of the League of Young Voters, hired Rathband to run the “Elect Our Mayor” campaign. Rathband has received an endorsement from the League of Young Voters, but as their fifth-place choice.
Rathband’s transition to candidate after being the leader of the “Elect Our Mayor” campaign hasn’t sat well with some people. At two mayoral forums, residents asked him why he didn’t make it clear that he would want the mayor’s job when he took the position running the campaign.
Rathband said he didn’t realize until he began the “Elect Our Mayor” drive how much Portland residents wanted new leadership. “It wasn’t until I started going door to door and heard these cries for a new voice that I decided to run,” he said. “That’s what inspired me.”
Earlier this week, City Councilor Ed Suslovic, a Brennan supporter, said Rathband had “possibly run the best campaign.” Numerous people have noted that Rathband had lawn signs out before anyone.
But ultimately, Suslovic said, he would still vote for Brennan because of his experience and success as a former state senator, and Rathband’s relative inexperience.
“I think Jed has a lot of potential; I think Markos Miller has a lot of potential,” Suslovic said. “But if you’re using a sporting analogy: If you have a seasoned veteran at the peak of their game, that’s who I’m going to tap, as opposed to a rookie who has a lot of potential but hasn’t done it a long time.”
In a recent interview at his Everett Street home, Rathband said previous leaders of Portland have been “reactive instead of proactive.” Current city leaders, he said, wait for developments and business to come, instead of actively seeking opportunities.
He said he wants to promote the city’s professional services such as design, finance, health care and legal work, partly by pursuing conferences at venues like Forefront, the $105 million development proposed for Thompson’s Point.
Those are cluster industries where the city can grow, Rathband said. He also said his ideas for the out-of-state calls and gifted-and-talented school program would fundamentally change he city’s approach toward business.
“Right now, we have 20th-century government,” he said. “In the 21st century, you’ve got to go out and seize opportunities. We’ve got to be proactive, and that’s what I bring.”
Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: [email protected]