PORTLAND — Unlike most of Portland’s 15 candidates for mayor, Nicholas Mavodones doesn’t see much wrong with the city.
His mantra has been, “Keep the good things going.” He’s running on a platform that Portland is widely acclaimed for its livability, and it’s improving.
While his opponents have highlighted what they perceive as the city’s shortcomings – a lack of jobs and vision, inefficiencies in City Hall, failed developments and little public input – Mavodones has mostly focused on the positives.
“Portland is a great city,” he said, “and I think most people who live here would agree with that.”
Mavodones, who has served as the city’s part-time mayor four times, concedes that some things need improvement. For instance, he would like to streamline the city’s permitting process.
He envisions a time when a city staffer can take a laptop to a home that needs a deck and finish the permitting process within a few hours.
But on the whole, Mavodones said, the city is moving in the right direction. He points to the “megaberth” that opened this year at Ocean Gateway, enabling some of the world’s largest cruise ships to come to Portland.
He points to new hotels, construction of a technology park on Rand Road, and The Forefront, a $105 million development planned at Thompson’s Point, as evidence that his leadership works.
“These things don’t happen by accident,” he said.
As the current mayor, Mavodones has many supporters. The Portland Education Association endorsed him as its No. 1 choice. The president of the teachers union, Kathleen Casasa, said Mavodones’ seven years on the Portland School Committee and his 14 years on the City Council show his commitment to Portland.
Jon Jennings, one of The Forefront’s managing partners, who said he will not endorse any candidate, praised Mavodones’ work on that project.
“He was instrumental in helping us move through the process at City Hall,” said Jennings, who also cited the help of city councilors Jill Duson and David Marshall.
“There was a time with our project (May and June 2010) when we were unsure if we were going to be able to move the project forward. And Mayor Mavodones really stepped up and helped us navigate and communicate to the other councilors and in City Hall. That was crucial for us,” Jennings said.
Being the current mayor also has brought challenges, as Mavodones has found in this campaign.
Other candidates have blamed him for anything and everything.
Jed Rathband criticized him for running for mayor after campaigning last year against creating the position in the new city charter.
Richard Dodge said that the controversy over an accident involving the city’s fireboat this month showed a lack of leadership at City Hall, and that all departments need examining.
Markos Miller said Mavodones and the City Council have been slow to respond to the crumbling Hall Elementary School.
Ethan Strimling said Mavodones and the council showed a lack of leadership in the failed effort to redevelop the Maine State Pier, which cost the city a $100 million development.
And Rathband also criticized Mavodones for not galvanizing enough support for a bond to renovate the Cumberland County Civic Center, and for not stewarding a plan that better uses the former Adams School property.
At a mayoral forum held by the League of Young Voters in September, many of the candidates used their “challenge” questions to go toe-to-toe with Mavodones.
“What are you going to do different than the status quo?” asked Charles Bragdon, one of his opponents.
Mavodones defends his record. He said he has shown the ability to work on statewide initiatives, by helping the Maine Municipal Association pass a ballot initiative in 2006 to increase state funding for schools.
He helped lead the effort to build the East End Community School and co-wrote the city’s current housing plan, which he said has led to hundreds of diverse housing units.
He also said that being part-time mayor and having a full-time job – he’s the operations manager for Casco Bay Lines – has hindered him in some ways.
When he was sworn in as mayor last year, he promised a series of neighborhood meetings to get public input on the direction of the city. His schedule prevented that from happening, he said.
“I think I have the experience that none of the other candidates has,” he said, “and as full-time mayor, I can capitalize on that even more.”
City Councilor Dory Waxman, who’s endorsing Mavodones, said he has “the unique ability to bring people together.”
He is handling essentially three major jobs, she said: He’s the mayor, he’s running for mayor, and he’s fulfilling the duties of his day job at Casco Bay Lines.
“Who could do that and be even-keeled and pleasant and diplomatic and on time and still find a way to get things done? Not many people I know,” she said. “I just think he’s the solidest guy in government and Portland, and he’s been dedicated to making Portland better for a long time.”
Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org