PORTLAND – In March, a group of Republicans went to Richard Dodge and asked him to run for mayor.
He agreed, believing that as a Republican, his platform of less regulation and streamlining City Hall, as well as his pro-business mindset, would stand out in a large field of Democrats, Greens and independents.
But it turns out that many of the other candidates are running on similar platforms. It has taken away his advantage, Dodge said, but he believes voters won’t necessarily buy what other candidates are selling.
“I’m the only true fiscal-conservative Republican,” Dodge said. “If you look at the track records of some of these Democrats, it doesn’t match up with what they’re saying. Are we supposed to believe the light suddenly turned on and they’re pro-business?”
Dodge is the lone Republican among the 15 candidates to be the city’s first popularly elected mayor in 88 years. He has a background that involves both nonprofit and for-profit enterprises.
Dodge moved from Farmington to Portland in 1976 and became social services director for the Westbrook Housing Authority. He spent seven years there.
In 1986, he opened Sam’s Great Northern Lobster Bakes, a catering company. He has owned and operated that business for 25 years, while working as a commercial real estate agent for Magnusson Balfour.
David Caron, who helped recruit Dodge and is his campaign treasurer, said Dodge’s business and real estate experience makes him the most qualified candidate.
“He relates well to businesses because he knows what it takes to run a business,” Caron said. “Having worked with businesses in commercial real estate, he has a good pulse on what the city needs to attract more business, and how to keep the ones we already have. Other candidates don’t have that.”
Dodge has never held a political office, but he has been in the public eye. He ran for Portland City Council in 1999 against Jack Dawson and Ethan Strimling – one of his current opponents – and got thumped, getting less than 7 percent of the vote.
He later served as president of the Portland Housing Authority, and worked with another one of his current opponents, Michael Brennan, who was serving with the authority.
Although Republicans have had little success in Portland politics, Dodge believes he has a chance to pull off the upset. He said voters have responded to his message of fiscal responsibility, and he believes the 10 Democratic and two Green candidates will split votes, even in a nonpartisan election.
“Maybe I’m delusional,” he said, “but I like my situation.”
To some extent, Dodge has had trouble rising above the fray. He hasn’t received any high-profile endorsements. While he has criticized and challenged other candidates, they haven’t engaged him.
On WGAN-AM radio on Tuesday, the hosts of the Ken & Mike Show couldn’t even remember Dodge’s name.
“Who’s the only Republican?” Ken Altshuler asked. “There isn’t really one,” Mike Violette answered.
As part of Dodge’s fiscal-conservative platform, he would like to cut the number of employees at City Hall, he said. (He would have to convince the City Council and city manager to do so, since the manager oversees personnel.)
He said the accident involving a city fireboat this month shows a need to re-evaluate all of the city’s departments. The incident reflected a lack of supervision and discipline, he said, and a need for a cultural shift.
“The culture’s been there forever. No one wants to rock the boat, and it just goes on,” Dodge said.
He also would like to give only Portland residents access to the city’s social services – something else that would likely require city councilor backing. Dodge said it would be cheaper to buy nonresidents bus tickets back to where they came from than to provide them weeks or months of services.
“There has to be limits,” he said. “The only way other cities will start providing those services is if we stop doing it for all their people. We don’t have the money to be all things to everybody.”
As mayor, Dodge said, he would encourage and foster more volunteerism to replace the need for taxpayer dollars. He was a volunteer teacher at the West School, teaching English as a second language, and still volunteers with the United Bikers of Maine, he said.
Dodge would like to encourage large-budget nonprofits, which are exempt from taxes, to pay service fees to help with the city’s upkeep. “We need to stop running the city like a charity and start running it like a business,” he said, a line he has repeated often through the campaign.
Sam Minervino, one of Dodge’s biggest supporters and the owner of Samuel’s Bar and Grill on Forest Avenue, said the 2010 elections showed that Mainers want change and will elect Republicans.
“People would like to see some differences in the way things are run and see people in office with different ideas,” Minervino said. “How much support does he have out there? I don’t know. But I think he has the skills and mindset the city needs.”
Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: