PORTLAND — Chris Vail, a Portland firefighter, spent years complaining to his wife about politicians and government.
He complained about his property tax bill, which has risen about $100 per year, he said, with no improvement in services.
At the dinner table, he discussed how politicians – local and national – failed to deliver on campaign promises.
He said he saw politicians who raised his hopes with so much energy during the campaigns, but their drive would disappear once they got elected.
This year, Vail reached a tipping point, he said, and decided to run for the new mayor’s position instead of voting for another politician.
“I feel like Charlie Brown, and Lucy keeps pulling the football out from under me,” Vail said. “I just couldn’t take the disappointment anymore.”
Vail’s campaign has tried to tap into the anger that residents have toward government.
He has railed against his opponents for making promises that are “too grandiose” and for being too “glitzy” and “glamorous.”
Unlike most of the 15 candidates in the Nov. 8 election, he has proposed no specific programs.
He’s promising only that he will meet with neighborhood organizations often, listen to residents’ complaints and try to address them as best he can.
His campaign motto is “Bringing common sense back to City Hall.”
“He’s like the Average Joe,” said John Brooks, president of the International Association of Firefighters, who knows Vail from their time in the fire service.
“He’s not your ordinary politician. He’s got a different perspective,” Brooks said. “If you get someone like that in office, maybe they’ll solve some more problems.”
Vail is a lifetime Portland resident. He grew up on Peaks Island and attended Peaks Island Elementary, King Middle School and Portland High School.
He earned his fire-science technology degree from Southern Maine Community College and is now pursuing an English degree at the University of Southern Maine.
On the campaign trail, he has talked about inefficiencies in government, and specifically, its inability to address the growing homelessness problem.
The homeless bounce between police, firefighters, shelters and hospitals on a daily basis, he said, with no long-term solutions.
If he’s elected mayor, he said, he will ask representatives from all of those organizations to sit down in one room until they come up with a better system that takes fewer tax dollars.
“It’s inexcusable,” Vail said. “We have so many bright minds in this city and they don’t even talk. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing.”
He said he recently heard other candidates, including Mayor Nicholas Mavodones, praise the city’s Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement Team, known as the HOME Team.
The program removes homeless people from in front of businesses and homes and takes them to shelters. Vail lashed out at those who called that “progress.”
“That’s just masking the issue,” he said. “It’s just taking them out of the public view. That’s not a real solution.”
Despite his vehement anti-establishment stance, Vail is one of the lower-profile candidates.
He has as few lawn signs as anyone in the race.
He hasn’t received any high-profile endorsements, and has raised significantly less money than many of his opponents.
Like his opponent Richard Dodge, Vail has often criticized some of the higher-profile candidates, but they haven’t engaged him in response.
He said former state Sen. Michael Brennan speaks as if he wants to spend his time as mayor in Augusta, and that former state Sen. Ethan Strimling wants to use the mayor’s position as a steppingstone.
“We can’t elect another politician,” he said. “I think the Portland voters want a change, but we’re conditioned for some reason to keep voting the same people in. I’m hoping that will change this time.”
Vail has had some success in debates. During one at the State Theatre, he proposed a tiered system for last call at bars, instead of every establishment letting out at 1 a.m.
Those crowds create a safety issue for police and firefighters, he said.
His recommendation drew applause from the audience and some of his opponents. “Our government needs to use more common sense,” he said.
In front of the same artist-heavy crowd, the moderator asked the candidates, “Should public money be spent to build live/work space for artists in Portland?”
All of the candidates wrote “yes” on their answer cards, except for Vail. “You’re a bold man,” the moderator told Vail.
But to loud cheers, Vail said taxpayers can’t handle any more burdens and that the private sector must find a way to fund such projects. “That well isn’t running dry,” he said, “it’s already dry.”
Doug Hall, one of Brennan’s longtime friends and supporters, said Vail doesn’t bring the “political baggage” and “ties” that other candidates have. He’s also “more grounded,” and knows where the system works and doesn’t work because he works for the city.
“He’s a great guy, a likeable guy, diplomatic, but he sees through the bull,” Hall said.
“If we hire Chris Vail, we’re hiring someone from within, and for all the right reasons.”
Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: