PORTLAND – Fourteen of the city’s 15 mayoral candidates went back to school Thursday for one last forum before Tuesday’s election.

In a crowded gymnasium at Lyman Moore Middle School, the candidates made a final pitch to voters.

The seventh-graders moderating the event asked some of the toughest questions of the campaign.

One asked Ralph Carmona his qualifications for mayor, given that he only moved to Portland in February 2010.

“It’s not how long you’ve been here, not where you’re from, but what you can do,” Carmona said, noting that he had extensive public-policy experience.

Hamza Haadoow promoted his plan to pair children in schools with volunteer role models.

“If a child wants to become a doctor, I would like to see a real doctor sit with them and explain how to become a doctor,” Haadoow said. He said such a program would inspire students and help point them down the best path.

Peter Bryant proposed something similar. He said he would ask the city to hire a “roving coordinator.” The coordinator would meet with students beginning in sixth grade, ask them their dream professions and give advice each year to help them reach their goals.

One student asked how much money the mayor should make. Most candidates answered $66,000, which is the allotted salary in the city charter. But Haadoow said $50,000, Charles Bragdon said $55,000 and Bryant said $100,000.

Of the 15 candidates in the race, only John Eder was absent. Former state Sen. Mike Brennan said 75 percent of the new jobs in Maine in the next 10 years will require more than a high school education. He continued to advocate a partnership between the city and local educational institutions to work on providing quicker training models than traditional two- and four-year degrees, so locals can fill those jobs.

The mood at the event was lighter than any previous mayoral forum. In the lightning round of the event, students asked the 14 candidates the same question, and they frantically scribbled their answers on small whiteboards.

When students asked candidates to describe their feelings about the day’s event, candidate Jodie Lapchick wrote, “Yay!”

Many of the candidates stuck with themes they’ve repeated throughout the campaign. Richard Dodge praised Superintendent Jim Morse for reforming the city’s schools and said the city must do similar top-down analysis of each department, then make changes if necessary to become more efficient.

Former state Sen. Ethan Strimling said the city needs more accountability and should measure employee performances better. Firefighter Chris Vail continued to rail against politicians and asked residents to vote a non-politican and “adult” into office.

City Councilor David Marshall expanded his 24-hour pothole-guarantee proposal. If elected mayor, Marshall said the city would implement a tracking system to take complaints on potholes, tree limbs, broken street lights and anything in between.

The software would track how long it takes to answer complaints, and the city would analyze the data and make changes to improve its response time. City Councilor Jill Duson, one of Marshall’s opponents, has promised a similar tracking system.

Markos Miller stuck with his campaign theme of better community engagement. If elected mayor, he said, he’d like to do the dirty work of finding money and rallying support at the state and federal levels, like he’s done with other projects.

“If you want to climb up to the sky, you need a ladder, you need rungs,” Miller said. “That’s the work I want to do.”

Jed Rathband said the city needs help from surrounding communities to combat homelessness in Portland, and Bragdon said the city needs to focus on small businesses instead of large companies.

“The mom-and-pop stuff stays here,” he said, but large corporations tend to leave.

City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said he’s long been a supporter of the school system, since winning a seat on the school board 20 years ago.

Lapchick said the city needs to advocate for a local-option tax at the state level – so Portland could tax tourists when they stay at local hotels – but the city must convince the state Legislature to legalize such a tax. Rathband and Duson have both said that as mayor, they also would advocate for a local-option tax. 

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at:

jsinger@pressherald.com