PORTLAND — Six candidates for City Council seats tackled business issues Wednesday at a forum held by the Portland Community Chamber.
The discussion ranged from transportation and job training issues to the need to keep streets clean. About a dozen people attended the 45-minute forum at the chamber’s headquarters on Congress Street.
Incumbent Kevin Donoghue will face Justin Benjamin Pollard in District 1 on Nov. 6; incumbent David Marshall faces Shane Boyington in District 2; and incumbent Nicholas Mavodones Jr. faces Wellington “Wells” Lyons for an at-large seat.
Challengers emphasized that they would shake up the status quo if elected.
The incumbents are offering “the same tired old policies that don’t work, rather than trying to fix systems we already have,” Boyington said.
Marshall said he wants to focus on transportation, housing and education issues, including continuing to reform zoning to encourage development downtown and improving the public bus system.
Boyington took a shot at one of Marshall’s passions: bringing a fixed-rail trolley to the city. He described it as “propelled by dirty coal or dirty nuclear and made in China.”
Boyington said the council should focus on keeping streetlights lit and trash off the streets, building crosswalks and creating a program for residents to buy one trash bag at a time.
Donoghue said he is running in District 1 on a platform of housing and public transportation, noting his efforts to introduce car sharing, motorcycle parking and later bus service to the city. Better mobility, he said, encourages residents to shop closer to home.
Pollard, who owns a building company, said he is running on a platform of ecological sustainability, educational excellence and economic prosperity. He says the city should help coordinate a business-plan competition with businesses and investors that would help fund startup costs for the winner, and set up incubators for fledgling companies.
Mavodones said education is an important issue, especially replacing Hall Elementary School and fixing other elementary schools. His five terms on the council, and experience as mayor and a school board member are key assets, he said.
But Lyons said the city needs “new energy and new ideas.” The lawyer and small-business owner said he would bring a voice for businesses to the council.
He favors clamping down on a policy that has given some developers property tax breaks and investing more in public transportation, whether it’s bike lanes or high-speed rails.
The candidates were asked what they would do about work force development.
Lyons said he would advocate for funds for work force training from Augusta while continuing to work with the Greater Portland Economic Development Corp.
One business-friendly gesture, Lyons said, would be to provide free wireless Internet downtown — something Burlington, Vt., has done.
Pollard said the city should survey business owners and job seekers to evaluate the skills needed and those the applicants have. “I see adult education as a cornerstone of a work force development plan,” Pollard said.
Donoghue said the city should focus resources — such as Community Block Development Grants — on removing obstacles that keep skilled people from the work force. Adult education helps immigrants improve their English skills, he said, while grant funding for day care centers could help parents return to work, he said.
The candidates were also asked whether nonprofits, which do not pay property taxes, should be paying something for city services funded through those taxes.
Donoghue and Marshall said state legislation is needed to narrow the definition of nonprofits. Marshall, who recently formed a nonprofit art collective, took it a step further, saying legislators should allow Portland to have a local-option sales tax for lodging to help pay for services used by everyone, including tourists.
Boyington, a college student with 10 years of experience in social work, said the city shouldn’t be looking for ways to charge nonprofits. He said it should find a way to make nonprofits pay their employees more, rather than hiring middle managers and buying new office space.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: