PORTLAND – Three seats are up for grabs on the City Council.
Five-term incumbent Nicholas Mavodones Jr., 52, is being challenged by 30-year-old Wellington “Wells” Lyons, an attorney and co-owner of Rogue Industries, for the at-large seat representing the whole city.
Two-term incumbent Kevin Donoghue, 33, is being challenged by 40-year-old Justin Benjamin Pollard, the owner of Pollard Builders who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, for District 1, the area east of High Street, including downtown, Munjoy Hill, Bayside and the islands.
Two-term incumbent David Marshall, 34, is being challenged by 34-year-old Shane Boyington, a college student with a background in social work, for District 2, the area west of High Street, including the West End, Arts District, Parkside and University of Southern Maine neighborhood.
The at-large seat, representing the entire city, pits experience against new energy and vision.
Mavodones is seeking his sixth term on the council. He served four years as an appointed mayor and ran unsuccessfully for the post last year, largely on a status quo platform. He is making a similar case now.
But Lyons points out that Mavodones only received 15 percent of the vote with that message in the 15-way race.
As a small-business owner, Lyons said he hears from other business people that City Hall is not responsive, so he wants to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. “I will return phone calls,” he said at a Portland Community Chamber forum.
Lyons notes that 97 percent of businesses in Maine are small businesses, yet the council does not have a small-business owner as a member. With his law background, he said he would analyze policy and say how it will affect the bottom line.
He would work to bring free wireless Internet to the downtown area, a small but significant gesture that could help Portland become a hub of entrepreneurs and innovation in the technology and app-development fields.
The city should develop a local investment bond program, according to Lyons’ website.
While Lyons points to his youth and energy, Mavodones points to his “broad range of experience,” which includes two terms on the School Board and a decade as the operations manager of Casco Bay Lines. He also serves on the council’s Finance Committee and leads the Housing and Community Development Committee.
Mavodones believes the city has done a good job of attracting and retaining businesses, noting the city’s growing “best place” accolades by national groups. The council has a role to play, but he says the city’s economic development plan puts the mayor at the forefront.
City employees, who have seen their workloads increase as staffing has decreased, need to make sure they provide predictable and reliable customer service, he said, quickly adding that the city isn’t doing “a poor job.”
Mavodones said education is a top priority, noting the city’s capital budget calls for the replacement of Hall Elementary School and upgrades to others, and he plans to see those through.
In addition to investing in schools, Lyons said the city needs to keep young families from leaving Portland, as well as do a better job of promoting the city’s “global education.” More than one-fourth of students are from other countries.
He also believes METRO, the Greater Portland bus system, should double its marketing budget to try to increase ridership. More benches and shelters are needed to make riding more convenient, he said. He also noted the need for more bike lanes.
Lyons is deeply critical of the city’s habit of using tax breaks to help finance developments, especially parking garages. These efforts — known as tax-increment financing districts, or TIFs — should be used to help neighborhoods, not corporations, he said. Any incentives should be directed toward small businesses.
The District 1 race comes down to an incumbent with policy expertise in housing and transportation versus a former U.S. Senate primary candidate looking to try some big ideas at the local level.
Kevin Donoghue is seeking a third term on the council on a platform of housing and transportation. And he’s quick to point to his past policy successes, whether it’s advocating for affordable housing, better bus service to the hill, bike lanes or car-sharing.
Justin Benjamin Pollard is seeking to wrest the seat from Donoghue using a platform of economic prosperity, educational excellence and ecological sustainability.
Pollard, who was previously elected to the Blue Hill Planning Board in 1998 but lost the Democratic primary last summer for the U.S. Senate, readily admits he doesn’t have all the answers to the city’s problems. But he says he has plenty of ideas that generate debate and a willingness to listen to the experts.
He believes personal income should be considered when determining property taxes, but that would require a change in state law.
The city should emphasize workfare for people receiving General Assistance, enlisting a public service corps to sweep the streets and collect trash, which could free up city employees for other jobs. “Work is therapeutic,” he said.
Pollard thinks the city should lease farmland in nearby rural communities for those struggling with substance abuse. People could tend the land to produce fresh organic produce to consume and provide to schools.
Regarding homelessness, Donoghue supports the recommendations of the task force on homelessness and expanding its emergency shelter capacity. Replacing federal funding for the city’s rapid rehousing program should also be a priority, he said.
Donoghue said the city should have an “affirmative policy” for providing tax incentives for housing projects. Supportive services for affordable housing developments, such as day care, should also be considered so parents can get back to work, he said.
Market-rate housing is also needed. Donoghue said such housing downtown would attract businesses and families, while providing an opportunity for people to upgrade their living space. That would free up affordable units, while relieving upward pressure on rents, he said.
Pollard said the city needs to simplify its building code to encourage development. It also needs to build more flexibility into its historic preservation program, which he said makes it difficult for people to renovate their businesses.
The seaside city should strive to become a hub for “ecologically sustainable” businesses, he said, and entrepreneurs should be supported through public-private partnerships that could sponsor business competitions for start-up funding and incubators.
To improve public bus service, Pollard would look to transition to smaller buses, while Donoghue would realign existing routes to provide more service to the core of the city.
The District 2 race features a college student and self-described drag-queen candidate who thinks the two-term incumbent has not focused on the small quality of life issues in the West End.
Shane Boyington is a first-time candidate looking to unseat Marshall, who he says has neglected the small issues in favor of big ideas like bringing a fixed-rail trolley to town. Boyington believes pursuing a trolley and/or train is a “terrible idea.” He said trolley cars are made in China and run on “dirty coal or dirty nuclear.”
Munjoy Hill is “going crazy,” while the West End “is slipping,” he said. “I think that’s the outcome of our current representative,” he said.
However, Marshall, who is running on a platform of housing, transportation and education, said fixed-rail transit draws development in a way bus routes can’t. People want to live within walking distance to a fixed rail, and people want to put their businesses along those routes, he said, noting that Portland, Ore., has seen a 35-to-1 ratio of private investment to public investment within three blocks of rail lines, while Little Rock, Ark., has seen a 14-to-1 ratio.
Locally, Marshall points to investments spurred by Amtrak, noting that Brunswick built Maine Street station years before the rail was laid for the service from Portland. A $100 million development is being planned for Thompson’s Point, located next to the Portland Transportation Center, which serves Amtrak and Concord Coach Lines. And Saco is awaiting the completion of a $100 million mill project near its station.
People are already ditching their cars, he said, noting a drop in vehicle registrations, while METRO ridership is up, as is demand for more walkable neighborhoods. Meanwhile, turnpike traffic is down, he said.
Marshall said he will continue to make zoning laws more favorable for downtown housing and will advocate for investments in education through the council’s five-year capital budget to replace Hall Elementary School and upgrade other elementary schools.
Boyington said the West End needs someone who is going to tend to the staff stuff, like creating a system for residents to buy one trash bag at a time. He would also concentrate on keeping streetlights on and address parking concerns as they arise.
Boyington said the city needs to run the buses later into the evening, “until people get home from the bars.” Dogs should be allowed on the buses at a fee, provided they are well-behaved, he said.
In his 10 years working in group homes, Boyington said he balanced his clients’ needs with the demands of his bosses. Such a skill would be helpful on a council that decided it needed a mayor with a $66,000-a-year salary “to babysit them,” he said.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: