PORTLAND – In a new twist to the debate over of Congress Square Plaza, Portland residents are being polled by a national agency on whether they support selling the plaza to Rockbridge Capital so it can be developed into an event center.

In a separate poll, residents are being asked about the “midtown” project – a high-rise residential and retail development being proposed on Somerset Street in the Bayside neighborhood.

The polls are being conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh, N.C.-based firm widely cited for its national political polls.

“We have been polling in Portland this week, but since they were privately conducted polls we can’t provide any further information at this time,” PPP Director Tom Jensen said in an email Friday.

Munjoy Hill resident and blogger Carol McCracken and Parkside resident Frank Turek, also the president of the Friends of Congress Square Park, which opposes the sale, said they were asked to participate in an automated poll gauging their support for the sale of Congress Square Plaza.

Carol Schiller, president of the University Neighborhood Association, said she was polled about both the midtown development and the proposed sale of Congress Square Plaza.

The automated polls ask a series of questions about each proposal. However, at the end of the Congress Square Plaza poll, Schiller said she was asked if she had a favorable opinion of Ethan Strimling, a former state senator who ran unsuccessfully for mayor, and a few other politicians whose names she couldn’t recall.

It’s unclear who commissioned the poll.

“It seemed to (be) part of a political campaign and they wanted to use Congress Square as a flashpoint,” Turek said.

Jill Barkley – the chairwoman of the Portland Democratic City Committee who has been hired by Rockbridge to advocate for the sale – referred all questions about the poll to Bruce Wennerstrom, who has been representing Rockbridge Capital during its negotiations with the city.

“It’s certainly not us,” said Wennerstrom, who will manage the renovated Eastland Hotel when it opens in December as the Westin Portland Harborview.

Adam Valente, managing director of the Ohio-based Rockbridge Capital, could not be reached Friday.

City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the city isn’t behind the poll. Neither is the Portland Green Independent party, according to party member David Marshall, a Portland city councilor.

Strimling, who is a political commentator, said in an email that he doesn’t know who commissioned the polls about Congress Square Plaza and midtown. He said questions to gauge perceptions of him and fellow blogger Phil Harriman, a former Republican state senator from Yarmouth, were added to a larger poll that was already put together by others.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com