Relative newcomers to District 5 and a 15-year resident offer ideas to make Portland living more affordable.

Three candidates are vying to fill an open seat on the Portland City Council in District 5, a relatively conservative district that includes Riverton, Deering and North Deering.

Kimberly Cook, a 45-year-old attorney and government relations consultant, has lived in the district for about 15 years and has experience serving on the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and Land Bank Commission, among other groups.

Craig Dorais, a 45-year-old patent examiner, has lived in the district for three years and is a previous vice chairman of the Portland Democratic City Committee, while Marpheen Chann-Berry, a 26-year-old campaign and digital communications coordinator with the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning policy think tank, moved back to the district in May after graduating from law school.

The winner will replace City Councilor David Brenerman, who decided against seeking re-election.

Cook said the council would benefit from her experience representing nonprofit clients in Augusta, as well as from her perspective as a mother with three kids in the school district. Dorais, however, said his detailed plan to address gentrification in Portland is needed on the council, while Chann-Berry said he could provide valuable insight based on his upbringing in public housing and a series of foster homes.

All three candidates support the $64 million bond proposal to renovate four elementary schools. Cook is the only candidate in the race to oppose Question 1 on the city ballot to limit rent increases and strengthen protections for tenants. She and Chann-Berry oppose Question 2 on the city ballot to give residents the power to block zone change, while Dorais supports it.

Here is a look at the District 5 candidates on the Nov. 7 city ballot.

Chann-Berry was born in California and moved to Portland when he was 4 years old.

His mother was a refugee from Cambodia who was forced into prostitution. In America, she struggled to recover from the trauma endured in her home country, forcing Chann-Berry and his siblings, who have different fathers, to grow up quickly.

From age 6 to 9 while living in Riverton Park, a public housing project in District 5, he was forced to help raise his three younger siblings because his mother would often disappear.

“I don’t know how I did it, but at a young age, I was able to look past the person and realize my mom was going through some very hard times and the trauma that she experienced as a child and all of the domestic violence,” he said. “If one thing draws humanity together, it’s that we all suffer in some way. But despite all the darkness, there are still silver linings.”

He later bounced around several foster homes, before settling in Naples with his new family. After graduating from the Windham Christian Academy in Windham, he went to the University of Southern Maine, graduating in 2014. There he became politically active, demonstrating against proposed budget cuts. He eventually went on to become the student body vice president, while also helping to found the USM Queer Straight Alliance.

“The experience of coming out and being in college is really where the activist took the lead,” he said.

He believes that Portland is undergoing an identity crisis. He understands the instinct of many city officials to embrace most economic activity because there was a time in recent history when storefronts on Congress Street were empty and the Old Port was a place to be avoided. However, he said he’d like to see the city begin valuing itself as an asset.

“We can push back against this idea that Portland is starving for growth,” he said. “We can’t let the fear of the past define how we make decisions now and in the future.”

To address housing costs, Chann-Berry supports the city referendum on limiting rent increases, while also granting more zoning incentives for affordable housing. He would like the city to change the rules for workforce housing to make the units more affordable to people who work in Portland and he would prioritize affordable housing proposals when selling city land.

Cook was raised in a blue-collar family in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The daughter of a truck driver father and a mother who punched the same time clock at an AT&T plant for more than 40 years, she’s the first in her family to graduate from college.

Cook believes she can be a more effective councilor than the other candidates because she has been an active community member for the last 15 years. She has three kids in the school system and works in Augusta as a lobbyist for nonprofits. She emphasized the need to make “balanced and thoughtful decisions” rather than politically motivated ones.

“I’d like to help shape the future of Portland, but not for my own political career so much, but for the community has a whole,” she said. “At the end of the day, we need dedicated members of the community with a track record of working with the community, who have actually lived in their district for longer than since they started running.”

That comment appeared to be a veiled swipe at Chann-Berry, who barely met the requirement of having lived in the district for a minimum of three months before submitting his petition papers to City Hall. Chann-Berry said the timing was a coincidence, since he recently graduated from law school. He didn’t decide to run for council until June, when he heard that Brenerman was not seeking re-election.

Cook believes her background will be an asset to the council as it begins to rewrite its zoning code to comply with its new comprehensive plan. While working with the Portland Housing Authority, she was deeply involved in zoning changes already approved by the council that would make affordable housing projects more competitive when seeking state funding.

Cook said she would strongly advocate for a local option sales tax on tourism-related businesses that would allow communities such as Portland to take in more money from cruise-ship passengers, hotel guests and restaurant patrons.

Although she thinks the council does a good job of listening to constituents, she believes the process could be improved. Some council actions, such as new ordinances or zone changes, appear on two council agendas. Cook would like to see the council accept public comment at the first reading, rather than the second reading, when they’re expected to vote.

Dorais is a Maine native who moved to Portland three years ago. After taking Russian-language classes in high school and continuing his studies at the University of Maine in Orono, Dorais spent time abroad in Russia and Ukraine, where he saw the remnants of the old Soviet system.

“People who want to call me a socialist, I say: ‘I saw what was left behind by those systems and I don’t want that,’ ” Dorais said.

The label of socialist may be related to his ambitious property tax proposal, which would essentially help redistribute income from wealthy homeowners to lower- and middle-class renters. The City Council is on the verge of adopting a property tax relief program for seniors who meet certain income requirements, but Dorais would like them to expand that program to more residents.

In order to ensure that his proposal does not lead to a decrease in city revenue, Dorais would raise the city’s tax rate on all residents and then give property tax rebates to everyone except the wealthy. The largest property tax rebates would go to Portland’s poorest residents and more modest rebates to the middle class.

He admits his proposal, including setting income levels for each category, is a work in process, but it’s one he’s committed to following through on.

“I’m going to try and figure it out with council, if I get elected,” Dorais said.

Not only would the proposal provide property tax relief to Portlanders who are being priced out of the city, he said, but it would also create a disincentive for developers to build high-end, luxury condos, which is gentrifying the city.

Dorais is the only candidate in any of the council races who supports Question 2 on the city ballot, which would allow residents to block zone changes in their neighborhoods.

“The city has been for growth for growth’s sake for so long – I feel like it’s better than the status quo.”

 

Correction: This story was updated at 9:25 a.m. on Oct. 24, 2017 to correct the name of Marpheen Chann-Berry’s high school and the year of the candidate’s college graduation.