Monday, April 21, 2014
PORTLAND — There will be at least one new at-large member on the City Council this year.
After serving two terms, incumbent John Anton is not seeking re-election to his seat, which represents the entire city. And two familiar names will be on the Nov. 5 ballot to replace him.
Former state Rep. Jon Hinck and businessman Wellington “Wells” Lyons are vying for Anton’s seat on the council, which oversees a budget of $215.5 million.
Lyons is a 31-year-old co-owner and in-house attorney for Rogue Industries, a Portland-based manufacturer of wallets, shaving kits, credit card holders and electronics cases.
Last year, Lyons challenged longtime City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. for an at-large seat. His campaign raised $14,000, but he lost to Mavodones by roughly 3,500 votes.
Hinck is a 59-year-old lawyer who has served three terms as a state representative. Hinck, who co-founded Greenpeace USA in 1979, placed third in the four-way Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated last year by Olympia Snowe.
During interviews with the Press Herald, the candidates traded barbs over the city’s controversial sale of Congress Square Plaza to Ohio-based Rockbridge Capital, which is renovating the former Eastland Hotel and plans to build an event center on the plaza.
Hinck said he supports the council’s decision to sell the plaza, but would have advocated for Rockbridge to provide the city with an equal or greater amount of new public space. He points to a parking lot on Free Street next to the Children’s Museum as a potential open space site.
Lyons testified against the sale at the council’s public hearing, arguing that a well-designed public space would be a better asset for area businesses than the event center.
Hinck accused Lyons of flip-flopping on the issue, because Lyons originally supported the proposal.
“It wasn’t any new facts that resulted in a flip-flop,” Hinck said. “It was a change in principle.”
Lyons rejected that assertion, however, saying that details in the purchase agreement,which allows conversion to another hotel use in the future, contributed to his change of heart. Also, the groundswell of support for keeping the park a public space made him optimistic that the underlying reason for the sale – that the park was a failed public space – could be corrected, he said.
“I don’t think people want name-calling and accusations to be going on at the local level,” Lyons said.
Lyons, meanwhile, questioned Hinck’s commitment to nitty-gritty city issues such as trash, parking and education. Had each one won his respective election last year, Lyons said he’d be in Portland, while Hinck would be in Washington, D.C.
“It’s fair to say Jon’s attention is on the national level,” Lyons said. “My primary concern is local politics.”
Hinck said he is interested in public policy more than politics and, despite remaining vocal in social media about national political issues, the progressive Hinck said he wants to make Portland a better place to live. For example, he’d like the city to offer incentives for weatherization, which would reduce heating costs for homeowners and businesses and combat climate change, he said.
Hinck also believes his experience as a state legislator would be an asset when dealing with state funding issues.
Both candidates would like to see changes to the city’s trash system.
Lyons would like the city to begin using covered trash and recycling receptacles to reduce litter. Hinck would like the city to model its trash collection efforts after South Portland, which uses a single truck to collect both forms of waste. Hinck also would like to eliminate the city’s blue bag system.
As a small-business owner, Lyons said, he would focus on growing the local economy and supporting education. He would like the city to create financial incentives – whether tax credits or grants – for businesses that hire people who have a history of being homeless. He’d also like to explore changes to its parking system, such as reinstating the parking amnesty program (in which the first ticket every year is a warning) and possibly charging for parking after 6 p.m. in areas such as Commercial Street.
Both candidates support the legalization of marijuana, an issue that is the focus of a city-wide referendum Nov. 5.
Hinck said the council should “send signals” to police officers to respect the will of voters, even though the state’s prohibition of the drug would supersede a city ordinance. Lyons said he would need to examine how other cities have handled the enforcement issue.
Both candidates acknowledge that residents are near their limit in terms of property taxes.
Lyons said he would look for savings by consolidating the city’s human resources and finance departments with the school district’s. He also believes that the amount of overtime paid to firefighters – which recently topped $2 million – is a red flag and should be examined further.
Hinck, meanwhile, said he would ensure the city was run effectively and efficiently. Any department that is an outlier among its peers – including the fire department – would receive additional scrutiny.
Lyons has received the endorsement of Anton, City Councilors Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall, and school board member Sarah Thompson, as well as the Maine League of Young Voters.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: