August 30, 2011

Portland's mayoral race whittled to 16 candidates

The field is completed when the final set of signatures is turned in with minutes to go.

By Jason Singer jsinger@pressherald.com
Assistant City Editor / Online

This article was changed on Tuesday, August 30, 2011 to correct the fundraising totals for mayoral candidates Strimling and Rathband.

PORTLAND — About 4:20 p.m. Monday, with just 10 minutes left to get on the November ballot, Richard Dodge hustled up the steps of City Hall and handed in about 400 signatures. And with that, the city's first popularly elected mayor's race in 88 years had its 16th and final candidate.

"It's amazing how many people I know in Portland (who) don't actually live here," Dodge joked, explaining the 11th-hour submittal of his signatures. "Overall, it was a good experience, though. I got to meet and talk with a lot of new people."

Of the 16 candidates, 13 already had their signatures verified by late Monday afternoon. Christopher Vail, Ethan Strimling, Jed Rathband, Markos Miller, Nicholas Mavodones, David Marshall, Jodie Lapchick, Hamza Haadoow, John Eder, Jill Duson, Ralph Carmona, Peter Bryant and Michael Brennan will all be on the November ballot, the city clerk's office said.

The clerk must still verify the signatures for Dodge, Erick Bennett and Charles Bragdon. Each must have at least 300 valid signatures from registered Portland voters. All three turned in at least 350 signatures, however, which should provide enough of a cushion to get on the ballot, even if some are invalidated.

Now the real fun begins. Candidates must start to give more details about their various policy initiatives. The Portland Club will host a "Candidate Night" on Sept. 6, at which the public can meet and speak with the candidates. Each candidate will also give a short speech.

And on Sept. 8, the League of Young Voters will host "So You Think You Can Mayor," essentially the race's first debate.

Candidates conceded Monday that it may be difficult to stand out or get their message heard in such a crowded field. Bragdon, who publishes The Portland Maine Gazette, said the best way to stay visible is to meet as many people as possible.

"It's knocking on doors and spending one-on-one time with people that matters," he said.

It will also be interesting to see how money shapes the race moving forward. Some higher-profile candidates like Strimling (near $30,000) and Rathband (near $20,000) have already accumulated formidable war chests for a local election. Other candidates haven't even begun fundraising.

Under the city's campaign-finance laws, no candidate needs to submit a financial report until October, so for quite awhile, voters may not know who has money and where it's coming from. Dodge, however, said he doesn't think money will be a significant factor in the race.

"I think we can get our message out," said Dodge, who hasn't raised any money. "It's always nice to have a war chest, but I don't think signs are going to help you get many votes.

"I think we're going to have a low turnout in November. And the people who care and who are going to vote go to these events at The Cumberland Club and other places. So it's just important to get out and speak at as many places as possible."

Rathband, a consultant who campaigned hard to get the full-time mayor's position approved, said that having the "right message" will help candidates cut through the noise and stand out among the crowd. Money will definitely help, he said, but ultimately it comes down to substance.

"It's essential at some level to have enough money – the bare minimum – for visibility," he said. "But this race is not going to be won with money. It's going to be won with the hand-to-hand, door-to-door, ground game. And money doesn't pay for a ground game."

OTHER RACES TO BE COMPETITIVE

While most of the attention Monday focused on the mayor's race, one City Council race and one School Committee race also fielded multiple candidates.

For the District 4 City Council seat, lawyer Ezekiel "Zeke" Callanan will try to unseat 26-year veteran Cheryl Leeman. Callanan turned in signatures Monday, but the city clerk's office must still verify them.

And in the bid for an at-large seat on the Portland School Committee, incumbent Elizabeth Holton will face social worker Josephine Okot, of Dartmouth Street.

The clerk's office has verified Okot's signatures – she will be on the ballot – but is not done with Holton's.

According to the clerk's office, three other incumbents will run unopposed. No one is challenging John Coyne for his District 5 City Council seat, and the same is true for Portland School Committee members Justin Costa (District 4) and Marnie Morrione (District 5).

 

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: jsinger@pressherald.com

 

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