Thursday, April 17, 2014
PORTLAND — This November, Edward Suslovic is looking to break a curse.
Suslovic, a former state representative who has served two nonconsecutive terms as a city councilor, has never won a re-election campaign.
To do so, he will have to ward off a challenge from a political unknown, Gregory Blouin, a 40-year-old laborer who has never before run for political office.
District 3 includes the neighborhoods south of Brighton Avenue and west of St. John Street. The City Council oversees a budget of $215.5 million and sets the bottom line on school spending.
Blouin is the son of state Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford. His motivation to seek a seat on the council is to target wasteful spending, reduce the fees for adult athletic leagues and to be responsive to constituent concerns.
“I’m not the type of person to take things lying down – I will speak up,” he said.
Blouin contends that Suslovic, 53, has not been responsive to constituent concerns. As an example, he notes how his neighbor Janet Daigle has been regularly attending City Council meetings with a broken fence post that was destroyed by a city plow truck. She wants the city to pay for the damage.
Suslovic, meanwhile, touts his constituent work as a strength and his background as a community development consultant who guides developers outside of Portland in community engagement.
Highlighting efforts to engage the community as a councilor, Suslovic points to meetings he helped organize regarding the re-use of the Nathan Clifford School, which is poised to become market-rate housing; a roundabout planned at the intersection of Brighton Avenue and Falmouth and Deering streets; and the narrowing and restriping of outer Congress Street.
He is also working with the community to restore Capisic Pond as migratory bird habitat, rather than keeping it as a dumping ground for the city’s stormwater.
Suslovic has been at the center of several controversial issues in recent years, including a ban on panhandling in median strips, enacting a free speech buffer zone around an abortion clinic, an effort to ban plastic foam containers, and the sale of a portion of Congress Square Plaza.
Perhaps the biggest role he has taken on in the last year is scrutinizing the staffing and organization of the city’s fire department. He regularly points out that the city has more firefighters per capita than most communities and suggests the city should invest more on emergency medical services.
Meanwhile, the city could also stand to hire more police officers, he said, so they can enforce quality-of-life crimes such as graffiti, littering and panhandling. To do so, cuts will likely have to be made elsewhere in the city budget.
Blouin, however, believes Suslovic has an ax to grind with firefighters.
“I’d almost say it’s something personal,” Blouin said. The fire department is “something you don’t want to cut.”
Besides police and firefighters, Blouin said all other departments are candidates for funding cuts, since he doesn’t believe residents – particularly the elderly – can afford property tax increases.
His pet issue, however, is the fees that are charged for the adult recreation leagues such as softball. Those fees are among the highest in the country, he said, because the city contracts the scheduling out to a third party.
Blouin supports the legalization of marijuana, but Suslovic is wary the effort.
Suslovic said any initiative to legalize marijuana should be taken up at the state level, not local, so police are not put in the awkward position of ignoring state laws, which take precedence over local ordinances.