October 28, 2011

Chris Vail: An ‘Average Joe,’ wary of politicians

The anti-establishment firefighter says too many candidates will promise things and fail to deliver.

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

PORTLAND — Chris Vail, a Portland firefighter, spent years complaining to his wife about politicians and government.

click image to enlarge

Chris Vail

CHRIS VAIL

PARTY AFFILIATION: Unenrolled

AGE: 40

ADDRESS: 1119 Washington Ave.

PERSONAL: Married to Sherrin Vail. Son, Finnegan, 1

EDUCATION: Associate degree in fire science, Southern Maine Community College

OCCUPATION: Portland firefighter

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None

WEBSITE: www.vailformayor.com

TOP PRIORITIES

Better customer service from the city, including improved listening to the neighborhoods and residents

More accountability at City Hall from department heads and the mayor

More proactive problem-solving, especially on the issue of homelessness

JOIN THECONVERSATION

CHRIS VAIL will answer questions from Press Herald readers during an hour-long live chat starting at noon today. Go to www.pressherald. com to participate.

He complained about his property tax bill, which has risen about $100 per year, he said, with no improvement in services.

At the dinner table, he discussed how politicians – local and national – failed to deliver on campaign promises.

He said he saw politicians who raised his hopes with so much energy during the campaigns, but their drive would disappear once they got elected.

This year, Vail reached a tipping point, he said, and decided to run for the new mayor’s position instead of voting for another politician.

“I feel like Charlie Brown, and Lucy keeps pulling the football out from under me,” Vail said. “I just couldn’t take the disappointment anymore.”

Vail’s campaign has tried to tap into the anger that residents have toward government.

He has railed against his opponents for making promises that are “too grandiose” and for being too “glitzy” and “glamorous.”

Unlike most of the 15 candidates in the Nov. 8 election, he has proposed no specific programs.

He’s promising only that he will meet with neighborhood organizations often, listen to residents’ complaints and try to address them as best he can.

His campaign motto is “Bringing common sense back to City Hall.”

“He’s like the Average Joe,” said John Brooks, president of the International Association of Firefighters, who knows Vail from their time in the fire service.

“He’s not your ordinary politician. He’s got a different perspective,” Brooks said. “If you get someone like that in office, maybe they’ll solve some more problems.”

Vail is a lifetime Portland resident. He grew up on Peaks Island and attended Peaks Island Elementary, King Middle School and Portland High School.

He earned his fire-science technology degree from Southern Maine Community College and is now pursuing an English degree at the University of Southern Maine.

On the campaign trail, he has talked about inefficiencies in government, and specifically, its inability to address the growing homelessness problem.

The homeless bounce between police, firefighters, shelters and hospitals on a daily basis, he said, with no long-term solutions.

If he’s elected mayor, he said, he will ask representatives from all of those organizations to sit down in one room until they come up with a better system that takes fewer tax dollars.

“It’s inexcusable,” Vail said. “We have so many bright minds in this city and they don’t even talk. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing.”

He said he recently heard other candidates, including Mayor Nicholas Mavodones, praise the city’s Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement Team, known as the HOME Team.

The program removes homeless people from in front of businesses and homes and takes them to shelters. Vail lashed out at those who called that “progress.”

“That’s just masking the issue,” he said. “It’s just taking them out of the public view. That’s not a real solution.”

Despite his vehement anti-establishment stance, Vail is one of the lower-profile candidates.

He has as few lawn signs as anyone in the race.

He hasn’t received any high-profile endorsements, and has raised significantly less money than many of his opponents.

Like his opponent Richard Dodge, Vail has often criticized some of the higher-profile candidates, but they haven’t engaged him in response.

He said former state Sen. Michael Brennan speaks as if he wants to spend his time as mayor in Augusta, and that former state Sen. Ethan Strimling wants to use the mayor’s position as a steppingstone.

“We can’t elect another politician,” he said. “I think the Portland voters want a change, but we’re conditioned for some reason to keep voting the same people in. I’m hoping that will change this time.”

(Continued on page 2)

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