October 19, 2011

Peter Bryant: Looking for change? ‘One call does it all’

The candidate, who has never held office and has raised no funds, wants a more personal City Hall.

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

PORTLAND – Of the 15 candidates for mayor, Peter Bryant has probably run the most colorful campaign.

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Peter Bryant

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PETER BRYANT

PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat

AGE: 68

ADDRESS: 18 Back Cove Estates

PERSONAL: Married to Audrey Bryant. Daughter, Julie Harding, 39

EDUCATION: Deering High School

OCCUPATION: Retired merchant seaman

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None

WEBSITE: None

TOP PRIORITIES

• Bring back “Big Trash Day.”

• Get rid of blue city trash bags.

• Reduce waiting time for building permits.

• Bring U.S. Coast Guard cutters back to Portland.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

PETER BRYANT will answer questions from Press Herald readers during an hourlong live chat with the candidate starting at noon today. Go to www.pressherald.com to participate.

He calls himself “The Trash Guy” because of his ideas to get rid of the city’s blue trash bags and bring back “Big Trash Day,” when residents can put bulky items out on the street for pickup.

He wears a stylish fedora, and multiple times at mayoral debates has told his opponents, “Sit down, I’ve got this,” when an audience member has asked a question he has wanted to answer.

And he has a catchy campaign slogan, “One call does it all,” saying residents and businesses can call him directly if they have problems.

Whether any of it will be enough to overcome Bryant’s lack of name recognition and a significant funding deficit – he has raised no money, while other candidates have raised tens of thousands of dollars – remains to be seen.

One supporter, Dick Curran, said the laughs and loud applause Bryant gets at mayoral debates and forums shows that voters like him.

“He’s got such a good (sense of) humor and he can really relate to people,” said Curran, a lifelong friend. “That’s something the mayor will need to do.”

At 68, Bryant is the oldest candidate, and he isn’t afraid to poke fun at the distinction. Asked what makes him different from the other candidates, he said, “All my volunteers use walkers or canes. I’m the only candidate who can say that.”

If he’s elected mayor Nov. 8, Bryant will have a long wish list.

In terms of economic development, he would like to lure two Coast Guard cutters to Portland from Portsmouth, N.H. They were stationed in Portland in the 1950s and 1960s, he said, and Portsmouth residents have complained about wakes from large boats.

On Monday, Petty Officer 3rd Class Luke Clayton, a spokesman for the New England region of the Coast Guard, said its cutters are “strategically placed” and there are no plans to move them. Nonetheless, Bryant, a career merchant seaman, said he could lure them back.

“The payroll on each of those ships is $10 million,” Bryant said. “That’s $20 million being spent on our shops, in our restaurants and in our bars. Plus, the Coast Guard would buy all their grub and oil here. That’s a lot of dough.”

Bryant’s other promises focus on trash. In addition to getting rid of the city’s blue trash bags, he would like to bring back Big Trash Day twice a year, so residents can put out items like televisions, couches, refrigerators and chairs, and the city will take them to the dump.

“That cost $66,000 per year,” he said. “There’s 66,000 people in this city. That’s less than a buck a head. It’s not that big of a deal, and people were really upset when it went away.”

Bryant’s “One call does it all” mantra has drawn the most laughs and applause. As mayor, he said, he would personally answer all phone calls from residents and businesses if they needed help. He even read his phone number aloud at one of the debates.

“It’s such a pain for residents to figure out the right person or right department to call, and then often they still don’t get answers,” Bryant said. “Not with me. I’ll take the calls and then delegate it to the right person.”

Many of his promises have drawn skepticism. Melissa Alexander, who moved to North Deering recently, said, “I’m not sure he realizes how many complaints a city of 70,000 people can have.”

Other candidates have noted that both of his trash proposals would require backing from the City Council, which isn’t a guarantee.

He has hammered the City Council during the race. At one debate, the moderator asked Bryant what would be the toughest part about being mayor. He said, “Working with City Council.”

He also has had a few stumbles during the campaign. He’s long-winded, and has run out of the allotted time to answer more than half of his questions during mayoral forums.

At the “So You Think You Can Mayor?” forum hosted by the League of Young Voters, each candidate was given one challenge, which they could use to ask any opponent any question.

Most candidates targeted incumbent Mayor Nick Mavodones or the field’s other front-runners and asked about economic development, school disrepair or other hot-button issues.

Bryant chose to ask firefighter Chris Vail, one of the field’s long shots, whether firefighters have the appropriate license to drive firetrucks.

When Vail said, “They have Maine driver’s licenses,” Bryant badgered him to answer the question.

“I guess it shows what’s important to him,” said one of his opponents, Jodie Lapchick, after the debate.

Under state law, firefighters are exempt from a requirement to get a special license to drive trucks. Bryant said this week that they should still get truck licenses, for safety.

Despite the bumps, Bryant’s colorful personality continues to play mostly well to crowds. At a forum last week hosted by the West End Neighborhood Association, Bryant said he would “fix” the permitting process at City Hall.

It takes three months for someone to get a building permit, he said, and it should take no more than a week or two.

Bryant said he wouldn’t allow certain city staff members to go home on his first day as mayor until they came to him with a plan to shorten the permitting process. He drew loud cheers and laughs.

“It kills the contractors and it kills the city’s coffers,” Bryant said. “We could get tax-producing property up three months earlier if we could speed up the process.”

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the city has reduced its staff in recent years, which some contractors and candidates have cited as a reason for the delays.

But the city also has made technological improvements and ordinance changes to speed up the permitting process, said Penny St. Louis, the city’s planning director.

She said Portland will soon begin tracking the time it takes to issue permits.

“If you issue solid plans, the permitting process goes quickly. If you issue plans that need revision and back-and-forth, then obviously that slows it down,” she said.

According to the city charter, the city manager would oversee the city staff, not the mayor. But Bryant said that, through the city manager or directly, he would speed up the permitting process.

"We’re waiting for a bunch of pencil-pushers up there that don’t really care,” he said. “That’s unacceptable and won’t happen with me as mayor.”

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

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