October 12, 2011

With lots of candidates, little time to answer

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - It's indicative of the size of the field for next month's mayoral election that a forum at Deering High School next week will be held in the gym.

ON THE RADIO

TUNE IN to NewsRadio 560 WGAN at 8:08 a.m. today to hear Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy discuss the mayor’s race.

"We can't hold all the candidates in one room," said Kirsten Platt, a history teacher at the high school, adding that the 15 candidates will be given a time limit for answering questions from students during a one-hour class period on Thursday, Oct. 20.

"It will literally be like 40 seconds and then they will be asked to sit down," she said. "It will be very strict."

She said a strictly enforced time limit will also fend off any charges of partiality, given that one of the candidates will have home-field advantage: Markos Miller teaches Spanish at the school.

For the forum, Platt said she suggested that the students research the candidates, find out what issues they've said are a priority and then focus their questions on those matters.

The students in her two classes that are participating are sophomores, so it's unlikely any are old enough to vote. But with the focus on the candidates, the issues and the ranked-choice voting method that will be used Nov. 8, the students will "be able to explain to their parents who to vote for and how to vote," Platt said.

Platt said her students researched the city's decision to ditch popular elections for mayor in 1923 after a Ku Klux Klan-backed campaign, tinged with anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish sentiments, to get rid of the position. They also looked into last year's charter change that brought back the full-time job, with voters -- not the City Council -- picking a mayor.

"They, like many Portland voters, are wondering, 'OK, so what does the mayor do and why is this important?' " she said.

The forum is a natural outgrowth of the classes, which focus on the Constitution when not researching Portland's mayoral campaign, Platt said.

She noted that the founders apparently never considered anything other than one man, one vote when drafting that document.

"There's no ranked-choice voting in there," she said. "There's no voting in there at all, in fact," Platt added, pointing out that the Constitution didn't mandate popular elections for any federal offices.

OPPONENTS CRITICIZED

Until last Friday, mild-mannered Markos Miller hadn't taken many swings -- if any -- at his 14 mayoral opponents. That changed Friday.

Miller held a press conference at Lincoln Park to discuss the redesigning of the Franklin Street Arterial, a project he has spearheaded in the city.

During the press conference, he criticized some of his opponents for talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

He pointed out that City Councilor and incumbent Mayor Nick Mavodones promised at his inauguration to have community-input meetings across the city. That never happened, Miller said.

He also criticized Ethan Strimling for describing the mayor's position as a "CEO-type position."

"It's not a CEO-type position," he said. "The mayor won't have the powers a (chief executive officer) has. The mayor will only be successful through consensus-building."

Miller said Jed Rathband has talked about the need for community engagement, but hasn't actually done much himself.

"I think it's fair to look at people's records," Miller said, "and see if they match up with what the candidates say about themselves. I hope voters do that with all of us."

In addition to being a Spanish teacher, Miller is a community organizer. He led the community-input processes for the redevelopment of the former Adams School, and the soon-to-be built pedestrian and bike connector linking the Back Cove Trail to Bayside.

He's running on the promise of better community engagement by city government.

ENDORSEMENTS COMING IN

Endorsements are continuing to roll in and former state Sen. Michael Brennan claims he's ahead on that score.

"I'm the only candidate to be endorsed by the League of Young Voters, the teachers (the Portland Education Association) and Portland Tomorrow," he said.

Two of those endorsements came Tuesday. Brennan was backed by Portland Tomorrow, a group of city leaders including several members of the charter commission that created the elected mayor's post. He also was supported by the education association, which picked current Mayor Nicholas Mavodones -- who's married to a Portland school principal -- as its top choice.

The association endorsed Brennan as its second choice, Miller third and Ethan Strimling, on leave as head of LearningWorks, an at-risk youth education group, as its fourth choice.

Portland Tomorrow had been expected to endorse several candidates, but couldn't agree on anyone other than Brennan, said Pam Plumb, a former councilor and mayor herself and member of the group's 10-person steering committee.

The committee interviewed all 15 candidates and very quickly settled on Brennan as the top choice, Plumb said.

"It became more complicated after that," she said. "There are a lot of choices out there in this pack and it became more difficult to make a collective decision." Plumb noted that the group's endorsement included a note encouraging voters to educate themselves on the issues and rank at least five or six choices, even if Portland Tomorrow couldn't come to a consensus after one candidate.

In ranked-choice voting, the lowest vote-getter is dropped after each round of tallying and the second-choice votes cast by that candidate's supporters are allocated to other candidates. The process continues until one candidate has at least 50 percent plus one of the remaining ballots.

Plumb said voters who only select one candidate -- or even two or three -- run the risk of not having their ballots count if all their choices are knocked out.

"It's almost inconceivable that anyone will get 50 percent plus one on the first ballot," Plumb said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: emurphy@pressherald.com

 

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