Sally Trice was a single-issue voter Tuesday in Portland’s mayoral election.

Property taxes? Nope.

Economic development? Wrong again.

Much-needed political leadership? Close, but not quite.

Trice’s issue, in a word, is her deck. Or, to be more precise, her lack thereof.

“I was incredulous,” Trice said Monday, sitting on the wooden steps outside her modest, Cape-style home on dead-end Dorset Street. “I’m still incredulous.”

It all started last spring when Trice, who retired in 2010 as administrator for the Bible Society of Maine, decided to add an 8-by-6-foot deck to the side entrance of her home.

Nothing fancy, mind you. Just enough space for a couple of chairs so she and her occasional guest could soak up the afternoon sun and watch the world go by.

She hired a contractor, who drew up plans for the project. Next she went down to City Hall to get a building permit.

Big mistake.

The staff in the city’s Planning and Urban Development Department took a look at Trice’s plans. Then they checked her zone — Residential 3. Then they looked up her property description.

Then they nixed her permit.

Here’s why: When Trice’s home was built in the early 1950s, it barely met the required setback of 21 feet from the street. The requirement was broadened to 25 feet a few years later, but Trice’s house and all the others in the neighborhood were grandfathered.

The postage-stamp-size deck, however, represents new construction. And while it was designed to end two-plus feet inside the front edge of the house, the 25-foot setback rule nonetheless rendered it 8 inches too close to the street.

That’s right, 8 inches. On a dead end street.

Trice could have shrunk the already-minuscule platform — but that would leave room for only one chair.

Instead, she decided to take what she thought was a perfectly reasonable request for a zoning variance to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“You can do that,” Trice recalled a planning department staffer telling her. “But you’ll lose.”

Three weeks ago, Trice finally got her hearing.

She showed up armed with detailed plans, color photos and what she thought were slam-dunk answers to the five “practical difficulty” standards she had to meet in order to win a variance.

She even had letters from several neighbors — all supporting her request.

“Sally’s proposed deck would have many benefits for her and the neighborhood,” wrote neighbor Ryan Eling. “Both our young children love going to Sally’s to visit and a safer entrance to the house would be welcome. While modest in size, the deck would allow space for a chair or possibly some plants: that sounds pleasant to us.”

The seven-member board, six of whom happen to be attorneys, deliberated for “well over an hour,” Trice said. Then, unanimously, they said no.

The board’s not talking. But after looking into the matter this week, City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Trice got snagged on “practical difficulty” Number 3: “The need for a variance is due to the unique circumstances of the property and not the general conditions in the neighborhood.”

Since Trice’s grandfathered setback is no different from those of her neighbors, Clegg explained, state law and the city’s zoning ordinance left the board no choice but to turn thumbs down on the deck.

“I’m sympathetic. I understand this has been a disappointing process for her,” said Clegg. “But when it comes to enforcement and respect for the law, we do have to be black and white.”

Which brings us back to the mayoral race.

Over a month ago, Trice sat down at her computer and wrote a letter detailing her dilemma to each of the 15 mayoral candidates.

How they responded, she decided, would determine who rose “up the ladder” on her ranked-choice ballot.

She heard back from six — Chris Vail, Ralph Carmona, Peter Bryant, Ethan Strimling, Hamza Haadoow and Jed Rathband. (Nick Mavodones fired off an email saying he would look into it and call her the next day, but as Trice put it with a raised eyebrow, “I’m still waiting for that call.”)

“This is the death of common sense!” fumed Strimling, who was the first to respond to Trice’s letter, while canvassing on Monday. “This is what happens all the time at City Hall — it’s why people bang their heads when they go through these processes.”

Strimling said the new mayor “has got to be willing to get involved in the nitty gritty,” not “stand up there at 30,000 feet and say ‘I don’t want to interfere.’ “

Sounds like a plan — if not for Strimling, then for whoever finishes atop the ranked-choice heap sometime this afternoon.

But is there anything in the new mayor’s power pack that could trump, say, a bunch of nitpicky lawyers on the Zoning Board of Appeals?

“No,” replied City Hall spokeswoman Clegg. “There isn’t.”

Trice, meanwhile, isn’t sure what she’ll do next. She could take the matter to Cumberland County Superior Court — but again, the lawyers…

She could do what several friends told her from the get-go and just build the darn deck without a permit — but remember, this is a woman who spent her career promoting the Bible.

And besides, she’s not exactly below City Hall’s radar anymore.

So here’s what she’ll settle for — at least until the ground thaws next spring: So far, this journey through Portland’s bureaucratic jungle has cost Trice $291 in applications, legal notifications to neighbors (who already knew) and various other costs of doing business (or not) with City Hall.

Trice wants at least $100 of that — her initial application fee — refunded. And if the powers that be can step away from their “no” stamp long enough to get their heads examined, all the better.

“It’s the culture of City Hall: This is the way it is, this is the way it’s been, this is the way it works — end of story,” said Trice. “No room for innovation, no room for change.”

And the new mayor is …

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]