For the first time in nearly three decades, voters in northeastern Portland will see a slate of new names on their ballot for City Council representative.

Residents of Portland’s District 4 will choose among three council candidates – Justin Costa, Rosemary Mahoney and Ray Ruby – who each argue their professional and personal experiences will help them represent the interests of the suburban neighborhoods that make up the district. The winner will take the place of Cheryl Leeman, who is stepping down after three decades representing District 4 on the council.

All three candidates identified rising property taxes and housing costs among the top issues that come up during conversations on front stoops or at events. Other prominent concerns include rising fees, traffic and preserving Portland’s high quality of life amid the development boom.

Although officially a nonpartisan body, Portland’s City Council has shifted toward the progressive end of the political spectrum in recent years as more Democrats and Green Independents filled council seats. That makes Leeman’s departure after 30 years more noteworthy. The East Deering resident and registered Republican has been a conservative voice on the council when it comes to spending, taxes and fees.

Additionally, Councilor John Coyne – another conservative voice who has represented North Deering, Deering Center and Riverton for two terms – is not seeking re-election to his District 5 seat this November. However, while Leeman’s seat drew three candidates, Coyne’s seat attracted only one: former councilor and Democratic state lawmaker David Brenerman.

Among the four candidates, three are Democrats and one identifies himself as an independent.

Justin Costa, 31, says his six years representing District 4 on the Portland School Board would be an asset on the council.

The Back Cove resident serves on a joint School Board-City Council finance committee and said School Board members and councilors have worked together to bring more transparency and accountability to the school department budget in recent years.

“I think what people are asking themselves is, who is going to be the most effective councilor and who is going to be able to bring people together,” Costa said.

He said the biggest issue facing the city is the price of housing – and specifically, the fear that middle-income families are being priced out as developers focus on housing for the high-end or lower-income sectors. Costa said the City Council needs to develop a longer-range strategy for encouraging the growth of a robust and diverse housing market.

“People are supportive of development, but they want to know there is going to be space in that market for middle-class people,” said Costa, a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law who works as a staff accountant at Auto Europe.

If elected, he also pledged to work to improve relations between the School Board and City Council, as well as push to move forward with upgrades to elementary schools that he argues are critical to attracting or retaining young families.

The list of people who have endorsed Costa includes councilors Ed Suslovic and Jon Hinck and five members of the city’s legislative delegation.

Rosemary Mahoney, 49, is a lifelong city resident who says her work as an advocate and negotiator and her insights as a homeowner and parent of public school children give her “all-around experience” that will be useful on the council.

One of the themes of Mahoney’s campaign is maintaining Portland’s “ethos” and tradition of locally owned businesses while managing additional growth. Mahoney is a strong supporter of the “Buy Local” philosophy and supports a graduated increase to the city’s minimum wage in the absence of state or federal action on the issue.

Mahoney said she knows the financial pinch caused by rising property taxes and is concerned about the impact of new fees such as the recently passed 5-cent surcharge on disposable plastic and paper bags.

Mahoney has served for the past four years as a UniServ director for the Maine Education Association, where she works with the union’s membership on such things as contract issues, grievances and legal matters. She previously worked for more than a decade at the University of Southern Maine in both hourly administrative and professional-managerial positions.

“In my daily life, I advocate, I negotiate and I sometimes mediate,” Mahoney said. “Those are all skills necessary when working with groups of people.”

Mahoney has been endorsed by the Portland Education Association.

Former police officer Ray Ruby, 30, said he is running for the City Council to continue serving a city that he and his wife quickly fell in love with after moving to Portland nine years ago.

Ruby expressed concerns that rising property taxes and fees are putting pressure on city residents. Among his top priorities, Ruby said, would be working on “quality of life” issues and making sure District 4 and non-peninsula residents’ voices are heard on a City Council that is sometimes dominated by issues affecting the downtown area.

“I think people want a representative that is going to be a voice for them for the day-to-day issues,” Ruby said.

For seven years after graduating from Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Ruby worked as an officer in the Portland Police Department and was the department’s Officer of the Year in 2011. Ruby said working as an officer provided him with unique, on-the-ground insights into the city, its neighborhoods, the city staff and public schools.

He left the department in 2012 because he wanted to work in the nonprofit sector, and now serves as unit director of the South Portland Boys & Girls Club.

“I just think I bring something different to the table,” said Ruby, who lives in North Deering and identifies himself as politically independent.

Ruby has been endorsed by Leeman, who said he reminds her of herself when she first ran for office. “I see in Ray a city councilor who will be a great advocate and responsive to District 4,” she said.


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