Longtime City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones is being challenged for an at-large seat on the City Council by two political newcomers.

Matthew Coffey is a 38-year-old landscaper who says he is homeless by choice, and David Foster is a the 35-year-old multimedia marketing manager at The Great Lost Bear.

MATTHEW COFFEY

Coffey, 38, grew up in Whitman, Massachusetts, and moved to Maine 10 years ago to work at a vegetable and flower nursery in York County.

He became homeless when his job became seasonal, but now, he says his homelessness is a lifestyle choice. In a video posted to his Facebook page, he said he was inspired by nature writer Henry David Thoreau to live simply, which he does, in an encampment on the outskirts of town where he has a small garden.

During the winter, Coffey writes, edits and distributes a publication called the Hobo News, which publishes stories about homelessness written by homeless people.

If elected, he wants to stop what he calls “social engineering” policies. He opposes a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a 5-cent fee on single-use bags, protest-free zones and anti-smoking rules in public parks. “It’s supposed to be a public park that would be for all of us and some of us like to smoke,” he said.

He wants to give residents at the city’s homeless shelters more responsibilities in exchange for the services they receive by having them do remedial chores, such as sweeping floors and handing out towels and soap. He also thinks the city should grant tax breaks to local business owners who hire people sleeping at the shelter. “There are some bright, college-educated people in that shelter. If they’ve got the gumption to come in and fill out an application, give them a chance.”

Coffey said he is an “average Joe” who wants to inject some common sense into the City Council. “I know that will give them a headache, but I will bring them a bottle of aspirin,” he said.

DAVID FOSTER

Foster, 35, grew up in just outside of Freyburg and served for three years in U.S. Air Force, enlisting after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Foster is interested in expanding the use of technology throughout the city by increasing the number of online city services, increasing access to fiber-optic broadband Internet and providing free WiFi throughout the city. “Let’s get Portland hooked up technologically. Let’s start building the infrastructure of the future,” he said.

Foster criticized Mavodones for being “aloof” to the concerns of residents and for not taking advantage of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to keep people informed. “It would be great if someone was on the City Council who appreciates the way people communicate now,” he said.

He is concerned that the rising cost of living in Portland, which he says is forcing young people out of the city and, in some cases, into dangerous living arrangements by crowding into substandard housing. He cited the apartment on Noyes Street that caught fire, killing six people. Foster said he lived there for a few months before it burned.

He supports the Portland Green Independent Committee’s efforts to establish a minimum wage of $15 an hour in the city. He also supports rent control, preventing landlords from drastically increasing rents on existing tenants, as well as requiring developers to set aside some new housing units for working-class people and using tax credits to encourage affordable housing developments.

“I think it’s really important that people don’t get pushed out of Portland, especially the workers.”

NICHOLAS MAVODONES

Completing his 18th year on the council, Mavodones, 55, said he is a “known entity” throughout the city and in particular on the waterfront, where he started working as a deckhand for Casco Bay Lines after graduating high school. He eventually worked his way up to being a captain and ultimately the operations manager.

Mavodones, who served as mayor when it was a part-time, council-appointed post, struggled this year with whether to run for full-time mayor, run for his at-large seat or neither, waiting until the last minute to announce his intentions and collect signatures. After former state Sen. Ethan Strimling announced his mayoral run, Mavodones was among 11 elected councilors and school board members to endorse Strimling, citing a “profound” frustration with the incumbent, Michael Brennan. During that endorsement, he acknowledged that Strimling’s candidacy re-energized him to run for another term.

“I’m feeling positive (Strimling) has a good shot at winning,” Mavodones said. “If he doesn’t, Mike has to come to the realization that not everything is as rosy as he thinks and we will all have to come together and improve they way we do things.”

Mavodones campaign has been focused on listening and bringing people together, although at times Mavodones has made comments that irritated activists. He regularly cites the ease with which organizers can fill council chambers, citing his own history as a labor organizer.

“I don’t have a problem with rallying the troops,” he said. “In my role as a councilor, I don’t vote based on the how many show up in the room and how many emails I receive. I try to make the best decision for the city.”

With the number of costly capital improvement projects piling up for city and school buildings and equipment, he said the city needs to focus on core city services and then reduce spending elsewhere.

“I think everything has to be on the table this coming year.” Mavodones said. “It’s not going to be easy. There is a constituency for every service. Sometimes it can be a very loud constituency.”

 


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