In a recent column (“Never mind olive branches, mayor, your path to power is politics,” Dec. 7), Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich criticized me for failing to effectively use the powers given to my office when I opposed the recent sale of the publicly owned Thames Street property for less than half the appraised value. He even turns my oh-so-clever use of a quote by Shakespeare back on me.

Was this the moment I would have to look Greg in the eye and say “Et tu, Brute?” for his betrayal of our shared progressive values? Or was it a moment to stand on the steps of City Hall to call on the downtrodden taxpayer to “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war” on the Press Herald editorial board?

Nope. Neither.

Because he was right.

While we can debate later whether the city charter powers that he says my office has are fully at my disposal, I could indeed have been more effective in trying to get city officials to negotiate harder; at bringing public voices into the process earlier; and at persuading my colleagues to reject the deal. (And to be clear, I do not cast aspersions on my colleagues for their vote. We all have the best interest of Portland at heart. We simply disagreed on this).

My pledge to you, Greg, and to the people of Portland, is to work harder in the future: to listen better; to seek common ground; to persuade, and to make sure public voices are brought in sooner. To use the bully pulpit more effectively.

But, Greg, your challenge is not aimed at me alone. Your challenge is aimed at all of us to implement public policy that will benefit the city we love so much.

Including you, Greg. And now I challenge you back.

You need to speak up more often on issues affecting our great city. Because when you do, you inform people and help to get them engaged. You joined our fight to protect India Street, and Portland won. You joined our fight to reopen our tax increment financing policy so that future corporate tax breaks may be tied to livable wages for Portland residents, and Portland won.

But when the media are silent, Portland often loses. You were silent on Thames Street, and taxpayers lost. Silent on giving tenants reasonable notice before being evicted, and renters lost. Silent on protecting low-income tenants from discrimination, and, by one vote, the status quo remains.

If there is one thing I have learned after a year as mayor, it is that consistent engagement and continuous, far-reaching dialogue leads to better public policy.

The dialogue should occur not just in City Hall, but in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in coffee shops and supermarkets. In line at the soup kitchen, as well as in boardrooms. And, yes, in the media.

Our city charter designed the Mayor’s Office to give public opinion a stronger voice in the direction of this city. I devote as much time as I can to listening to public opinion and trying to encourage people to speak up and organize for what they believe in.

That is why I challenge all of us – you and your colleagues of the Fourth Estate included – to be bold. Be outspoken. Be consistent in your support for the progressive policies that the people of Portland want and deserve.

Because Portland cannot afford muffled, watered-down, tinkered-around-the-edges public policy.

We need real change for fixed-income seniors who are being squeezed out of the city because we haven’t passed targeted tax relief.

Real change for the 7-year-old at Lyseth, who has to attend classes in a hallway. And the 8-year-old at Presumpscot, who has to put on his snow boots to leave the trailer he calls a classroom to go the restroom. And the 6-year-old at Reiche who can’t hear her teacher over the noise. And the 9-year-old at Longfellow who sits in a chair with tennis balls on the bottoms of its legs so he doesn’t scratch the asbestos tiles on the floor. All because we have not yet passed a bond to fix and modernize our aging elementary schools.

Real change for the single mom who lives in our city, but is afraid she will be evicted with only 30 days’ notice.

Real change for the small business whose path to growth is beset by red tape.

Real change for the neighbor who is struggling with addiction, while the only help we can offer is a spot on a waitlist for treatment.

Real change takes all of us pulling the rope in the same direction. I’ll wrap that rope around my waist and pull all day and night for the residents of Portland. And I know my colleagues on the City Council will, too.

So, Greg, thanks again for your challenge to me. And here’s mine to you: Be steadier, more reliable, more outspoken for Portland. Pull the rope with us. Our city deserves nothing less.


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