Two candidates looking to represent District 4 on the City Council agree that Portland has reached a pivotal point on a number of issues, including a lack of affordable housing and a rapidly changing landscape driven by new development.

But voters in East Deering, the Back Cove area and parts of Deering Center and North Deering will have to decide Nov. 7 whether they value experience, or want a change.

Political newcomer Kimberly Rich is looking to unseat Justin Costa, who has nine years of experience as an elected official on the school board and council.

Rich has 35 years of experience in working mostly in the nonprofit sector and believes her skills as a former mediator will allow her to advance the interests of the district.

She blames Costa, as well as other councilors, for the public bickering between Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings. She points to Costa’s observation that everyone, except Strimling, appeared to have a good working relationship with each other.

“I think that’s really divisive language to ostracize an elected official,” said Rich, who embraces outside activist groups like Progressive Portland. “They were taking their eye off the ball. There is a lot of good work we need to be pursuing. It really was annoying. I think it hurt the city.”

Costa admits that the public airing of grievances over the summer was “unfortunate,” but believes it was necessary to get the mayor back on track. And it’s a conflict he is eager to leave in the past.

“We’re trying to stay focused on working on the major issues,” Costa said.

Rich supports Question 1 on the city ballot, which would limit rent increases and strengthen tenants’ rights, while Costa has concerns that the measure will have unintended consequences.

Both candidates oppose Question 2, which would allow neighborhood residents to block zone changes, and support the $64 million bond to renovate four elementary schools.

Costa said District 4 needs someone with experience in elected office and knowledge of the variety of complex issues in Maine’s largest city to advance its interests. Costa, a 34-year-old accountant, has served two terms on the school board and one term on the council, having been a member of the Finance Committee.

As evidence of his balanced approach to policymaking, Costa points to his endorsements from both former Mayor Michael Brennan, a liberal Democrat, and Cheryl Leeman, a Republican and former District 4 councilor for 30 years.

“People are going to have to decide whether it’s important to have people who have experience and shown they can build bridges and create unusual alliances,” Costa said.

However, Rich, 58, who works in film production, feels as though there has been a lack of leadership from Costa. She said area residents feel like the decisions to move the public works department from Bayside to Canco Road and impose a new stormwater fee came out of nowhere, even though both issues went through several hearings and were covered by the media.

Now she’s concerned the city is moving forward with a solar project on the closed landfill on Ocean Avenue without first addressing all of the environmental issues.

Costa said the city needs to install solar panels by the end of the year to take advantage of tax credits and that other issues can be addressed at a later date.

Rich is also concerned about gentrification, a term used to describe how the rapid development of high-end housing is crowding out low- and middle-income earners. That’s partly why she supports Question 1 on the city ballot, which would institute a rent stabilization ordinance.

“I feel like the folks behind the referendum have come up with a remedy that is really sound,” Rich said. “I think we should try it out. We need to try some solutions and give it a go. I’m hopeful, not fearful.”

However, Costa is worried about unintended consequences of the ordinance. He feels that the solution is to continue to look for ways to make it more feasible to build low- and moderate-income housing.

The council took a step in that direction by tweaking zoning to grant affordable housing proposals higher densities.

Going forward, Costa wants the city to re-examine its definition of “affordable,” which generally means spending up to 30 percent of household income on housing. And that income metric is usually pinned to area median income, which is distorted by wealthier communities such as Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth.

The city also needs to re-examine it’s inclusionary zoning ordinance to make sure it’s working as intended, he said. That ordinance requires 10 percent of units in developments with 10 or more units to be affordable to middle-income earners, but most developers have made payments to the city, rather than actually building the units.

Costa said he’s even open to disincentives for luxury housing. “We can make it more expensive to meet some of these requirements if you’re engaging in condo development for higher incomes,” he said.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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