Joey Brunelle is making his second run in as many years for an at-large seat on the Portland City Council. This year, he’s taking on incumbent Nicholas Mavodones, who is finishing his 21st year on the council and is its longest-serving member.

Brunelle, a 33-year-old digital marketer, said he had no intention of running after placing second last year in a three-way race won by incumbent Jill Duson. But his frustration over what he sees as a lack of progress toward addressing a shortage of affordable housing and homelessness, public health, climate change and public transportation issues motivated him to run.

“With all due respect to my opponent, Councilor Mavodones has had 21 years to work on these issues,” Brunelle said. “The status quo is not working to solve these problems.”

Mavodones, a 58-year-old operations manager at Casco Bay Lines, said he is seeking re-election because he believes in “good government,” which relies on a process and relationships to address complex problems without producing unintended consequences.

Mavodones pointed to his role in the school bond debate last year as an example of being able to find middle ground. When a $64 million bond to rebuild all four elementary schools lacked the votes needed to make the ballot, Mavodones worked with Mayor Ethan Strimling on a compromise to offer voters a choice between two options, a four-school plan and a two-school plan. The four-school plan passed. Mavodones also worked with Strimling on a new property-tax relief program for low-income seniors.

“My perspective is beneficial to the taxpayers of Portland,” Mavodones said. “I look to work with my colleagues in a way that moves things forward so we can get things done.”

Mavodones and Brunelle both support a charter amendment on the ballot to require candidates to file a campaign finance report 42 days before the election, in addition to the 11-day pre-election report. However, only Brunelle complied with a request by referendum advocates, the League of Women Voters of Maine and the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections to voluntarily disclose his donors at the 42-day mark.

Brunelle, who is not accepting money from political action committees, out-of-state donors or real estate professionals, had raised $2,508 since July, when his semi-annual report showed him having raised $1,617 up to that point. Mavodones said he chose not to disclose his finances to an outside group, but estimated he has raised “north of $20,000” for his re-election bid.

The spotlight on campaign finances got a little brighter last week after the National Association of Realtors disclosed an independent expenditure of $7,300 in support of Mavodones. Both Brunelle and Mavodones decried and denounced the group’s interference in the local election.

DIFFERENT VIEWS OF PORTLAND

In a sense, each man looks at Portland and sees a different city. Mavodones sees a success story – a city once plagued with retail store vacancies and crime that is now growing its tax base and showing up regularly on nationwide rankings for food, breweries and entertainment.

Brunelle sees gentrification – a city that is leaving people behind and pushing service workers and artists out. He wants the city to get more aggressive in its policies, including cracking down on short-term rentals by only allowing each resident to register one unit.

Both he and Mavodones support a local-option sales tax to generate more revenue for city needs.

Similar to the way the city is looking at impact fees on real estate development to fund school, road and transportation projects, Brunelle would like the city to impose a carbon impact fee on large businesses and industrial users, as well as cruise ships and cargo ships. That revenue could be used to install solar panels on schools and implement a climate action plan. He’d also like the city to impose a fee on apartments and condos that are vacant for significant portions of the year.

Although the city has been selling some of its land for private development, Brunelle would like to give the Portland Housing Authority the right of first refusal in order to claim city parcels for low-income housing. But Mavodones has concerns with that approach because the housing authority is a separate entity from the city. Instead, the city should issue requests for affordable housing proposals if councilors agree that’s how the land should be used, he said.

CITY SPENDING, NEW SHELTER

Mavodones, who served four one-year terms as the council-appointed mayor before it became an elected position, doesn’t necessarily have a robust agenda for an eighth term in office. He cautioned against simple-sounding solutions packaged in sound bites, though he was careful not to accuse Brunelle, whom he described as “thoughtful and articulate,” of doing that.

“We have complicated issues and there are often unintended consequences that we should think through,” Mavodones said. “We shouldn’t take action just to take action.”

Having led the council’s finance committee for the past three years, Mavodones said he would continue to maintain a “reasonable tax rate.” He’s skeptical of Strimling’s plan to borrow $7 million to build affordable housing, especially after voters approved a $64 million school bond. Instead, additional funding for affordable housing, which he supports, should be included as a priority in the city’s capital budget, he said.

Brunelle, meanwhile, would like to turn over some budget decisions to neighborhood leaders. Participatory budgeting, which he said is used by over 1,500 communities worldwide, lets neighborhoods directly decide how to spend a specific amount of money set aside by the council.

“I want to bring a new approach – not just new ideas or new energy – to this job that’s more than just paying lip service to public comment,” Brunelle said, “but by actually engaging the public and bringing the public into the process.”

Brunelle would like the city to build smaller homeless shelters tailored to specific populations throughout the city, rather than a “mega-shelter,” which could accommodate 50 more people than the current shelter in Bayside. Mavodones, on the other hand, said he’s leaning toward a single shelter because service providers have said it would be easier to help people in one location. But the incumbent said he would have voted against the first proposed site next to the Barron Center if it had moved forward without additional review.

Brunelle said he wants the city to build more housing for people struggling with homelessness.

Mavodones, meanwhile, said city staff members don’t get enough credit for the number of people they place into housing in surrounding communities.

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

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