Travis Curran says he understands the struggles and anxiety of Portland’s service workers and artists who are being priced out of the city. That’s because he is one of them.

Curran, 33, has been working in Portland’s restaurants, among other jobs, for the last 10 years. He’s lived in the same apartment on Munjoy Hill for most of that time and his landlord has raised his rent only once.

But the city’s ongoing property revaluation likely will lead to a significant increase in property taxes on the hill and he worries that his landlord will have no choice but to raise the rent. And he doesn’t hold out much hope of finding a new apartment he can afford in Portland, in large part because of the increasing number of short-term rentals, such as those advertised online by Airbnb.

“Portland is a beautiful town, but the housing crisis is a crisis,” Curran said. “We have a lot of guillotines over our necks and ticking time bombs under our desks. With the revaluation, people are going to have to rebudget and refinance their entire lives and hopefully not move off the peninsula. I’m going to try to keep as many people who live here here.”

Curran is one of three candidates trying to unseat Mayor Ethan Strimling. It’s the third election since voters changed the position from a ceremonial mayor chosen each year by city councilors to an elective full-time position, with a salary of $76,615 and a four-year term.

The winner will be chosen through ranked-choice voting, where voters choose candidates in order of preference. If no one wins a majority after the first-choice votes are counted, election officials eliminate the last-place finisher and redistribute that candidate’s votes based on each voter’s second-choice ranking. This process continues – with nonviable candidates being eliminated from the bottom up and their votes reallocated – until someone hits the threshold of 50 percent plus one vote.


As a political newcomer who is not actively raising money or winning any endorsements, Curran knows he’s the underdog in a race where Strimling has raised nearly $150,000. But Curran says he is seeking the office because of his everyday experiences – whether it’s commiserating with co-workers or talking to those without homes who hang out at the Preble Street Resource Center.

Like Strimling, Curran is running to be the “voice of the people” in City Hall. He said many people are unhappy with Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings, and he wants to find a way to end the conflict between the leadership in City Hall.

In a way, his candidacy is part of a personal journey out of depression that began when his father died of cancer five years ago. His death prompted Curran to stop doing stand-up comedy and he quit his job at Otto pizza. He walked across Congress Street to Empire and immediately got a job as a dishwasher one day a week. He eventually worked his way up to busboy, barback and then became a full-time waiter.

Travis Curran talks about his candidacy for mayor with Elizabeth Gibson, a bartender at Nosh. He says he’s seeking the office because of his everyday experiences as a service worker. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“Empire really helped save my life and turned me around, and gave me a new purpose,” Curran said. “I’ve almost been homeless. My best friend has been homeless. That’s why I get so passionate about it.”

As time went on, he began to think more and more about the advice of his father, a recreational sailor and a railroad man who wanted more for his son than being a “dirty pizza cook.”

“He wanted me to help people and he wanted me to fix the problems in the world,” he said. ” ‘Always be a seeker’ is what he said. When I thought, ‘What can I do to make my father proud?’ Absolutely, (it’s) helping the city of Portland, which is the love of my life.”


Curran said he was born in Portland and was raised in the Oxford Hills region. He moved to Portland to attend the University of Southern Maine, where he earned a degree in theater.

Curran wants to clamp down on short-term rentals such as those advertised on He likes the idea of following South Portland’s lead and prohibiting unhosted, or nonowner-occupied, rentals, while allowing people to offer a room in their primary residence.

He also wants to focus on parking and transportation. Ideally, Portland would create a light-rail transit system, like Boston’s T. But, at a minimum, the city should provide overnight bus service for restaurant workers, many of whom cannot afford vehicles or parking and have been forced off the peninsula or even to Westbrook or Biddeford. He also wants to raise awareness about street harassment, especially of his female colleagues who work the late shift and have to walk or take a cab home.

Travis Curran talks to kitchen workers in an alley outside the 555 restaurant while spreading the word about his candidacy for Portland mayor. Curran found a receptive audience while canvassing along Congress Street. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

He also would like the city to create more publicly owned and operated parking areas, and make them available to service workers at an affordable price. He said service workers struggle to move their vehicles every two hours over the course of their shifts and can’t afford to pay 25 cents for nine minutes of parking.

He opposes the city’s decision to relocate the homeless shelter off the peninsula to the Riverton neighborhood and would like the city to open an overdose prevention site, where people with substance use disorder can safely test and take their drugs, and exchange needles. Such sites are prohibited under federal law, but advocates say they are part of a harm-reduction strategy that helps prevent fatal overdoses and the spread of diseases, while reaching vulnerable people and encouraging them to get help.

Curran was active in Portland’s comedy scene for about three or four years, running an open mic at Mama’s Crow Bar and later running a room at Empire. His passion for performance and his comedic nature has been on display at several candidate forums, which he said makes it difficult for him to convince people he’s serious about wanting to be mayor.


He admitted to being arrested once in college for tagging a wall along a railroad track with graffiti. His record shows that he paid a $500 fine and $350 in restitution after pleading guilty to criminal mischief in 2008.

Curran found a receptive audience while canvassing along Congress Street on a recent afternoon. He was greeted as “the mayor” at the Speckled Axe coffee shop – a nickname he said he’s had since working at Otto because he seems to know everyone.

After printing up handbills at the FedEx office and dropping them off at Nosh on Congress Street, Curran spotted a group of kitchen workers seated in a circle on milk crates in an alley behind the Five Fifty-Five restaurant. At first, he didn’t want to interrupt them while they were on break and eating their preshift meal, but ultimately he decided to give it a shot. He walked up to the group and doled out his handbills, which the workers enthusiastically took.

“I’m not a politician whatsoever,” Curran said. “I’m just trying to keep Portland affordable for us, so we don’t have to move to Westbrook.”

Noticing the scars and burn marks on the workers’ arms, Curran lifted his pant leg to show his scar, which he said came from a piece of scalding hot mozzarella.

Sam Helmke, 29, said it was exciting to see a candidate like Curran in the race because he knows firsthand the struggles of restaurant workers.

“It’s nice to see someone who isn’t a part of the political system and who can speak to my issues,” Helmke said. “I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck. We’re all feeling the squeeze. It’s a real struggle.”

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