Tae Chong has spent his life creating opportunities for immigrants like himself.

Chong was born in South Korea and immigrated to Portland in 1976. He said he grew up poor, with his father working on the waterfront wharves and his mother working at a children’s clothing manufacturer and at Jordan’s Meats.

Tae Chong Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

But Chong said he and his siblings have all gone on to college and hold master’s degrees. Over the years, he has served on the Portland school board and was a founding member of Friends of Portland Adult Education. He has worked to help immigrants start businesses, including in his current role at Catholic Charities, a nonprofit that oversees the state’s refugee resettlement agency.

He worked with former Mayor Michael Brennan to create the Portland Jobs Alliance, which worked with social service providers and employers to streamline application processes. That effort, funded with federal grants, helped employ 400 low-income people, he said.

And he’s also worked with wealthy donors as a former board member of Maine Community Foundation.

Throughout his 40 years in Portland, Chong said he has built the relationships needed to be an effective District 3 councilor.

“I can think in a more global way and more local way,” Chong said. “I feel like I have got my thumbprints all over the city.”

Chong sees an opportunity for more residential development off-peninsula. He’d like to see the city replicate improvements made at Woodfords Corner – public art, wider sidewalks, more bike-friendly streets – in other neighborhood centers. He said those are the types of “little nudges,” plus the addition of bus shelters, that can encourage more housing and businesses in neighborhood centers, where people can live and be entertained.

“It creates an incentive for them to create affordable housing in those centers and it takes pressure off the peninsula,” Chong said, stressing that neighborhoods need to have a say in what future development looks like. “That’s how the city needs to grow.”

Chong has not only used his professional and life experience to differentiate himself from the other candidates. He’s also pointed to his past service on the city’s school board, saying that experience is important because half of every tax dollar pays for education. He believes the city needs to take a serious look at whether it can afford to continue large school budget increases, given the district’s flat or declining enrollment.

“That kind of experience really matters because you need to be able to push back on the school committee,” said Chong, who has two kids in middle school. “You have to be able to get into the details so you can ask the hard questions.”

Chong also emphasizes the need to look at data before making any decisions. At times, he rattles off statistics at a dizzying speed.

He said he would continue to keep Portland a welcoming city to those in need, whether they’re asylum seekers or the homeless. However, he would look to build on the regional response to help Portland find housing for 400 asylum seekers who came to the city over the summer and get more regional assistance in other areas, including homelessness and public transportation.

“To me that’s an opportunity,” Chong said.


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