PORTLAND — Voters will decide Nov. 3 whether to elect a district councilor, special education manager, real estate developer or former pediatrician as their new at-large city councilor.

Justin Costa, April Fournier, Ronald Gan and Laura Kelley are running to replace Jill Duson, who is stepping down after almost 20 years on the council.

Costa, now a District 4 representative on the council, said with so many important issues on the council’s agenda, experience is what matters.

“This is the most important time for the city in perhaps a generation,” said Costa, who is giving up his District 4 seat because he plans to buy a home soon in the city, but he’s not sure yet where it will be.

“The aftermath of the pandemic when we get there and everything else going on in the city make this an important time. We need people who are going to know the intricacies of the work we move forward. I have been on the School Board and council and that experience is needed right now,” he said.

Fournier, Gan and Kelley, however, argue the council would be better served with a new face.

With Duson, the first Black woman elected to the City Council, stepping down, Fournier said she wanted to make sure the seat remains held by a person of color.

“Losing  the viewpoint of a woman of color on the council is really unfortunate,” said Fournier, a member of the Dine’ (Navajo) Nation  who works in special education.

Gan,  a real estate developer, is running because he feels there is a disconnect between the desire of the community and the action of the council.

“The systems and policies in place are not working. If they were, I wouldn’t be involved in this,” he said.

The council, Kelley said, needs a stronger advocate for children and families and as a former pediatrician she can fill that role.

She would look at all City Council policy decisions through a public health lens, she said.

“That is the vision I have and it is how I look at everything,” Kelley said.

She would like to see a better wellness curriculum in Portland schools, a more “science-based and evidence-based” approach to teaching literacy and more accessible and affordable healthcare, she said. Her goal, if elected, would be to build consensus around “shared values as we look at problems and make sure we are communicating with people clearly and transparently.”

“People in Portland, at least from what I have heard, don’t feel like they are being dealt with fairly, and they don’t feel like they are being heard,” she said.

Fournier wants to be an advocate for all residents of Portland, especially those who are underrepresented. Her entire platform, she said,  is centered on inclusion and making sure people impacted the most have a say in the decisions being made.

“I know firsthand what it is like not having a seat at the table when decisions are being made about me or my family,” she said,  referring to her Indigenous status and having a son with autism.

Gan said he wants to provide Portland a better direction when it comes to housing development. The city needs to create 5,000 new housing units, he said, and he suggests mirroring a project in Dover, New Hampshire, where small cottages are being built for homeless people. There is plenty of available land on Washington, Forest, Warren avenues and Riverside Street or in East Bayside, he said.

Creative ideas need to come out of council deliberations, Gan said, and the city needs to be better at marketing itself because it is losing new businesses to other communities like Westbrook, Brunswick, Biddeford and Scarborough, which all have large-scale developments underway.  He proposes disbanding the city’s economic development office and replacing it with an office of real estate vision and planning.

“We need to show businesses this is a good place to come because we have great housing and quality of life,” Gan said.

For Fournier, a main focus is helping the council deal with systemic racism by making people aware of what white privilege means and where their own biases may be. She also wants to give more power to the Police Citizen Oversight Committee, a group she is part of that reviews complaints against the Portland Police Department. She’d like to fund the Police Department’s mental health and substances abuse liaisons through social service agencies rather than law enforcement, and she’d urge the council to rethinks its decision to locate a new homeless shelter in Riverton.

“COVID has made us go back to the drawing board for so many things,” Fournier said. “In my mind there is no reason, since we are living through a pandemic, we shouldn’t relook at that decision and say it won’t be a good fit from a public health perspective.”

A big focus of Costa’s will be helping the economy rebound from the current health crisis.

“There is no one thing that is going to fix everything. The most important thing is we remain open (to all options),” he said.

Costa said he would like to continue to work on making progress on increasing affordable housing, reducing systemic racism and addressing homelessness, mental health, addiction and climate change issues.

“The question is who is positioned the best to make progress on these issues,” Costa said. “All of these are complicated issues that extend beyond the city proper. There are implications across the region, state of Maine and nation as well.”

 

 

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