PORTLAND — Mark Dion, who represented residents of North Deering at the state level for eight years, is vying to represent them at the local level as a District 5 city councilor.

“A lot of issues people are concerned about, like quality of life in the city and property taxes, for the most part don’t get addressed in Augusta. There is a much broader view,” said Dion, who was a state representative from 2010-16 and state senator from 2016-18.

“I am a fan of (outgoing District 5) Councilor Kim Cook. When she told me she was not running, I felt this was a good opportunity to return to public life and provide some seasoned, measured leadership to the City Council,” Dion said.

Kenneth Capron, John Coyne and Kathryn Sykes are also running to replace Cook, who represents the neighborhoods of North Deering, Riverton and part of Deering Center.

Capron said his interest in the seat is to give more voice to the residents.

“I have observed the council’s action, especially on the homeless issue and some other issues, and I am very concerned about the process we are using and how it excludes the public – the voice they are supposed to be representing,” he said.

Coyne represented the district on the City Council between 2008 and 2014 and is ready to do so again.

“Over the last six years, I’ve watched and seen what’s been going on in our city. Some of the developments have been good and others, I’ll say, have been interesting,” Coyne said. “It prompted me to say I want to get my voice back in there and represent the folks of District 5 again.”

Sykes would like to use her experience as a community organizer to bring residents of District 5 together.

“I see District 5 as an unorganized black hole. It is a really sprawling district geographically and has so much housing diversity to it. There are large single family homes by the Falmouth line, the Riverton public housing project and everything in between,” she said.

Overall, Sykes said, city government doesn’t do a good job with civic engagement. She would like councilors to have offices in their districts so residents can connect with them. She’d like the city to adopt participatory budgeting, a system used in Chicago where she used to live in which residents have a direct say in how to spend their neighborhood’s share of tax dollars.

“That has an incredible effect on getting the public to participate in government,” she said.

Coyne, too, wants to increase engagement with residents.

“I look at the citizen-led (referendums) and I find them to be very complicated. The fact people are looking for change in this way could be indicative of a council that doesn’t do enough outreach,” he said.

Coyne also wants to look into alternative revenue streams, such as a local option sales tax.

“People are tired of balancing everything on the back of the local taxpayers. There are so many things going on and there is only so much in peoples’ pockets,” he said.

Dion said his focus would be maintaining basic city services, such as fire and police protection, emergency medical response and public works projects, for residents in District 5 and across the city. He would also work on “jump-starting our hospitality and small business industry.”

“Portland is a city of small neighborhoods and small businesses. It is great if we get that large business infusion, but I am concerned about the corner stores, the small coffee shops. Those entities need our support because their margins are so thin,” Dion said.

From a policy standpoint, Dion is concerned about the placement of a new homeless services center on Riverside Street and the city’s ability to help the unhoused. The issue of homelessness, he said, extends beyond Portland and requires a more collective approach.

“With my experience, as a state legislator, I could have some leverage to have the state step into this issue. Portland can’t continue to provide what by and large is a state service,” he said.

The homeless center is also a concern to Capron and Coyne.

Capron is opposed to a Riverside Street homeless shelter and has joined a neighborhood petition effort to have the council rescind its decision to locate it there.

“We need smaller shelters based on the needs of the people there,” Capron said. “Some people are (in a shelter) for only a night. Some are there until they can find a job or an apartment and some need mental health or substance use services.”

Coyne says the process in selecting the Riverside Street site was “flawed” and he “would like to take a look at reopening it and take a different view.”

Climate change is at the top of Sykes’ priorities.

“That is the most pressing and important crisis we are working on right now,” said Sykes, a co-author of the Green New Deal referendum on the ballot.

That initiative includes increasing affordable housing and raising ecological standards for new buildings that receive $50,000 or more in public funding. It also requires the city to annually monitor use of fossil fuel infrastructure and develop plans to meet stated emissions goals.

“We need to get this right. It is literally the future of our existence on Earth,” Sykes said.

The city, she said, needs leaders that will take action and invest in green energy and offshore wind.

“I really want to see Portland take a much more ‘dig in and do’ approach to climate change,” she said.

Capron would like to see the city examine public health to make sure individuals are getting the services and resources they need. In addition, he would like to take a longer-term look at transportation planning.

“Transportation is a huge issue to me. I feel we are spending a whole lot of money and settling for a result. Rather than addressing just a few years, I think we need to be looking out 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 years,” Capron said.

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