A few days ago, I sent out a tweet, more in frustration and exasperation than in any semblance of political tact.

“Never, ever, ever, ever running for office in Portland again. A downright hellish experience, magnified by the fact that as someone who works for a living, I lack the time or resources to mount a serious campaign.”

Not exactly the best tweet to send out two weeks before an election, but the feelings behind it are genuine. I didn’t run for office to lie. Portlanders have gotten enough of that from their local politics.

Why I did run for office was to bring a focus on working people, and how difficult and unrepresentative our municipal government is under the current city charter. And I think there’s no better example of that than this election.

And believe me (someone who makes just over minimum wage): The current city charter is broken. One of my opponents has raised more money than I make in a year for this race. I’m not begrudging that person – I consider them a friend – but how am I supposed to compete with that? There’s no clean elections program available for municipal candidates, so all my campaign finances have to come from either myself personally or from generous contributions from my supporters (and they have been generous, extremely so).

I’ve also come to wonder how someone who works for a living can expect to mount a serious campaign, even if they had more resources than I. I’m what is now called an “essential worker.” I work at a grocery store. Almost all of my fellow candidates are white-collar workers who have the privilege to work from home, or make their own hours, or get away from the office to go do campaign work. I don’t have that luxury. I was almost fired when I brought my ballot access petition sheets to work (I kept bringing them, because the people of this city are worth it).

I had the misfortune of working at a grocery store in order to help pay my way through the University of Southern Maine. I graduated in winter 2019, just before the world was changed forever. I didn’t get a job there to risk my life or the lives of my loved ones, but that’s what ended up happening. And many workers feel nothing but cold and callous disregard from a city government where the majority of elected officials do not come from our background, work our jobs or live in our neighborhoods. I am not alone in this regard. On the campaign trail, dozens, if not hundreds, of my fellow workers have told me they feel exactly the same way.

Furthermore, a handful of candidates and I have been unfairly painted as cronies for an organization that merely endorsed us – People First Charter – when the only process for an endorsement was a brief survey. This organization has since attacked other candidates it chose not to endorse, and some of us have been accused of either orchestrating or consenting to those attacks. Allow me to be clear: Not a single candidate endorsed by People First Charter supports personal attacks on other candidates, nor were we informed that our names would be featured above personal attacks. That mailer came as much of a shock to us as it did to everyone else, and some other endorsed candidates have already disavowed it.

And the worst part is, these attacks have distracted from the important issues facing our city: What is the proper balance for the city manager and the mayor? Should the mayor be a member of the City Council at all? And the most important one of all: How can average people effect change in the Portland municipal government?

Put it all together, and this is not a functional way to hold an election. This is, however, typical of every election I’ve followed in this city. It’s why Portland politics are so broken in the first place.

I used to think that structural barriers were why working-class people weren’t represented in government. Turns out I was right. I used to think that I could overcome those barriers with the strength of my ideas and my commitment to this city. Maybe I’m wrong about that.


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