No incumbents are running for Portland City Council this fall, creating an opening for an energized progressive and Democratic Socialist movement to potentially capture a third of the council seats in Maine’s largest city.

Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Spencer Thibodeau said Monday that he will not seek re-election to the District 2 seat. He is the third sitting councilor to bow out of the November elections – Councilors Belinda Ray and Nicholas Mavodones had previously announced they would not run.

Thibodeau, a 33-year-old real estate attorney, took out nomination papers last month, but said he decided over the weekend that he didn’t have the energy for another campaign or another three-year term on the council. He is finishing his sixth year as a councilor and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019, finishing second behind Mayor Kate Snyder and ahead of incumbent Ethan Strimling.

Thibodeau said he “agonized” over the decision in recent weeks. He said “six years feels like decades” as the city has hopped from one crisis and controversy to the next, and he decided he wanted to step away to focus his energy on other things.

It takes a lot of time to do this job right,” he said. “I think over the next few years of my life I want to focus on my personal life and just taking the next steps in that capacity instead of serving. It’s been an adventure of a lifetime. It’s been the greatest job I’ve ever had, but I think this is the right decision.”

The announcement marks another opportunity for progressives, who have strung together a series of recent electoral victories. There are open races for one-third of the seats on the nine-member council, and the city’s policies could lean further to the left if that momentum continues into the fall.

Portland is one of the most progressive communities in the state, but activists have criticized councilors and staff as too conservative when it comes to school spending, and say they are not doing enough to slow gentrification and address racial and economic disparities.

Neither councilors nor school board members are subject to term limits in Portland, and it has not been unusual for the council to have one or more members with decades of experience. However, with three incumbents bowing out, the remaining council will be relatively new in terms of experience. Councilor Pious Ali is in his fifth year, following by Mayor Snyder and Councilor Tae Chong, each in their second year. Councilors Mark Dion, April Fournier and Andrew Zarro were all elected last fall.

Since Strimling’s defeat, the Maine Democratic Socialists of America have successfully advocated for a charter commission and helped elect a slate of candidates in June who see the commission as an opportunity to increase the power of the elected mayor, increase the size and pay of the council and address racial equity and justice issues. Last fall, they successfully pushed for passage of four of five citizen referendum initiatives that boosted the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour in the coming years, enacted a “Green New Deal for Portland” and passed tenant protections, such as rent control.

Also, Fournier, a DSA member, won an at-large seat over Justin Costa, a two-term councilor representing District 4, last November.

Both council seats representing the Portland peninsula are up for grabs this November, as well as an at-large seat representing the entire city. All three incumbents stated different reasons for stepping aside.

Belinda Ray announced in May that she would not seek a third term as District 2 councilor because she was taking a new job as director of strategic partnerships at the Greater Portland Council of Governments, a regional planning agency with 25 dues-paying member municipalities that distributes federal planning and transportation funding throughout York and Cumberland counties.

Nicholas Mavodones announced in late June that he would not seek re-election after 30 years as an elected official, including 24 years on the council.

None of the incumbents said challengers from the political left played a part in their decisions.

Like Mavodones, however, Thibodeau has faced criticism from progressive groups. He suggested that the increasing intensity of local politics discourages many people from running.

“The city’s greatest challenge is creating an atmosphere where good people feel that they can step up and run for office and not have their personal lives or their work lives come into question all the time,” he said. “We have allowed ourselves to creep into things I don’t think are fair game. I think we have got a little work to do there.”

Prospective candidates could begin turning in nomination papers Monday. District candidates need at least 75 signatures and at-large candidates need at lest 300. The deadline is Aug. 23.

Three people have taken out nomination papers for the at-large seat: Travis Curran, Roberto Rodriguez and Brandon Mazer.

Five people have taken out papers for the District 1 seat, representing the East End and islands: David Aceto, Mark Foster, Sarah Michniewicz, Spencer Rust and Anna Trevorrow.

So far, only one other person – Victoria Pelletier – has taken out papers for the District 2 seat, representing the West End and Parkside.

Thibodeau said he was not ruling out another run for elected office at some point.

“There are exciting things happening in Maine over the next couple years and I plan to be a part of it,” Thibodeau said. 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: