The stakes will be high when Portland voters go to the polls next month to fill three of nine seats on a City Council confronting the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic and an exodus of high-level officials, including the city manager and police chief.

None of the incumbents is running and competition for an at-large seat on the council is fierce, with four candidates vying for the chance to replace Nicholas Mavodones, the longtime finance chairman and mayor pro tem, who is leaving after three decades in elected office.

Those looking to replace Mavodones are: Travis Curran, 35, a server and retail manager at Maine Craft Distilling who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019; Brandon Mazer, 35, an attorney and chairman of the planning board; Roberto Rodriguez, 42, who owns an urban farming business and is serving his second term on the school board; and Stuart Tisdale, 68, an attorney and retired history and government teacher at Cheverus High School.

The winner will be decided by ranked-choice voting.

The next council will have to hire a new city manager, whose expansive role in city government includes implementing the city’s $268 million budget, overseeing about 1,400 city employees and hiring department heads, including the police chief, a position that will become vacant on Nov. 1.

The council will continue to guide the city’s response to, and recovery from, the pandemic, including deciding how to allocate about $38 million in federal coronavirus relief funding. Councilors also will draft a budget that could include across-the-board salary increases for city employees to keep their compensation competitive in a tight labor market even as the city’s revenues are still recovering from the pandemic’s economic fallout.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of the city’s revaluation, which caused property values and tax bills to increase dramatically on the peninsula, while they dropped or held steady elsewhere. And the ongoing review of the city charter could lead to a major restructuring of municipal government.

Mazer, who was recently endorsed by Mayor Kate Snyder, is leading the candidates in fundraising.

Through Sept. 14, Mazer had raised nearly $9,850 and had about $7,350 on hand. Curran had amassed $5,355, with $2,420 coming from his own pocket, and had just under $1,000 on hand. Tisdale reported having come up with $4,320, all but $320 from his own pocket, and had about $3,414 on hand. And Rodriguez had raised about $3,620 and had about $151 on hand.

The candidates all acknowledged the deep concern most voters have about the city’s increasing lack of affordability, especially in housing. They also discussed their views of school funding, the debate over a mask mandate, a referendum that would limit new shelters to 50 beds or less, and the search for the next city manager.

Absentee voting began Monday for the Nov. 2 election.

TRAVIS CURRAN 

Curran said he is running to represent working residents, especially those in the service industry. He said he finds it hard to afford the city and so has “skin in the game.”

Travis Curran  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“The next five years are going to be drastically different for the city, and I feel we need equal representation for people who work here and make the city run,” he said.

Although the council is nonpartisan, Curran said he’s a registered Democrat, but he describes his views as more humanist and independent than representative of a party.

He believes that eliminating single-family zoning off-peninsula to make it easier to construct apartment buildings would increase overall affordability. He would like the city to fully enforce short-term rental regulations and ban unhosted short-term rentals, a proposal defeated at the ballot box last fall. And he thinks the city should build more subsidized housing.

Curran is concerned about the burden of property tax increases on city residents, so he would look to increase revenue through other sources, including increased increasing fees for private-parking-lot owners.

The current council on Monday voted down a mask mandate. Curran, who admitted to having been conflicted at first, said before that decision that he would support a requirement to wear masks indoors.

He said he would work with neighborhood groups to try to overcome general opposition to shelters, but he supports the small shelter referendum. He opposes as too “massive” the city’s plan to build a 208-bed homeless services center, with a medical clinic, soup kitchen and day space, in the Riverton neighborhood. He said it’s also “too far out of the city” and “the unhoused people need other places to go.”

He wants the city to open an overdose prevention site, where people could use illicit drugs under supervision. The idea behind such sites is to reduce overdoses and offer entry points for treatment and other services.

He’d also like to expand public transit by adding an overnight bus to serve third-shift students and workers from bars, restaurants and hospitals.

For a new city manager, he said he would want someone willing to work with the city council “eagerly and transparently,” but he would like to see how the power of that position changes in ongoing charter reform.

BRANDON MAZER

Mazer said he is running to help end the divisiveness that has emerged in recent years in local politics. And he said his experience on the planning board on such issues as affordable housing and transit would be helpful on the council during a time of high turnover.

Brandon Mazer Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“Having some in-depth knowledge of how city government works is going to be helpful for this transitional period,” he said.

To expand affordable housing, he’d like the city to increase residential density on off-peninsula traffic corridors like Forest and Brighton avenues, where the availability of public transit would allow the city to reduce parking requirements in these areas. “We need to really put some energy behind that,” he said.

He thinks the city should encourage developers whose projects trigger the inclusionary zoning ordinance to pay the fee in lieu of building a certain percentage of affordable units. Revenue generated from that fee goes into the city’s housing trust fund, which has been used to leverage larger affordable housing projects in the city.

Mazer described himself as a Democrat more in the mold of former President Bill Clinton or former Gov. John Baldacci than the current progressive or Democratic Socialist movement.

He said Portland should focus on providing core services and not try to assume the responsibilities of state government by creating a Department of Labor or adopting its own mask mandate.

“We can’t afford to be the state,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to lead on some policy initiatives, but we have to understand there’s only so much we can do.”

He believes the school budget needs to be kept in check, especially with school enrollment dropping. He also criticized the school board’s decision not to require workers to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. He said he supports such requirements but not a citywide mask mandate because children can’t choose – like those who decide to shop or eat at restaurants – whether they go to school.

For a city manager, he would want someone with a “good financial background” who understands the variety of funding sources available, including state and federal, and who could help guide the council though the budget process.

ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ

Rodriguez, who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Portland with his wife in 2013, said he is running for council because he wants to address “the larger societal problems that schools cannot solve alone,” especially those that prevent children and families from thriving in the community.

Roberto Rodriguez Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I believe that policies should have broad systemic impact,” he said. “I think being on the council expands the impact of policies that I can potentially introduce, support and advocate for.”

He registered as a Democrat so he could caucus for Bernie Sanders in 2016. Though he wants to address many of the issues the Democratic Socialist movement does, he doesn’t consider himself one.

Rodriguez was elected to an at-large seat on the Portland Board of Public Education in 2016 and re-elected in 2019. Both races were uncontested.

He defended the school board’s rising budgets at a time when enrollment has dropped, especially its increased investment to address long-standing equity issues, which has been the center of the school district’s comprehensive plan.

“We have an education debt to pay up for,” Rodriguez said. He said the spending was not wasteful but “purposeful.” 

From fiscal 2016-2021, the city’s portion of the tax levy has increased by 14.5 percent, while the school’s portion has increased by 20.8 percent.

Rodriguez did not directly answer questions about whether the schools should continue to ask more from taxpayers. But he said he believes more and better collaboration between the city and schools could result in savings – and he would look to generate more revenue on the city side of the budget.

He does not believe the needs of homeowners should be prioritized over more vulnerable populations, especially people who are either homeless or on the brink of becoming so.

He did not offer any specific ideas for increasing overall affordability, or affordable housing, in the city, saying “I’m not going to get into details.” But he said councilors often lack the political will to make the right decision.

Rodriguez said he opposed requiring school staff to get vaccinated, while allowing those with medical exemptions to submit to weekly testing, because he worried about losing staff to other school districts. But he supports a city mask mandate.

He declined to say whether he would vote to support the small shelter referendum. He said if the city’s shelter plan moves forward, he will focus discussing delivery of services and continuity of care.

He is excited about the possibility of being able to help select the next city manager and would look to the school’s “thoughtful and transparent” hiring process that ushered in Xavier Botana, the superintendent of Portland Public Schools, as a model for the search and the type of manager to hire.

STUART TISDALE JR.

Tisdale said two things factored into his decision to run for council. In June, a progressive slate of candidates was elected to the charter commission, and in the following weeks three sitting councilors announced they would not seek reelection.

Stuart Tisdale Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I didn’t like the outcome of the charter commission elections in June,” Tisdale said. “If something like that happens again, I’m not going to be happy.”

Tisdale said he is a registered Republican because it allows him to vote in primaries. But he considers himself more of an independent. He said he advocated unsuccessfully for the Portland Republican City Committee to endorse the impeachment of former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill.

If elected, Tisdale said he would take a pragmatic approach on the council, one informed by his 17 years of teaching high school. As a teacher, he said, he was responsible for assessing and meeting the needs of all of the students in his class.

“It’s not a zero-sum game where your favorite constituents get everything and others don’t get anything,” he said. “The government should try to meet the needs of everybody to the extent possible within the resources available.”

He has questions about the school budget, which continues to rise as enrollment has dropped. He believes new investments should help classroom teachers rather than go to high-level administrative positions.

He does not support Portland going it alone and adopting a mask mandate because he does not believe that a city mandate would change anti-maskers’ minds and thinks a lack of enforcement would “breed disrespect for laws more generally.”

He’s bothered that working-class Portlanders, like teachers, cannot afford to own a home in the city, but acknowledged the market forces at play – Portland being a popular place to live with a limited housing  supply. He said he would listen to any and all ideas about ways the city can add more housing, whether through reducing parking requirements or other innovative zoning proposals.

“The only solution is to have more supply,” he said.

Tisdale supports the small shelter referendum and opposes the city’s plan to build a shelter.

For a new city manager, he said, he would look for a skilled administrator and mediator. “I wouldn’t want an ideologically inclined city manager,” he said.


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