Portland’s housing crunch, the desirability of living downtown and the proliferation of high-end condominiums on the East End caused taxes to increase dramatically in the city’s first revaluation in 15 years. On the streets of fast-changing downtown neighborhoods, the city’s struggle to address homelessness plays out daily.

These are among the issues animating the race for the District 1 seat on the City Council, an area that includes Bayside, Munjoy Hill, the Old Port and the islands.

Councilor Belinda Ray is not seeking a third term because she is beginning a new job at Greater Portland Council of Governments, a regional planning agency.

Vying for her seat are Sarah Michniewicz, 50, a self-employed seamstress who has led the Bayside Neighborhood Association for four years, and Anna Trevorrow, 39, a medical malpractice paralegal at Norman, Hanson & DeTroy who is a former charter commissioner and is serving her third term on the school board.

There’s a lot at stake for the City Council this year, with a third of the nine seats up for grabs and no incumbents seeking re-election.

The next council will be charged with the crucial selection of a new city manager, who will implement the city’s $268 million budget, oversee its roughly 1,400 staffers and hire department heads, including the police chief, a job that will be unfilled come Nov. 1.

The council has other major responsibilities – including getting the city through the pandemic and distributing about $38 million in federal coronavirus relief funding. Council members may have to raise salaries for city staff to retain and attract them while city revenues continue to feel the pinch of the pandemic’s economic fallout.

After the new council members take office, an ongoing review of the city charter could prompt a restructuring of municipal government.

Trevorrow has the fundraising advantage. Through Sept. 14, she raised $4,725 and had all but $161 remaining. Michniewicz, who has been endorsed by Mayor Kate Snyder, raised $4,500 and had $2,584 remaining.

Election day is Nov. 2, but absentee voting began Monday.

SARAH MICHIEWICZ 

With city politics becoming increasingly polarized, Michniewicz said she is running to give people “a path back toward the middle” so thoughtful decisions can be made.

Portland City Council District 1 candidate Sarah Michniewicz. Photo contributed by Sarah Michniewicz

” ‘Balance’ is a key word I keep coming back to,” she said.

She believes her experience as a neighborhood advocate is needed given all the recent turnover in city government. As leader of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, she said, she has followed the council’s work closely and gained experience dealing with a wide range of issues, including homelessness, affordable housing and the infrastructure concerns of sidewalks, street lighting and development.

She doesn’t think the growth in school spending is healthy, especially given the burden of the revaluation’s property tax increases on residents of the peninsula. The school district, she said, should not have invested in additional administration to address equity and should have focused more on basics first, such as reducing truancy among students.

You can teach equity all you want. But if the student is not there to hear it, you’re failing,” she said.

Michniewicz supports the city’s plans to create a 208-bed homeless services center, with day space, a medical clinic and a soup kitchen, in Riverton. But she said that while Portland is a regional service center, she wants other communities to step up to support their own vulnerable residents.

She believes the smaller shelter referendum would “actively harm” people experiencing homelessness by removing requirements for new shelters to provide day space and be near public transportation. Scattering smaller shelters around the city, she said, would only make it more difficult for people to access the services they need to get back on their feet.

“There’s a palpable emotional appeal to smaller shelters, but they’re not economically practical and they’re not efficient,” she said. “People will get lost in the system.”

To get more people housed, she would like the city to do a better job of enforcing existing rules for short-term rentals, which some residents blame both for the disappearance of affordable housing and for eroding neighborhood character. She thinks traffic corridors like Forest and Brighton avenues should be up-zoned to allow for denser housing development. And she would like city leaders to look to leverage more municipal properties to attract cooperative housing projects, like the one planned for Douglass Street, aimed at middle-income residents.

She said she would look for a new city manager with the skills of outgoing manager Jon Jennings because she feels Jennings has been responsive to neighborhood needs while remaining mindful of the city’s limited resources.

She doesn’t have a strong opinion about whether Portland needs a local mask mandate, saying advocates on both sides have made legitimate points.

ANNA TREVORROW

Trevorrow said she is looking to make the jump from school board to City Council so she can work on a broader array of issues. She believes her board experience, including her role in the search for a superintendent, would be of use to the council.

Portland City Council District 1 candidate Anna Trevorrow. Photo contributed by Anna Trevorrow

“Having someone who has relationships already at the city level and knows something about the process will be beneficial in terms of hitting the ground running,” she said.

Trevorrow said the council needs to consider all options to increase affordable housing. She said she would like to increase the required percentage of affordable units in certain developments, in what is called inclusionary zoning, but was unaware that this had been done in a citizen referendum last fall and that the council can’t change the percentage for five years.

She said she’d like to see some of the vacant commercial space downtown converted into housing, since many companies are continuing to allow people to work from home. The city could also lower the minimum square footage per apartment to increase housing supply, and incentivize landlords to provide affordable, long-term housing, either through rebates or direct rental assistance.

“I’m just looking at creative ideas,” she said.

She pushed back against criticism of the school budget, saying that the district, in its effort to advance equity, made student-driven investments in behavioral interventions, English as a second language and pre-kindergarten classrooms.

Correcting centuries of institutional bias is going to take a prolonged period of sustained commitment to those priorities,” she said. 

Trevorrow said she hasn’t decided whether she will vote for the smaller shelter referendum, though she supports the idea in principle. She also wants the city to move forward with its planned 208-bed homeless services center in Riverton.

She said she would want a new city manager who shares the council’s goals and values. While the city has a comprehensive plan, she believes it should be revisited to ensure it remains current, so it can be used to guide investments and budget development. That’s something the school board did when they searched for a new superintendent, she said.

Trevorrow supported an unsuccessful proposal to require all school staff without medical exemptions to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and believes the city should enact an indoor mask mandate for public spaces in light of the current surge. “Other cities have mask mandates and I think Portland should as well,” she said.

If elected, Trevorrow said she would consult with the city attorney to see if she would need to recuse herself from any discussions around the city’s handling of a citizen referendum calling for a local clean elections program. Proponents of the measure sued after the city said it needed to be reviewed by a charter commission before it could go before voters.

Trevorrow is one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing lawsuit against the city, but said she has requested that she be removed.

“I wouldn’t want to necessarily give up my responsibility to participate on issues I was elected to participate on,” she said. “It’s not a conflict of interest. It’s a question of the level of comfort with perhaps a perceived level of conflict.”

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