The two candidates for the District 2 seat on the Portland City Council have very different backgrounds. Both make the case that their particular set of experiences makes them best suited to represent West End and Parkside on such issues as the lack of affordable housing, climate change and racial equity.

One is a longtime homeowner and environmental activist with experience as an elected local and state official, while the other is a renter and a woman of color who struggles like many other city residents to remain in Portland and works to help local governments advance racial equity.

Spencer Thibodeau, who holds the seat now, is not seeking a third term. He resigned from his seat on Sept. 20 to take a job at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Running to replace him are Jon Hinck, a 67-year-old attorney and former at-large city councilor and state representative; and Victoria Pelletier, a 33-year-old special projects coordinator at the Greater Portland Council of Governments whose focus is on racial equity and economic development.

A third of the nine council seats are up for grabs, with none of the incumbents seeking re-election.

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

So far, Hinck, who was endorsed by Mayor Kate Snyder, has the fundraising advantage. Through Sept. 14, he raised $5,115, with all but $683 remaining. Pelletier raised $2,980, including $1,625 from people who gave $50 or less, and had $1,486 on hand.

Election day is Nov. 2, but absentee voting is already underway.

JON HINCK 

Hinck said he is looking to rejoin the council to offer his experience as a progressive leader during a time of turnover. At 67, he said, he has a lot of life experience to draw from, but is not stuck in his ways. He said he understands the urgency of addressing racial equity and social justice.

“I am still open to new approaches and new ideas, and I am not easily bought into status quo thinking,” he said.

A co-founder of Greenpeace USA, Hinck believes the city should focus more attention on climate change, saying rising sea levels not only threaten Commercial Street in the Old Port, but also West and East Bayside, which includes the low-income housing development Kennedy Park. He said the city needs to make plans to retrofit buildings that may be in the flood zone and develop evacuation and contingency plans for those sites that cannot be adapted.

The city, he said, should also prioritize weatherizing its existing building stock so buildings are more energy efficient. He would like to reinvigorate an energy benchmarking ordinance passed when he was on the council, which is supposed to require large commercial building owners to report energy use to the city.

He said the city should be more aggressive in gaining cooperation from Central Maine Power, which property owners blame for not providing the information they need to report to the city.

“The city of Portland has enough heft to tell CMP to cooperate on this,” he said, noting that the utility is under fire for its leadership, poor customer service and controversial power corridor. “It’s a very good time to be pushing CMP. We should be doing that.”

He said city budgets shouldn’t be viewed in the abstract, because each year and each budget is different. As a councilor, he’d like to make sure that services are efficient and effective and that schools have the funding they need.

To increase affordable housing, he said, the council needs to consider all options, including making it easier for homeowners to add units to their existing homes and revisiting and tweaking existing housing policies to ensure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.

He’s undecided about whether he will vote in support of the smaller shelter referendum. But he said he would support the city’s plans to build a 208-bed homeless services center in Riverton since that project has been approved by the Planning Board.

VICTORIA PELLETIER 

Pelletier grew up in Brunswick and moved to Portland about five years ago after finishing college. She said she has firsthand experience struggling to afford to live in Portland. That understanding, plus her work on diversity, equity and inclusion at Greater Portland Council of Governments, a regional planning agency, would benefit the City Council, she said.

On the council, Pelletier said she would look at every issue – especially affordable housing and education – through an equity lens.

“I just think it’s really important to get involved and be representative of a young and poor person that lives and works in Portland but also has general levels of experience working in local governments and having community-facilitated conversations,” she said.

Pelletier said she plans to step down from her job at the planning agency this fall and become a community-based consultant on equity issues.

To increase affordable housing, she would like to eliminate single-family zoning off-peninsula, which she says “upholds a lot of citywide segregation.” She said the council should review all of its housing policies to identify obstacles to affordability. That includes reviewing the city’s short-term rental regulations to prevent the disappearance of affordable long-term rentals from entire blocks of neighborhoods.

“If we’re having blocks and blocks of Airbnb, we’re not allowing the type of housing for people who are actually living here,” she said.

She believes that school spending increases should be prioritized over other city spending and that city schools should be hiring more teachers of color.

Though she is a registered Democrat, considers herself progressive and is eager to amplify marginalized voices, she said she doesn’t identify with any political party. She believes the city should enact a mask-wearing mandate for indoor public spaces, and called the council’s decision not to do so “irresponsible” as winter approaches and people will be spending more time indoors. She said councilors concerned that the burden of enforcement would fall to frontline workers should have invited such workers into the conversation to find creative solutions.

Pelletier doesn’t support the city’s plans to build a 208-bed homeless services center with a soup kitchen, medical clinic and day space in Riverton. She’s concerned there will not be adequate transportation from the center to the downtown area, where additional services are located.

She supports the citizen referendum to limit the size of new shelters to 50 beds, and thinks the city budget should prioritize spending on programs aimed at ending homelessness.

She said the next city manager must ensure that Portland’s growth from a large town into a city happens equitably.

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