We don’t need to wait until after Election Day to know that the Portland City Council is entering a new era. With no incumbent on the ballot this year, three new members will be elected to serve on a council on which all members except one have served no more than two years

Each candidate is very strong, we’ve interviewed all of them, and although none of the decisions was easy, we felt that three candidates stood out: Roberto Rodriguez for the at-large seat; Sarah Michniewicz for District 1 and Victoria Pelletier for District 2.

A good city councilor needs to have strong ties to the people they represent, good working relationships with colleagues and comfort with doing their difficult job in public. We feel these three meet those standards and would strengthen the city’s leadership team at this time of transition.

AT-LARGE

Roberto Rodriguez was our first choice in a strong group of four candidates for the at-large seat during this time of transition.

He is a small-businessman who is trained as a physical therapist assistant. He is also a relative newcomer to Maine who was born in Puerto Rico. And he is the father of a child in the city’s schools.

If elected, all of those experiences would give the council firsthand knowledge about the impact of policy options and a wide range of connections in the community.

Rodriguez  has been twice elected to serve the Portland Board of Public Education, including one term as chairman, which speaks to his relationship with voters and his colleagues.

We were impressed with his nuanced position on the city’s Question 1, a policy proposal that would stop a proposed 200-bed homeless shelter in Riverside.

Rodriguez said he wished that more people who are directly affected by homelessness had been part of the design process. If they had, he said, he believed that the design would have been different.

But he said he did not want to start the years-long planning process again, because people who depend on the city for emergency shelter are suffering. That’s leading him to vote for Option C – not to change the city’s policy by referendum. That struck us as a thoughtful approach to the kind of thorny problem that typically comes to the council.

DISTRICT 1

Community activist Sarah Michniewicz was our choice for the District 1 seat, representing Portland’s East End, parts of downtown and the islands.

Michniewicz is a self-employed seamstress who got involved in city affairs when a constellation of social problems reached crisis levels in her West Bayside neighborhood.

She became president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association, where she was a voice for the health and safety for neighborhood residents, both housed and unhoused.

She would join the council with a deep understanding of one of the city’s most difficult policy challenges, and a firsthand knowledge of how decisions made in City Hall directly affect people in the neighborhoods.

District 1 voters will not have an easy choice. School board member Anna Trevorrow has more than a decade of experience in city government, starting as an at-large member of the 2009 Charter Commission.

Either candidate would be a strong representative for the district, but in our view, Michniewicz’s neighborhood base gave her the edge.

DISTRICT 2

Every City Council candidate says housing affordability is the most important issue facing Portland, but Victoria Pelletier is one of a few who lives with the problem on a daily basis.

Every candidate understands that racial equity is a challenge in a rapidly diversifying city, but none but Pelletier has the experience of growing up Black in Maine.

Those experiences, combined with her energy and enthusiasm, make her our choice for the District 2 council seat, representing Portland’s West End and Parkside neighborhoods.

We probed Pelletier and her opponent Jon Hinck, a former councilor, to find differences on policy, but there were few.

Hinck, who has served two terms in the Legislature and one on the council, got the edge on political experience. But we felt Pelletier stood out in other important ways.

Pelletier moved to Portland about five years ago, and like many she has struggled to find secure, affordable housing. Short-term rentals and exclusionary zoning are not abstract concepts to her, but a day-to-day reality.

Convening community conversations about racial equity is not just something she thinks would be a good idea – that’s been her job at the Greater Portland Council of Governments, working with towns in the region.

Pelletier would make a good addition to the City Council. District 2 voters should send her there.

We have been concerned about divisive politics in Portland, which shows up mostly in online communications and makes it harder for people to work together. But we saw none of that in any of these races. Instead, we saw broad agreement on the challenges facing the city and differences on solutions, all expressed with mutual tolerance and respect.

If that continues after Election Day, we’re optimistic about Portland’s ability to handle this time of transition.


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