Portland City Councilor Tae Chong says he won’t seek reelection this fall, citing frustration with work to create more affordable housing and challenges facing the council including the economy and a slate of citizen-initiated referendums on the ballot in November.

“I’d rather go and do other things where I feel like I’m contributing rather than staying on and feeling frustrated and handcuffed by (citizens’ initiative) policies we had no say over,” Chong said during an interview Monday. “I’ll watch from the sidelines, but I’m really concerned about where we’re headed. I think it’s going to be a difficult political season this year with the Charter Commission, the citizens’ initiatives and also with the economy.”

Chong, 53, represents District 3, which includes the neighborhoods of Libbytown, Stroudwater, Rosemont and Oakdale.

Tae Chong Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

His is one of two council seats being contested Nov. 8. The other is an at-large seat currently held by Councilor Pious Ali, who has taken out paperwork to run for reelection.

Chong, who works as director of multicultural markets and strategies for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the first two years of his three-year term were busy, productive years and he was proud of the work the council did to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. But he said the last seven months have been different.

“We haven’t done as much as a council,” Chong said. “I’ve decided I can be of service doing something else rather than be frustrated.”



Chong said that one of his concerns is with the Green New Deal, a new building code that was passed by a citizens’ initiative in 2020, and he worries about having to navigate future citizens’ initiatives if the five on the November ballot pass. Under the city charter, the council cannot for five years amend a citizens’ initiative approved by voters, although councilors do have the ability to propose changes by referendum.

Some developers have expressed frustration with the Green New Deal and the city also cited it as a factor in why plans to build a temporary emergency shelter recently fell through, though a report presented to the council’s housing and economic development committee last month said it’s still too early to say what the impacts of the Green New Deal have been.

Chong has served on the committee all three years of his tenure, and he said that for the first two years “almost every meeting we were talking about a housing deal that was happening or was going to be built.”

Now, he said developers are wary to ask for city funding on projects because they’re worried about meeting the new inclusionary zoning provisions. “That says that policy doesn’t work,” Chong said.

Under the Green New Deal, 25 percent of units in housing projects of 10 units or more must be allocated to affordable housing for households earning 80 percent of the area median income. Prior to the Green New Deal, 10 percent of units were required to be allocated for affordable housing for households that rent and earn 100 percent of the area median income.


Mayor Kate Snyder, who was elected at the same time as Chong in 2019, said Tuesday that she was not surprised to hear of Chong’s frustrations. She said that while it’s still early to know the full impacts of the Green New Deal, she said there was “a lot of pause” on the part of developers last year following passage of the new ordinance.

“Anecdotally, in feedback we get from developers, it’s that the environment in Portland has become even more restrictive because of the Green New Deal and the requirements within,” Snyder said. “There’s a desirability to look outside the city of Portland, which is frustrating to us because we want to see more housing being built in Portland.”

Supporters of the Green New Deal, which was brought forward by the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America’s People First Portland campaign in 2020, defended the ordinance Tuesday and pointed to data in the report to the committee last month.

In the first six months of 2022, the planning board approved 10 major residential projects containing 311 units, with about half of them subject to the new ordinance. Residential development in the city had an exceptional year in 2021, with more than 900 units approved, though most of those projects were submitted to the city before the ordinance. In 2020, 343 units were approved.

“The answer to the affordable housing crisis in Portland is not to put more of Portland taxpayers’ dollars into less affordable housing on each project, or to build that housing to lower standards,” Kate Sykes, a DSA member and one of the authors of the ordinance, said in an email. “And the job of a councilor is to advocate for the people who elect them, not for the private developers who are pocketing our hard-earned paychecks.”



Asked why he is deciding to not run for reelection rather than try and come up with new ideas on housing and other issues, Chong said he has tried to do that but he feels there are “philosophical differences” between him and others on the council. With the exception of Snyder and Ali, every other councilor was elected after Chong.

“It’s a changing of the guard,” he said. “The old council was about trying to work within the system and the new council wants to change the system. That’s fine, but you still have to produce something.”

In addition to housing and the Green New Deal, Chong is worried about changes being put forth by the city’s Charter Commission that would alter the structure of leadership, the economy and staffing shortages at City Hall. The city currently has about 225 vacancies out of a staff of 1,400.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to happen, but all economic indicators are we’re going to have some economic woes, and it’s no fun to be on the council with people who don’t see the dots,” Chong said. “We have to be fiscally responsible.”

Chong has been particularly critical of school spending, and in May was one of just two councilors who voted against a $133.1 million school budget that included a 4.1 percent increase in the school side of the tax rate.

He said there are also other council decisions he has recently disagreed with, such as the 5-4 vote against an emergency shelter licensing program that previously passed 7-1 prior to the election last November of three new councilors.


Chong was recently named to a regional board of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, where he said he will play a role in advising Maine’s congressional delegation. He also serves on the board of the Good Shepherd Food Bank and said he will continue to look for ways to stay involved in the community. “I love this city, but I like to get things done and right now I don’t feel like it’s possible,” he said.

Snyder noted Tuesday that Chong’s decision to not seek re-election is not unusual given the amount of turnover on the council in recent years. Last year, all three councilors who were up for re-election – Nick Mavodones, Spencer Thibodeau and Belinda Ray – chose not to run again.

“I don’t think there’s a disbelief that we can do good things in Portland, but I think there’s a frustration that Councilor Chong has voiced and it’s concerning when we lose experience and institutional memory on our bodies so rapidly,” Snyder said. “To lose such significant experience has been difficult.”

As of last week, two candidates, Regina Phillips and Nathaniel Ferguson, had taken out paperwork to run for Chong’s seat. Ali so far faces potential challengers in Aqeel Mohialdeen and Richard Ward. Papers must be returned no sooner than 9 a.m. Aug. 15 and no later than 4:30 p.m. Aug. 29.

Candidates must gather at least 75 signatures, and no more than 150 signatures, from registered city voters in their district to make the ballot in a council district race. At-large council candidates must gather at least 300 signatures and no more than 500.

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