A data analyst and the leader of an anti-racism organization are running to represent District 3 on the Portland City Council – and both say affordable housing is a top priority.

Nathaniel Ferguson, 23, is a data analyst at Onpoint Health Care and a recent graduate of Colby College who wants to make the city more affordable for young people.

Regina Phillips, 60, is the chief operating officer and co-founder of Cross Cultural Community Services. She also worked for the city of Portland for 19 years as a program manager for the Family Shelter and refugee services.

The two are competing for the seat currently held by Tae Chong, who is not seeking reelection after one three-year term. District 3 comprises the southwest corner of the city and includes the Nason’s Corner, Stroudwater, Rosemont, Oakdale and Libbytown neighborhoods. City councilors don’t run on party affiliations, but both Ferguson and Phillips said they are Democrats.

The district is one of two council seats up for grabs this year, along with the at-large seat currently held by Pious Ali.

Phillips has a fundraising advantage. As of the end of September, she had raised $2,880 and spent only $7, while Ferguson had raised $1,350 and had $711 remaining.

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HOUSING A TOP ISSUE

Both candidates said affordable housing is a top issue. “There’s a lot of exciting things happening in Portland, but it’s also really expensive,” Ferguson said. “I think it’s hard for people to be able to afford to live here, especially when they’re working class or new Mainers. It can be a real challenge. So the things I care about are making … it possible for more people to live here.”

Ferguson said the city should make it easier to build housing. “If elected I would want to take a comprehensive look at land use code and look at where can we revise some of these restrictions to make it possible to build more middle-density affordable housing,” he said.

Nathaniel Ferguson. Submitted photo.

Phillips agreed. “We are definitely in a crisis at this point in time and I think we need to put all our energy and focus into how families and individuals can have safe, affordable housing,” she said.

Transportation is also an important issue, Ferguson said. He’d like to see more people riding the bus, and street designs that better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.

Phillips said she’s prioritizing the city’s youth and racial equity. “We need to look at how we’re educating our youth, unaccompanied minors coming into the city and how to support them … and I think we need to look at the school to prison pipeline,” she said. “There are so many things we need to look at where youth are concerned so we can support them educationally or vocationally.”

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RACE COINCIDES WITH REFERENDUMS

Voters also will consider major changes to city government brought forward by the Charter Commission and five citizen referendums.

Regina Phillips. Submitted photo.

Question 2 would strengthen the role of the city mayor and expand the council from nine to 12 members.

Ferguson said he likes the idea of an executive mayor but will probably vote against Question 2 because of the changes to the council.

“I don’t think there’s really any need or reason to expand the City Council and with the increased number of district seats it seems like sort of a recipe for making the council less effective,” he said.

Phillips said she hasn’t made up her mind yet.

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“There are 13 referendums and they’re pretty complicated, so right now I’m doing some research … so that when I make a decision, I can make a sound decision on which way to go,” Phillips said.

She’s worked under both systems – in the school department in Westbrook, where the city’s mayor has more authority, and in Portland under the current structure.

“There were good things to both models and things in both models that needed to be changed,” Phillips said. “So I want to collect all the information I can, not just on the mayor question but all of the 13 questions.”

Ferguson said he is against Question A, which seeks to ban corporate and non-local short-term rental operators because he said it wouldn’t make significant changes. Instead, he supports Question B, which seeks to further restrict short-term rentals, but he said it can’t be the only solution to the housing crisis.

“It’s a step in the right direction but it’s not really a permanent fix or a big fix,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said he also supports Question D, which would raise the city’s minimum wage and eliminate the tipped credit wage.

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POLITICAL NEWCOMERS 

Neither candidate has held elected office before, though Phillips serves on several state committees, including the Maine Justice for Children Task Force and Office of Population Health Equity Advisory Council. She is also a member of the Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group and chairs the group’s racial and ethnic disparities committee.

Working for herself, she said she has a flexible schedule that will allow her to also take on the council’s heavy load. “I really want to offer my experience, my insight and my compassion to the City Council,” Phillips said. “I think I’m ready to have a voice on the council and I think together we can help the city grow.”

Ferguson said he believes voters will identify with his priorities. “I would hope voters look at me and my platform and say, ‘This is a guy I can trust to vote on the City Council and to propose things that align with my vision for the future of Portland,'” Ferguson said.

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