Portland’s longest-tenured city councilor is facing challenges from two political newcomers in the race for an at-large seat.

Pious Ali, 53, is the director of the nonprofit Portland Empowered and has served six years on the City Council as well as three years on the school board. Running to unseat him are Aqeel Mohialdeen, 51, the vice chair of the Maine GOP Multicultural Community Center and Richard Ward, 27, an unemployed activist. The winner will be determined using ranked-choice voting.

The race comes as Portland is in the midst of a housing shortage and as voters will consider 13 referendums, including a proposed overhaul to the structure of city government.

City councilors don’t run on party affiliation, but Ali is a Democrat and Mohialdeen and Ward are Republicans. So far, Ali has the fundraising advantage, drawing on more than $5,000 leftover from his last campaign. Mohialdeen has raised just over $1,000, including a $500 loan, while Ward has raised $204.


“I have an understanding of how municipal government works and there’s a need for stability and someone who understands,” said Ali, who lives in the Bayside neighborhood.


Ali, who is from Ghana and was one of the first Muslims elected to office in Maine in 2013, chairs the council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee. He said there are a few ways the city can add more market-rate and affordable housing.

One tool, he said, is the Jill C. Duson Housing Trust Fund, which can help developers offset the costs to build affordable housing. Another is by looking at undeveloped city-owned land. That was used to start the Dougherty Commons project on Douglass Street, a 120-unit building with affordable, market-rate and cooperative housing.

Ali said he wants to look at what other opportunities might be possible. “Portland is rich enough to have people of many different backgrounds,” he said. “We need to bring all of them together and have a conversation about … what are we going to build to benefit the people of Portland?”

Mohialdeen, who is originally from Iraq and now lives in North Deering, said he is passionate about democracy. “With the different political, economic and social system that I came from and my study of political science here, I find I have a lot to contribute to the city,” he said.

Pious Ali. Submitted photo.

Mohialdeen said tourism drives up costs for residents. He said new housing shouldn’t be built in Portland, instead, he said the city should help build homes in neighboring communities. “I think Portland has reached the limit,” Mohialdeen said. “We have so many people and that puts extra pressure on our resources.”

Ward, a resident of the Parkside neighborhood, said he’s running “to give voice to the people who are tired of the same old far-left woke progressive mentality” and to address homelessness.


He said he wants to relax building restrictions and incentivize companies to construct housing. He also said Portland should consider micro-apartments – studio apartments designed to be as compact as possible. “I would advocate for that and do what I could to get it through so we could have more low-cost, affordable housing,” Ward said.

Aqeel Mohialdeen. Staff photo by Rachel Ohm.

Ward has posted “All Lives Matter” on his personal Facebook page and said he does not support the Black Lives Matter movement. He described the group as “Marxist progressives that hate our country,” though he believes Black people could be treated unfairly by social systems.

“I’m unlikely to say, ‘White Lives Matter,’ because that’s putting one race over another, which I don’t support, but I think we all should be treated the same and equally,” Ward said in an interview.


Ward’s website lists “banning sexualized material geared towards children from city buildings, schools and libraries” as one of his priorities. Asked if he thinks there’s a problem with such material, Ward said, “it’s just something I reject overall.”

Mohialdeen has concerns about what’s being taught and said he’s heard from families who are worried about “the LGBT education” in schools. He didn’t have an example of a specific book or lesson that’s drawing concern and said it’s more general.


“(These families) believe God created a man and a woman,” Mohialdeen said. “There is no third gender or transgender. They are not saying, ‘We’re against it.’ They’re just saying, ‘We don’t want our kids to be taught about these issues.'”

Ali said he believes what’s taught in schools should be left to educators and that teaching children about diversity is a good thing. “I don’t want to shortchange the future leaders of my city, of my state and my country and future global citizens,” Ali said. “Let’s leave education to educators who know what is best for our kids.”

Richard Ward. Submitted photo.

Ali also addressed allegations by fellow Councilor Tae Chong, who has said Ali appears to have a conflict of interest with the school district via his work for Portland Empowered.

Portland Empowered is housed in the Foundation for Portland Public Schools, an independent nonprofit that serves as the fiscal sponsor for Portland Empowered.

Ali said that if any councilors believe there is a conflict, they should make a complaint to the ethics committee, something Chong said this week that he is not planning on doing as his term on the council is ending. Ali said his role is not a conflict, “because I don’t get any money from the school district.”

Jen Thompson, the city’s corporation counsel, said Wednesday that the office has found that there is no conflict.



Ali declined to say whether he will support Question 2, the strong mayor proposal. He said it’s important for the charter to be clear and that he’ll work with whatever passes.

He said he believes there is work to be done on the minimum wage to strike a balance between the needs of businesses and workers. And he said he supports regulating short-term rentals, but noted that the current ordinance intentionally excludes the city’s islands from some restrictions, unlike Question B.

Mohialdeen said he generally favors less government involvement and is against Question 2. With regard to the minimum wage and restrictions on short-term rentals, he said the market, not the government, should dictate what’s appropriate. “If you leave it to the market, the market can arrange itself by itself,” he said of short-term rentals.

Ward also is against the strong mayor proposal. “We already have a thing that works, so why change it?” he said.

He said he’s not against raising the minimum wage, but would want assurances that it wouldn’t negatively impact businesses, and said that residents should be allowed to operate short-term rentals on a small-scale level.

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