Wes Pelletier, chair of Maine DSA’s Livable Portland campaign, says he’s disappointed more of the group’s referendums didn’t pass Tuesday. Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Supporters of key referendums that failed to garner voter approval in Portland say they’re disappointed by the losses and hope the city will work to address the issues that drove the questions, including short-term rentals, the structure of city government and the minimum wage.

“It’s disappointing the minimum wage proposal didn’t come through,” said Wes Pelletier, chair of the Maine Democratic Socialists of America’s Livable Portland campaign, which sponsored four of the five citizen-initiated referendums on the ballot.

“There was a lot of money and a coordinated campaign from outside interests to try to crush this … that misinformation campaign looks like it had an impact.”

Question D, which sought to raise the city’s minimum wage to $18 per hour by 2025 and eliminate the tip credit, was rejected by 61% of voters. Two other questions from the DSA, B and E, also lost, though the group successfully passed Question C, which strengthens the city’s rent control ordinance. The ordinance will take effect on Dec. 8.

“It’s going to really make sure these rampant rent increases we’re seeing are reined in,” Pelletier said. “That to me is a huge victory.”

Portland voters passed seven of the 13 referendums, including six of the eight proposals from the Charter Commission.


Progressive leaders who pushed for most of the questions said Wednesday that they were encouraged by the victories, even though the questions that passed represented more moderate and minor changes. Opponents, meanwhile, said the results reinforce residents’ support for current systems and policies.

“Voters understand that the current system works, and that’s why they rejected the proposal to concentrate political, financial and administrative power in one person, a strong mayor,” Tom Allen, a spokesperson for the group Protect Portland’s Future, said in a statement. The group opposed Questions 2 and 5.

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder and Interim City Manager Danielle West, right, speak to reporters at city hall on Wednesday about election results. Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Mayor Kate Snyder held a news conference outside City Hall Wednesday where she praised the high turnout – 71% of registered Portland voters cast ballots – and said that they appeared to have studied the issues.

“I believe yesterday’s outcome is a strong mandate for stakeholder-informed policy managed through intentional, deliberative council process, which I believe is the best way we can democratically dive in and thoroughly explore policy proposals,” said Snyder, who had encouraged voters to reject Questions 2 and 5, as well as the citizens’ initiatives.


The approved charter changes include clean elections, which creates a tax-funded campaign system for local candidates; a new civilian police review board; an ethics commission and code of ethics; and proportional ranked-choice voting. Snyder said the city is working to determine when the proposals will take effect.


“We’re proud voters chose to support six of eight of the questions,” said Michael Kebede, who chaired the charter commission. “That’s 75% of the reforms we proposed.”

Voters rejected the two largest changes – Question 2, which called for a strong mayor and increasing the size of the City Council – and Question 5, which sought to remove the council’s vote on the school budget.

“I continue to think those reforms would have improved Portland,” Kebede said. “Though their failure was a disappointment, I’m more proud of our successes than I am disappointed by their failures.”

Four charter commissioners who opposed Question 2 – Marpheen Chann, Shay Stewart-Bouley, Dory Waxman and Peter Eglinton issued a joint statement Wednesday saying it would have “drastically altered Portland’s government and concentrated too much power in the hands of a strong mayor.”

Voters lined up to cast their ballots at Woodfords Club to vote right as the polls opened at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

In the commission’s final report, those four commissioners penned a minority report that supported more moderate changes to the structure of city government, like clarifying the mayor’s role in budget development and improving communication policies, and they said they are hoping to bring those proposals to the council for consideration.

Kebede said it’s possible some aspects of Question 2 could be adopted without changes to the city’s charter, like participatory budgeting, which allows residents to have direct input on public spending.


“One of the things I’ll be working on, along with I’m sure many others who took part in the charter process, is to try and achieve that reform through council action,” Kebede said.

School board Chair Emily Figdor, who co-chaired the group Yes for Schools! in support of Question 5, said supporters are “undeterred in our work to create a more equitable school district, and we’ll do our best advocating for our students and schools with the city council.”

“I am hopeful that Mayor Snyder and City Finance Committee Chair (Mark) Dion will sit down with me to make changes to the process for passing the school budget within the current charter,” Figdor said in an email Wednesday.

Snyder said she has heard from people asking if the council would take up any of the charter commission recommendations or citizens’ initiatives that didn’t pass. She said she supports looking into it.

“If it’s something that was proposed as a charter amendment, we need to look at what that means, but I’m open to those discussions,” Snyder said. “A lot of us would say the issues are important, but how we address potential changes or solutions is where we need more people at the table and where we need to talk through what’s not working or may not be working.”

In the meantime, Snyder said the defeat of Question 2 means the council can move forward with hiring a permanent city manager to replace Jon Jennings, who left in November 2021. The council’s city manager search subcommittee will meet Thursday to discuss the timeline and next steps, Snyder said.


Interim City Manager Danielle West, who accompanied Snyder at Wednesday’s news conference, said she hasn’t made a decision on whether she’s interested in the permanent job. “I’m still trying to get my feet under me after last night,” West said. “I’m evaluating all of my options and am very interested in continuing my work with the city, but I haven’t made any final decisions.”

Wes Pelletier, center, in red, campaign chair for Maine DSA’s Livable Portland and other supporters of Portland referendums gather at Ruby’s West End Tuesday. Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


Pelletier said his group also would like to see the City Council address the issues their referendums sought to address. “Maybe, hopefully, this is a wake-up call for them to finally start taking action on these things that are making Portland so unaffordable for so many people,” he said.

He said the amount of spending and misinformation that circulated around Question D hurt their efforts.

And he said Question B, which sought to further restrict the number and type of short-term rentals, was complicated by a competing measure, Question A, which was put forth by short-term rental operators. Pelletier said the council, which approved the ballot language, should have done more to differentiate the questions.

“I think a lot of voters were very confused when they got to the polling places and thought they were very similar, but in fact they were not,” Pelletier said. “I think that had a big impact on things.”



Snyder said the city has heard from many people that the citizen-initiated referendum process isn’t working. “So I do intend to ask to have a workshop scheduled to understand the will of (councilors) to address changes and to look thoroughly at what we have now and what may be a better system,” she said.

Snyder said changes would have to be approved by voters. “I do think we have a responsibility to look at that part of our code,” she said.

Pelletier rejected the notion the city should change the number of signatures needed to get a referendum on the ballot, which is currently 1,500. “I think changing the signature count is only going to bring in more paid collectors for other causes,” he said.

He said, however, that he is open to examining the part of the ordinance that says changes cannot be made for five years, except through another referendum.

“That’s something we can work on with city councilors, but I do not want to see them prioritizing neutering the people’s voice rather than actually trying to get to the change people really, really need in Portland,” Pelletier said.

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