The campaign to become Portland’s next mayor got underway this week with the second mayoral debate of the 2023 campaign held at the Portland Public Library Wednesday night.

The five candidates talked about a number of issues facing Maine’s largest city, with housing affordability, homelessness and the scope of mayoral powers among the hot topics. The Nov. 7 election will be decided using ranked-choice voting.

Pious Ali, Justin Costa, Mark Dion, Dylan Pugh and Andrew Zarro all spoke about why they deserve to earn residents’ votes. One of them will replace outgoing Mayor Kate Snyder. Snyder, who was elected in 2019, announced last year that she would not seek a second term.

Wednesday’s debate was held in the library’s Rines Auditorium and was moderated by former state representative Herb Adams. Public interest in who will become the city’s next mayor seems to be running high. A line formed outside the library before the doors opened and more than 100 people filled the auditorium.

Candidates were asked if they would support a city-approved encampment site for the homeless.

Ali said he would consider such an arrangement, but said the city needs to work with the state and its federal partners to come up with housing solutions. Finding housing for the homeless should be a top priority for the next mayor. “The situation has escalated because of the lack of housing in Portland,” Ali said.


Dion said the encampments, some of which have been cleared by the state and city, need to adhere to rules of conduct set by the city. He said criminal behavior by people in the encampments can no longer tolerated. “As mayor, I will advocate for the homeless because that is not a crime,” Dion said, adding that he fears for the safety of those living in the encampments, especially women.

Zarro said housing is a human right and homeless encampments are not sustainable solutions. He said the city and state need to invest in transitional housing. “This is not Portland’s problem to solve on its own,” he added. “The mayor needs to stand up and say we are not doing this alone anymore.”

Costa said he is concerned because the current policies are unacceptable and winter is rapidly approaching. Allowing the encampments to continue through winter months is unacceptable. “We have to use every tool at our disposal,” Costa said, referring to seeking help from the state and nonprofits, to find housing for the homeless even if temporary.

Pugh said it is wrong to move the encampments. At the very least, the city should provide bathrooms and showers if people continue to remain in those camps. “I don’t want to demonize someone who is experiencing homelessness. It has to become a regional issue. We’ve got to get all hands on deck,” Pugh said.

Candidates were asked about the powers of mayor after Adams pointed out that relations between past mayors, councilors and city managers have been frayed.

Pugh said the next mayor needs to lead by example, as well as being open to new ideas. “The core of being mayor for me is collaboration,” he said.


Ali said the next mayor should be someone who brings people together. “If we have someone who knows how to collaborate and facilitate, we will have a very successful city,” Ali said.

Dion said the mayor should become the leader of the city at the federal, state and local levels. “As mayor I see my role as being the chief advocate for the city,” he said.

Zarro said the mayor should serve as the conduit between the community and the City Council. “The mayor is not the emperor of Portland. It’s someone tasked with bringing everyone together,” he said.

Costa views the role of mayor as being someone who serves as a liaison between the city and state government. If elected, Costa said he would strive to be a mayor, who not only leads the city, but who partners with the council and city staff to make government run more effectively.

Bayside resident George Rheault, who frequently comments during city meetings, was introduced at Wednesday’s forum by Adams as a certified write-in candidate for mayor.

Another mayoral debate sponsored by the Press Herald and the University of New England will take place Oct. 3 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the University of New England’s Innovation Hall in Portland. The event is free and open to the public and will be livestreamed on the Press Herald’s website. The first debate occurred Tuesday and was sponsored by the Bangor Daily News and WGME-TV.


Ali was reelected to his third term on the City Council last Fall. Dion and Zarro are nearing the end of their first terms. Costa served on the City Council from 2014 to 2020. Pugh is a newcomer to city politics.

Ali, who chairs the council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, is a native of Ghana and was elected to the Portland board of education in 2013 before joining the council. Ali has worked as a photojournalist for a range of print publications. He immigrated to the United States and New York City before moving to Maine in 2002.

Costa, 40, works in finance for the rental car company Auto Europe and served six years on the Portland school board and six years on the City Council. Costa rents his home and has a young son, who is attending Portland schools.

Dion, 68, chairs the council’s finance committee and works in a private law practice, where he specializes in criminal defense and cannabis issues. He was previously a Portland police officer, Cumberland County sheriff, a state representative and a state senator.

Pugh, 33, works as a software developer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Pugh, who has never held elected office before, said he is concerned about issues around homelessness and affordable housing.

Zarro, 34, works as a program manager at the nonprofit StartOut and owned the former Little Woodfords coffee shop. He serves as chair of the council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee. He is passionate about issues related to climate change.

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