Pious Ali, 54, is serving his third term on the City Council after three years on the school board. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Pious Ali 

Portland residents often hear Pious Ali use the words “connection,” “collaboration” and “community.” They are key platforms of his campaign and his vision for Portland.

He wants the city to welcome people from vastly different backgrounds. Much of that comes from his immigration to the U.S. and his upbringing in Ghana, where he attended a community Islamic boarding school that he described as “a big, loving environment.”

He had just come to New York in 2001 to earn a little money (or because he ran out of things to photograph in Ghana, he jokes) when 9/11 happened.

He realized he couldn’t go back to Ghana. “I knew I would never get back in (to the United States) with a Muslim last name,” he said.

Ali moved to Portland the next year, started a family and has now been elected to the school board and City Council, where he is the longest-serving member and first African immigrant.


As mayor, he wants Portland to create a real culture of inclusivity. He says because the city is small, it isn’t too set in its ways and has the opportunity to change.

His close friends described him as “a weaver, who brings people together.”

“I see him as a big connector for a lot of immigrants in the community.”

Justin Costa, 40, at his home in Portland’s Oakdale neighborhood. Photo by Mary Gelman

Justin Costa

Justin Costa moved back to Maine because he wanted to hold public office in his home state. And now he’s built his family in Portland.

He’s a new father, welcoming a son Ari via surrogate in 2021. They spend weekends picking apples and taking swim lessons.


His advice for new parents? “All you have to do is teach her to accept love and to love in return.”

Costa has been training in politics for nearly 20 years. He interned for Americans for Democratic Action and U.S. Action, liberal nonprofits. And when he graduated college, he attended then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s Yes We Can program for young people of color looking to run for office.

He worked for the Maine Democratic Party and was a field director on campaigns for Gov. John Baldacci and state representatives Tom Allen and Mike Michaud.

Since 2008, he has mounted his own campaigns for the Legislature, school board, City Council and mayor.

He loves talking about –and debating – public policy. On his first date with his wife, Zoe, they argued about education policy for hours. Those close to him say he never gives a simple or one-sentence answer.

“If you want to talk about housing, he’ll get into this whole complex zoning issue and the history behind it.”


Mark Dion, 68, outside his home in North Deering. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Mark Dion 

Anyone who finds themselves in Mark Dion’s kitchen is probably in for a good meal, and maybe some psychology.

“I try to find out what they like and who to push a little bit. Some people have a personality where they’ll try something new. Others don’t,” he said.

The list of titles in his cookbook collection may be just as long as his resume: Portland police officer, Cumberland County sheriff, state representative and senator, local attorney, city councilor.

Dion is leaning on that resume for his mayoral campaign.

“He has the ability to see what the other side is saying, in a very bipartisan way,” one friend said.


What he loves most about cooking is the same thing he loves about public service – the opportunity it provides for deep human understanding. It’s one thing he’d like to do as mayor to bring people together, through universalities like food and family.

He also wants to bring city politics “back to the center,” building consensus and cohesion on the council.

Dion has tried to leave public office a few times, but always seems to get lured back in.

“I wanted to be like Tom Brady, I wanted to leave at the top of my game. Except … well, has he left? I don’t know.”

Dylan Pugh, 34, has never run for public office before but believes that empathetic, compassionate conversation has a place in politics. Photo by Mary Gelman

Dylan Pugh 

Dylan Pugh came to Maine for college, lured in by the 3,000-mile gap from his life in Washington state. His father died when he was young. His mom struggled to find enough work to support the family.


He had a tough childhood that caught up with him a few years ago when he became severely depressed during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. He recovered, he says to the credit of his Portland community, and wants to extend the same helping hand to others.

He is preoccupied with approaching all of the city’s residents with empathy.

“I feel like more than once the lifeblood of this community has saved me, and now I see that slipping away.”

Pugh wants Portland to be a place that can support people through crisis.

He’s interested in many things – protecting birds (and all animals, really), his two cats, poetry, history, computer science, climate change – but has never held public office.

He said he opted not to run for the council or school board because he thinks his approach – going deep to find people’s common desires – needs to come from the city’s leader.


“I don’t think the systems we have right now make any sense, so I’m very receptive to large-scale change.”

Andrew Zarro, 35, with his dog Albus at home in Back Cove. He is finishing his first term on the City Council and is hoping to help people find a good life in Portland if elected mayor. Photo by Mary Gelman

Andrew Zarro

Andrew Zarro believes in the theory of third places: an idea in sociology that community gathering spaces (outside of home or work) like a park or restaurant are essential to a fulfilling life.

That’s what he wanted to accomplish with his coffee shop, Little Woodfords, which he closed in February when he decided to run for mayor.

He has a lot of visions for Portland. He says he feels lucky to have found his future in the city and is acutely aware that many people aren’t so fortunate in finding such safety and security.

“We both for a long time craved stability and calm, and we found that here,” his husband said.


He got his first taste of public policy in college with a work-study job at the public administration school. His college roommate said Zarro has an “infectious passion” and always wanted to be the one making decisions.

He’s gone on to do nonprofit work in criminal justice reform, community development and investing in LGBTQ+ businesses.

Zarro joined the City Council in 2020 because he was frustrated with how the city handled the protest encampment at City Hall. He thought he could make things better and bring a new perspective.

“The truth is, even if I don’t win this election, I’m always going to take care of my community.”

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