Portland Mayor-elect Mark Dion at Ocean Gateway on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Mark Dion won the Portland mayoral election by a small margin – about 650 votes. After months of campaigning, more than a dozen debates and a better-than-expected voter turnout, he will be sworn in on Dec. 4.

Dion has held public office before as the Cumberland County sheriff, and as a state representative, state senator and city councilor. His win was announced last week after five rounds of ranked-choice voting.

Sitting in his sunny living room, his North Deering house still littered with the toys his granddaughters left out before catching a flight back to California that morning, the mayor-elect explained why this was the most meaningful election of his career.

Q: It’s been a long few months of campaigning here. There have been lots of debates and forums. How do you feel about the way the election cycle went? 

A: I think the election was very respectful, very civil. I appreciated that it never felt like personal attacks. We had differences of opinion around policy, but that’s what it’s supposed to be about. I think we presented ourselves individually and collectively in the best possible way and I feel good about that. This was a good race. Through election night we were all going to different places and we’d often all show up at the same time. We continued talking to each other. I want people to understand there were no enemies in this. Like one guy said, “Are you guys like frenemies?” I said, “No we’re actually friends. We just disagree.”

All of us talked throughout election day. I got a text from Justin (Costa) at midnight and he said, “I think based on the numbers you will win, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” After the results were announced, Andrew (Zarro) and I hugged each other. I shook hands with Pious (Ali). I think we all respected one another and saw that we were all trying to do the same thing: contribute to the welfare of the city. The great thing for me as mayor is I can call on any of these guys to collaborate during my tenure, I see them as potential future colleagues.


Q: You said you talked to a lot of voters during this campaign. What did you hear from them? What will be top in mind going into this position?

A: I think the voters are compassionate people. But they’re incredibly frustrated and they’re incredibly fearful about everything that arises from encampments. In those conversations we had time to talk about encampment sweeps and how big of a concept that is. Voters can appreciate that there is some unique diversity in those camps between those who are mentally ill. How do we get them in treatment? If we have to use a court to do that, that made sense to them. They recognize that some are trapped by their substance use disorder, but there is a lot of visible criminal activity that has an adverse impact on those neighborhoods. People said they don’t feel safe and that they’re concerned the issue is growing. Women who work downtown told me they were anxious. Safety is as much a psychological issue as it is a tangible police report. I think voters know we can’t fix everything overnight, but they want to see that we take some tangible steps to restore some sense of balance. They feel the community is not balanced when it comes to public safety. I think the public had a much more nuanced understanding of the encampments than we give them credit for.

Q: Now that you’ve been elected, what are some of the first actions you plan to take? 

A: I’ve talked to the sheriff. I spoke with Mayor (Michael) Foley today from Westbrook. We’re already looking to see if we could do some kind of city-to-city initiative to deal with some of the housing issues. But my first priority is building a team with the council. As a group, our dynamic is going to change. We have to come to have an appreciation individually and collectively of what those new roles are and how it informs our understanding of how this council will function. There is a new sheriff (mayor) and I would not be surprised if some of my colleagues expect some kind of change because of that. Mayor Snyder managed her role in a certain way and interacted with the council in a particular fashion. I think it’s fair for them to conclude I am not her.

Q: How will you handle the role differently from Mayor Snyder? 

A: I completely respect the way she managed her role on the council. But we have distinct experiences. I am probably going to be more task-oriented. I’d like to get tasks done. We legislate, but we have to do it in a timely fashion. If there is one critique in the community that I heard very clear it’s a perception that we don’t get it done. I’m comfortable with the idea that we won’t always have consensus. A 5-4 vote is fine because it makes the decision and we can move on to the next topic. I want to believe that in time the public would say, “The mayor gets through the agenda and gets the work done.” And the only way to do that is to have a team of councilors who subscribe to that idea.


I think the mayor expended a lot of energy, effort, initiative, to lobby each of the councilors to try to get that kind of consensus. I’m more focused on putting proposals in front of the council and getting it to a vote. I want the community to have faith that we’ll see an issue, we’ll address the issue and make a decision. The shorter the timeline the better. In my colleagues, sometimes they search for the perfect answer. I’m not sure there is one. The conditions will never be perfect. The variables will never line up like you’d hope. But the public elected us for our judgment. We need to exercise it. My work as mayor is to create that environment and a process where we can do work that way.

Q: How do you envision working with other branches of city government?

A: I think one of the roles of mayor is to be the chief advocate for the city. I think if we’re going to address the sense of safety in our community, we need to have very intentional partnerships with the district attorney’s office, our police department, city administration and the sheriff. I’ve already spoken with the sheriff about him taking a more active role. I know that the district attorney is already taking steps to try to address street crime issues and crime in the encampments. I need to be in there to move things along. Things that get done are things that get paid attention to. I think we can use the courts to help some of these individuals. It’s almost like the mayor should do quality control. He should wander about the system making sure everything is lined up. I want us to have more communication – that’s how we get things done – with more alignment and more verification that everybody understands clearly their responsibilities to each other. The public has certain expectations of us. We have to get stuff done.

Q: What did it feel like to win?

A: I usually don’t get emotional, but I was really struck emotionally. I thought I was going to start crying. When they announced it I was like, “Oh, great.” But then when the press came forth it all went up in my throat. I really had to collect myself. I couldn’t speak. I’ve never felt that way before, ever, on any other race. This touched me.

Q: What about it do you think was so touching? 


A: I really love this city and the opportunity to serve her this way really means a lot to me. God, I’m getting a little choked up about it right now. I had to step out of the room for a moment and I stepped into a big storage closet in City Hall. I sat down and called my daughter in California and told her. It gave me a moment to collect myself and grounded me. I’ll process it and figure it out. But it surprised me, too, that it struck me so deeply emotionally. Once the media stepped forward that made it real. I felt like the mayor at that moment.

Q: Is there anything else you want to share about this day and this experience?

A: I just want Portland to know we got a great city and we’re committed to doing something to make it better. But I really just want to say thank you to all the people who worked on all the campaigns. They worked so hard. Nobody knows them, they don’t get a lot of notoriety, they don’t get paid. I had people knocking on doors, putting out signs, even licking envelopes. I think everyone would say the same about their own teams. That just really touches me a lot. If they wanted to do that for me, I’ve got to do as much to help the city. That’s what I expect of myself.

Interview edited for clarity and brevity. 

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