If it seems like the year of the Occupy movement, that's a huge testament to the power of the effort that arose in New York on September 17, and had its Maine debut on October 1, spreading from Portland through the entire state over the course of that month and into the fall. Occupy encampments sprang up in Portland, Augusta, and Bangor, with related and supportive protests in — among other places — South Portland, Brunswick, Presque Isle, Ellsworth, and Westbrook.
The camps were highly visible and immediately recognizable symbols of economic inequality and the corporate takeover of American democracy. (Unfortunately, in Portland and elsewhere, crimes and arrests became dominant media images, undermining popular support.)
Rallies, demonstrations, marches, and other forms of action by those living in the camps and their masses of supporters changed the tone of political discourse around the country, though there has been little effect to date on the neoconservative rhetoric of Governor Paul LePage.
And while most Maine encampments were uprooted by year's end — without police violence despite forceful evictions elsewhere in the country — Portland's Occupation fought on, taking its case to state court a week before Christmas. With the city cooperating with the court proceedings and federal court an option should the lower courts fail, the tents are likely to stay in Lincoln Park for some time.Shifting city leadership
A spirited race to be Portland's first elected mayor in more than 80 years spotlighted issues such as economic development, efficiency (or the lack thereof) in City Hall, schooling from early childhood to higher ed, and the dearth of local females who are interested in Portland's top post (Jill Duson and Jodie Lapchick were the only women in a field of 15). Ranked-choice voting educed a relatively civil campaign atmosphere with minimal mudslinging.
Former state legislator Michael Brennan, a policy advocate at the Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine, came in first place and was inaugurated earlier this month. He'll serve for four years, with an annual salary of $66,000, and will set precedents regarding the opportunities and limitations of the position. His campaign stressed the importance of promoting research, development, and higher-education opportunities in Portland, as well as enhancing the city's position in Augusta and following the city's recently unveiled economic development plan to boost small businesses.
In June, James Craig announced he was stepping down as Portland's police chief to take the top post for the Cincinnati Police Department. At a press conference marking his departure, he suggested that his replacement come from within the force. City Manager Mark Rees (who was appointed this year) opened the search nationwide, and from more than 80 applicants, an internal search committee has winnowed the pool to five candidates who will come in for in-person interviews and testing. According to Nicole Clegg, director of communications for the city, "we are hopeful that we will have a final candidate at the end of January."
Meanwhile, the superintendent of Portland Public Schools, James Morse, announced this year that he would retire in June 2012. The search for his replacement has commenced, led by a three-person committee of school board members Sarah Thompson, Jamey Caron, and Ed Bryan. The public will have opportunities to weigh in.