AMONG MANY, ONE Ben Chipman is one of 19 candidates running
for the Charter Commission.
Nineteen people are running to serve in nine open seats on the city's 12-member Charter Commission. Why are so many people vying for spots on this commission, which lots of Portlanders have never even heard of? Because the Charter Commission, while it sounds like yet another dull city entity, actually has the power to effect significant and interesting change in our city. The commission, charged with revising Portland's charter (like a municipal constitution), could make it so that the city elects its mayor, among other things. Members will be elected at the polls on June 9.
The elected-mayor question is by far the biggest issue in the Charter Commission race (currently, Portland's mayors serve mostly ceremonial roles — they are chosen by councilors to serve a one-year term, and the city manager wields more practical managerial power).
"We need someone to create a vision for Portland," says Steven Scharf, a District Four candidate and head of the Portland Taxpayers Association, who thinks Portland needs the leadership afforded by an elected mayor. "I may disagree with that vision ... but at least we'd have leadership that is stable."
But this question is not the only one the commission will address, points out Ben Chipman, a former legislative aide and community organizer who is running in District One against Benson Monaghan, a communications consultant and former paratrooper who has a Master Gardener certificate from the University of Maine. Issues like school funding mechanisms and immigrant voting rights could also be in play.
However, "I don't want to see us repeat the mistakes of 1986," Chipman says, referring to the charter debacle in that year, when a commission made controversial changes and voters rejected the final document. "We don't want to go through this whole process and have something that the voters don't want."
The city council has already appointed three people to the commission: former councilor and mayor Pamela Plumb, who served on the council through the 1980s and has also chaired the Maine Governor's Municipal Advisory Council; Tom Valleau, the president of the Portland Fish Exchange; and Naomi Mermin, the energy efficiency consultant who ran an unsuccessful (but solid) campaign for city council last fall.
Hoping to join them on the commission are:
DISTRICT 1 Benson Monaghan and Ben Chipman.
DISTRICT 2 Daniel Jenkins and Robert O'Brien.
DISTRICT 3 Joseph Malone and Laurie Davis.
DISTRICT 4 Steven Scharf, John Spritz, and Janice Tevanian.
DISTRICT 5 Peter M. Rickett and Richard Ranaghan Jr.
AT LARGE (4 SEATS) James Cohen, Thomas Elliman, Paul Farrell, James Gooch, Madeline Segal, Nathan Smith, Ed Suslovic, and Anna Trevorrow.
We'll have more about these candidates online and in the paper over the next month.