Got what it takes

Why not run for mayor?
By AL DIAMON  |  June 8, 2011

If you haven't already done so, hustle down to Portland City Hall and sign up to run for mayor.

Don't hesitate just because you have no experience in municipal government. Don't be concerned if your resume includes a felony conviction and pending warrants for your arrest. Don't even let the fact that you've never lived in Portland and have no intention of moving there stand in your way.

There's no reason not to become a candidate in this November's election, since Portland has instituted a system that makes it possible — even likely — for people to become the city's mayor who would otherwise be unelectable. Which is particularly sweet when you realize the job pays $66,000 a year and doesn't require any heavy lifting.

That's right, you — yes, you with the opiate addiction, the unpaid child support, the unsightly nostril hair, and the T-shirt that says "I Love DeCoster Eggs" — can claim the highest office in Maine's most populous city because Portland is about to institute something called ranked-choice voting.

Here's how it works. Instead of voters looking at a list of candidates and picking the one they think is best, based on experience, character, intelligence, and issues, they just vote for all of them. Rather than spend a lot of time sorting out the serious contenders from the seriously deranged ones, they list everybody in the order they'd like to see them finish.

Then, on election night, the new system, also known as instant-runoff voting, kicks in. If no candidate gets chosen first on a majority of ballots, the last-place finisher (who's probably serving a life sentence for murder and advocated making Osama bin Laden Appreciation Day a legal holiday) is eliminated, and those votes are distributed to whomever his or her supporters (homicidal maniacs, mostly) designated as their second choices.

If that still doesn't give somebody more than 50 percent, the next-lowest name is dropped and so on, until a candidate either claims victory or the whole mess dissolves into anarchy. Which wouldn't be too different from Portland's current government.

This opens the door to lucrative political careers for folks who've, until now, been excluded from public office due to poor personal hygiene, pronounced Nazi sympathies, or a tendency to kick puppies and babies. To have a real shot at winning, all they have to do is get enough second-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-place votes to outlast half the field. After that, the choice for new mayor is a crap shoot.

At this point, there are a dozen more-or-less official candidates for the mayor's job, with several others considering their options. Even if all of them don't make it on the ballot, there are bound to be seven or eight that do. With a field that large, the opportunities for mischief abound.

Because instant-runoff voting discourages negative campaigning (candidates don't want to alienate voters who support their rivals in case they still might have a shot at being their second choice) and because media coverage of the race is likely to be superficial, mayoral hopefuls won't have to explain such trifles as an assault conviction (Erick Bennett), a business failure (Jodie Lapchick), a political failure (Charles Bragdon, Erick Bennett), a failure to have lived in Portland for more than about 20 minutes (Erick Bennett, Ralph Carmona), a lack of any apparent political skills (Erick Bennett, Christopher Vail, Peter Bryant, Steven Houston, Zouhair Bouzrara), or stupid statements (Zouhair Bouzrara told the Portland Phoenix, "For me personally, my dream is to turn Portland into a mini Nice or a mini Dubai." Erick Bennett on MySpace: "I was in line at Starbucks today letting my mind wander and the thought popped in my head, 'Do you know why Barack's initals (sic) are B.O., because he stinks.'").

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