With six weeks to go before Portland's first mayoral election in modern history, the field remains crowded and confusing, with 15 candidates vying for one precedent-setting position. Candidates run into each other while canvassing neighborhoods; forums provide hopefuls with just a few minutes to outline their stances on a host of city issues; front-runners (largely self-appointed) dominate media coverage; the majority of the electorate seems both undecided and fatigued.
However, as endorsements trickle out, voters tune in, and candidates turn up the heat, expect the landscape to gain (some) clarity. For example, as of Monday, five contenders are able to tout the support of the League of Young Voters — in order of the League's preference, they are West End councilor David Marshall, former state senator Michael Brennan, former state rep John Eder, public-school teacher and community organizer Markos Miller, and Jed Rathband, a business and political consultant.
Meanwhile, other candidates, such as firefighter Chris Vail, are discouraged by the early designation of so-called top-tier candidates (a list that includes former state senator Ethan Strimling and city councilor Nick Mavodones). "The media is portraying it as four or five candidates," Vail says, classifying himself as an underdog.
And what of the issues? (Oh, those old things?) City councilor Jill Duson is focusing on job growth and business development; she and public-relations guru Jodie Lapchick both reference Portland's Economic Development Plan as a blueprint for such progress. Duson, Strimling, and several other candidates also highlight the need to streamline services at City Hall. (Strimling refers to this as "customer-first government.")
Hopefuls talk about implementing universal pre-Kindergarten services in Portland schools (Miller), bringing a streetcar line to Portland (Marshall), building affordable housing (lots of them, but Eder specifically calls for 1000 new downtown units), acting as Portland's ambassador to the rest of the state and country (again, many candidates hype this idea, but it is a focal point of new-to-Portlander Ralph Carmona's campaign), and deepening workforce development by connecting with local universities (Brennan).
So far, Mavodones — who billed himself in these very pages as a candidate who would not strive to shake things up if elected (see "20 Questions About Portland's Upcoming Mayoral Election," by Deirdre Fulton, August 12) — has drawn the most criticism. Just last week, Rathband blasted the sitting mayor (chosen for a one-year term by his fellow councilors) for "ineffective leadership."
Some wondered if going on the offensive was a good strategy in a ranked-choice voting scenario, when attacking one's opponents could cost you second-place.
"Everyone's afraid to try to differentiate themselves," Rathband says. "I took a chance, and as a result, we have really seen a large amount of support come our way . . . they like our tenacity and our ability to stand up to the status quo."
Learn more about these candidates, as well as immigrant activist Hamza Haadoow, businessman Richard Dodge, retired merchant seaman Peter Bryant, and Charles Bragdon, who self-publishes his "Portland Maine Gazette" online, at the upcoming art-music-culture forum at the State Theatre at 6 pm on Monday, October 3. The event, co-hosted by the Portland Music Foundation and the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance, will consist of multiple rounds of questions on issues and policies related to the city's arts community. Learn more at portlandmusicfoundation.org or portlandarts.org.