PORTLAND, Maine — As many as 16 candidates may be in the race to become Portland’s first publicly elected mayor in 88 years. The deadline passed at 4:30 p.m. Monday for interested residents to turn in the requisite 300 signatures to appear on the ballot.
By the close of business Monday, the city clerk’s office had verified the signatures for 13 candidates, meaning those individuals will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. Another three candidates have turned in their paperwork and will appear on the ballot if at least 300 signatures are certified, a process that could take a few days.
Listed on the ballot for certain will be: Mayor Nicholas Mavodones; fellow city councilors Jill Duson and David Marshall; former state lawmakers Ethan Strimling, Michael Brennan and John Eder; Portland Democratic City Committee Vice Chairman Ralph Carmona; businesswoman Jodie Lapchick; consultant Jed Rathband; businessman Hamza Haadoow; Portland firefighter Christopher Vail; reported retired merchant seaman Peter Bryant; and Deering High School teacher Markos Miller.
As many as 21 individuals had expressed interest in running for the job in the months leading to Monday afternoon’s deadline. Some, such as Zouhair Bouzrara and John “Jay” York, reportedly announced withdrawals from the race, while others simply did not return signatures to the city clerk’s office by the deadline.
Candidates reached by the Bangor Daily News on Monday gave myriad reasons why the mayoral race may have attracted such a crowd.
“Since it’s a brand new position, it calls upon the community to determine a vision for what the mayor can be,” said Miller, who teaches Spanish and coordinates Deering’s multicultural program. “This is the first time Portland has had an opportunity to engage in this level of discussion about the future of the city over the next 10 or 15 years and who will lead us there.”
Last November, Portland voters at the polls approved changes to the city charter that created a popularly elected mayor, the first such position since 1923. For nearly nine decades, the city’s mayor has been essentially the chairman of the nine-person City Council, chosen annually by a vote of the councilors.
“It’s the first time in so many years that the city of Portland will have the right to vote on this,” Vail said. “I think people are frustrated with government and that notion created its own buzz. The buzz got created last fall when we had the right to vote and create the position in the first place. Now, to see that many people step up [and enter the race], I think it shows that there’s a lot of people with different opinions on where to take the city.”
On Nov. 8, voters will elect a full-time mayor directly, and the winning candidate will receive $66,000 and benefits each year over a four-year term, during which time the new mayor will have veto power over the annual municipal budget and political sway locally and statewide that remains to be determined.
The City Council will be able to override the mayor’s budget veto with six votes.
“The position having a popular mandate, a four-year term and salary makes it attractive to a lot of different candidates, with the influence and the veto power creating a real ability to make Portland a better place,” said Marshall, who has been working since 2007 for the creation of a publicly elected mayor.
“It is a historic opportunity,” said Rathband.
Rathband was one of many candidates to tout the new mayor position as a platform for greater leadership in the city, which he said needs to be promoted as an economic and educational innovation center.
“I want to make sure the city posture is, ‘how can we make [positive change] happen,’ instead of the city’s current posture of, ‘I’m not sure we can do that,’” said Rathband, who said he was hired by the League of Young Voters and Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce to campaign last fall for the charter change which created the new mayor job.
“I think people recognize the city of Portland is not meeting its potential,” agreed Strimling, who represented District 8 in the Maine Senate from 2003 to 2009. “That’s certainly why I’m running.”
Nicholas Mavodones, who is serving his fourth — and second consecutive — one-year term as mayor under the appointment method, said the use of ranked choice voting at the polls to determine the next mayor may have been a factor in drawing a high number of candidates to the race.
Under the ranked choice voting system, which was approved by voters last November along with the charter changes that created the publicly elected mayor position, voters can rank their choices from first all the way down to however many choices are available. If any candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes, he or she wins the election.
If nobody gets more than 50 percent, the last place finisher in the field is pulled out of the bunch, and the second-place finisher on that candidate’s ballots is given first place tallies. The votes are then counted again, and if the newly reapportioned votes aren’t enough to elevate any of the remaining candidates beyond 50 percent, the process is repeated.
Under the ranked choice voting system, in theory, a larger number of candidates have a chance to win.
“I think the ranked choice voting and the way it works, or the way it’s supposed to work, might have helped [attract candidates],” Mavodones said. “For me, it’s because I’m really passionate about municipal government.”
Hamza Haadoow, who works as assistant manager for sustainability and recycling for Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, said he believes one reason for the crowd of candidates is the city’s diversity.
“Portland is a very diverse place, a very diverse city,” he said. “There are a lot of groups around the city — neighborhood groups, and groups representing different people — with a lot of different concerns. I believe that every group is trying to advance their concern [through the mayoral race].”