PORTLAND, Maine — Candidates seeking to become Portland’s first popularly elected mayor in nearly 90 years largely played to their audience Monday night during a forum hosted by three of the city’s arts organizations at the State Theatre.
The Portland Music Foundation teamed with the Portland Arts & Cultural Alliance and Creative Portland to hold the forum, which was broken down into two question-and-answer sessions, one long-form and one short-form.
During the event, which more than 75 people attended, the 14 candidates in attendance talked about the importance of the arts and the creative economy in Portland. Some offered specifics of how they’d seek to improve the community for artists — and other voters — but no candidate pulled away from the crowd, at least according to a few of the potential voters who turned out.
“They know what they need to say to either capture a vote or put us at ease,” said Jacob Michaud, a Maine College of Art student, after taking in the forum. “There were a few whose ideology caught my attention and some I’m absolutely in agreement with, but nobody said anything that would make me pledge my vote tonight. If anything, they made me want to do more research into the candidates and what they’re about.”
During the longer form section of the program Monday, moderator Sam Pfeifle, secretary for the Portland Music Foundation and longtime music writer for the Portland Phoenix, the candidates were given green paddles to raise to indicate an interest in answering one of a series of questions.
Each candidate could only raise his or her green paddle four times, and on any given question only the first five candidates to raise a green paddle would be allowed to speak. Each candidate was also given a red paddle, which could be raised one time during the session for a “wild card” rebuttal of another answer given.
During the long-form question-and-answer period, mayoral candidate and former state lawmaker John Eder reiterated his plan to use tax incentives to create 1,000 new units of affordable housing and called for city commuter buses to be used to take Portland students to high school. Fellow candidate and City Councilor David Marshall discussed pursuit of a streetcar system and using GPS technology to allow smartphone users and those waiting at bus stops to see where city buses are in their routes at any given time.
A number of candidates agreed that the city should reinstate the “forgiveness” parking ticket, a policy in which the first parking violation given to a car during each six-month period is waived, while everyone on the panel who spoke on the topic signaled favor for the proposed $33 million Cumberland County Civic Center renovation bond.
Rebuttals were used by the candidates sparingly in what was a polite event, and the red paddles were waved on several occasions as candidates asked rhetorically (there was no time set aside for the answering of rebuttals) where the funding would come from to implement one idea or another.
The short-form portion of the evening forced the candidates to write their answers to what were largely trivia questions about the Portland arts community (“Name one band or musician from Portland,” “How much money does the average attendee of Portland’s First Friday ArtWalk spend in the city?” are a few examples) on large pieces of paper with markers.
It was during this portion that one artist in attendance said she was swayed by one candidate who answered contrary to what the audience might have wanted.
Portland firefighter and mayoral candidate Chris Vail, who earlier in the evening expressed skepticism of the civic center bond by describing it as “another Band-Aid” for the venue when a longer term solution is needed, was the only one on the stage to hold up a card reading “No” to the question of whether or not PACA should receive more public funding.
“We can’t keep continually going back to local taxpayers,” Vail said when Pfeifle asked him about why he broke with the other candidates on the issue. “The well’s not running dry, it’s already dry.”
That stance won him a fan in Maine College of Art student Gianna Caranfa.
“I came here not knowing any of the candidates, but I was pleased with Vail’s honesty,” she told the Bangor Daily News after the forum. “He realizes the economy is dry and wasn’t just saying what we wanted to hear.”