October is endorsement month in Portland mayoral race

Campaign signs for three of the candidates running to become Portland's first popularly elected mayor in nearly 90 years welcome drivers at the intersection of Congress and Franklin streets.
Campaign signs for three of the candidates running to become Portland's first popularly elected mayor in nearly 90 years welcome drivers at the intersection of Congress and Franklin streets.
Posted Oct. 04, 2011, at 5:16 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 04, 2011, at 7:55 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — With just over a month remaining before Election Day, some influential Portland-area organizations are preparing to decide who — if anybody — they will formally endorse to become the city’s first publicly elected mayor since 1923.

Other groups plan to stay out of the endorsement business and just gather information for their members.

This week, the League of Young Voters broke the ice on what could be a big few weeks of mayoral endorsements by releasing its slate of endorsed candidates. The League listed its top five candidates based on a small-scale “ranked choice” vote among the organization’s more active members.

Officials from the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Portland Tomorrow, a group of community leaders who have coalesced around the goal of finding a strong elected mayor for the city, told the Bangor Daily News they plan to review candidate questionnaires and consider endorsements this week.

“I think we’ll start seeing more endorsements coming out shortly, based on the number of questionnaires I’ve filled out and forums I’ve attended,” said City Councilor David Marshall, one of the 15 candidates who will be on the Nov. 8 ballot for mayor.

Marshall started out the endorsement stretch strong, landing the top rank in the League of Young Voters’ list. Following Marshall in second and third place, respectively, among league voters were former state lawmakers Michael Brennan and John Eder. Ranking fourth in the group’s endorsement list was Deering High School teacher Markos Miller and rounding out the list was consultant Jed Rathband.

“Most endorsements involve ink on paper, and most endorsements involve some way of distributing [information about] how those organizations feel, but the League is one of the few organizations that actually mobilizes its members to support their endorsed candidates,” Marshall told the Bangor Daily News. “The League has a very strong track record of helping candidates get elected. This is, in my mind, the prize endorsement of all those that are available. Obviously, I’m interested in other endorsements as well, but getting the League endorsement is an excellent way for my campaign to lead into the last month of the race.”

Rathband said many key groups may issue endorsements of several candidates in a ranked list like the League — a move that mimics the ranked choice voting residents will see at the polls. In the ranked choice voting system, voters can mark their choices in order from 1 to 15 at the polls.

Rathband, who has managed political campaigns for other issues in past years in addition to his current mayoral effort, said the number of candidates and potential for ranked endorsements diffuses much of the influence that often comes with high-profile endorsements.

“The vote is going to be so scattered that there’s no one endorsement that’s going to really set you apart,” Rathband said. “A lot of organizations are going to rank candidates, which is the right thing to do considering the circumstances, but it lessens the impact of that endorsement. There are going to be a number of candidates who can say, ‘I was in their endorsement list.’”

Godfrey Wood, president of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the jury’s still out on what his organization will do in terms of supporting candidates.

“We sent out questionnaires to all the candidates,” Wood told the Bangor Daily News. “Their responses are due in this coming Thursday, and once they come in, our board and [political action committee] will look at them and see what they want to do, if anything.”

James Cohen, a former Portland city councilor who serves on the Portland Tomorrow Steering Committee, said his group is similarly reviewing its options this week.

“I hope within the week to have more specific information about [Portland Tomorrow's potential endorsements],” Cohen said. “We’ve gone through a process of sending out questionnaires and interviewing the candidates, and we hosted a public forum, and our hope is to endorse one or more candidates. It’s going to depend on the group’s view on all of that input with regard to how exactly that will line up.”

Portland’s current mayor, Nicholas Mavodones, who was elected to the position by his fellow city councilors using the previous method of appointment, said he has been interviewed by members of the Portland Education Association as the city’s teachers union considers its endorsement options, and added that businesswoman and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rosa Scarcelli has stepped forward to endorse him.

“Depending on what the organization is and their membership, the endorsements may be of significance to those members, but for me, the most important endorsements I get are from individual voters,” Mavodones said. “They’re not always public, and most people will take those [private endorsements] to the polls with them. So I’ll keep calling people on the phone and knocking on doors, and talking about the great things going on in Portland and how we can really make the city blossom.”

Representatives of some organizations said they plan to keep members informed, but don’t plan to make any formal endorsements.

“We haven’t endorsed anybody, and I don’t know if any of the parties are going to endorse anybody, because it’s a nonpartisan race,” said Kristen Martin, chairwoman of the Portland Republican City Committee. “We’ll just have to keep going to the forums and seeing what people have to say. This first few years it’ll be interesting to see. The first person who gets the position will set the bar for the job moving forward. I think everybody’s in a ‘wait and see’ mode.”

Sam Pfeifle, secretary for the Portland Music Foundation, moderated a candidates’ forum on Monday night, but said his group isn’t going to pick a favorite in the aftermath of the event.

“We decided that since we’re a nonprofit, our primary mission is education,” he said. “We held that debate because we wanted to get as much information out there as possible for our members and members of other communities, but we don’t think it’s our place to tell people who to vote for.”

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