PORTLAND, Maine — In a campaign season in which the economy and employment still rank among voters’ top concerns, Portland mayoral candidate Jed Rathband said Wednesday’s endorsement by the city’s most influential business group gives his campaign a momentum boost in the final days of the race.
Citing in part his opposition to what the Portland Community Chamber believes is Portland’s onerous housing replacement ordinance, the Chamber’s political action committee announced its endorsement of Rathband.
Rathband held a news conference alongside Chamber officials in Tommy’s Park in the Old Port to trumpet the support Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, fellow candidate Ethan Strimling released an announcement that he had received the endorsement of the DownEast Pride Alliance, making Wednesday the busiest day for mayoral endorsements since Oct. 11, when Portland Tomorrow and the Portland Education Association announced their respective backings.
“Everybody in this race is talking about economic development, not only in Portland, but in the state of Maine,” Rathband said. “In Portland, being an economic hub, it’s important we have a leader who understands business development.”
Rathband has maintained a campaign focus on reinvigorating the business atmosphere in the city through the public schools which when successful will attract innovative, entrepreneurial parents and then go on to produce similarly innovative students who grow up to become future business leaders, he said.
“We’re not going to land one company that brings 10,000 jobs, we’re going to attract 1,000 individuals who create 10 jobs each,” Rathband said Wednesday, reiterating what has become his campaign mantra.
“What I bring to this race is a fresh perspective not beholden to the ways of City Hall,” he continued.
Christopher O’Neil, the Chamber’s government relations consultant who joined Rathband at his news conference, said the group likely will contribute financially to Rathband’s campaign in the final days of the race, but said the amount of that contribution has yet to be decided.
Voters will go to the polls to choose the city’s first popularly elected mayor in 88 years on Nov. 8.
O’Neil said that while the Chamber committee unanimously picked the political newcomer Rathband as its preferred candidate after thorough research that included distribution of questionnaires to the candidates and a morning forum Tuesday, the organization’s endorsement is not an indictment of those candidates who are now city councilors.
Also receiving positive mentions in the Chamber committee’s announcement Wednesday were Strimling, Councilor David Marshall and Nicholas Mavodones, Portland’s current mayor as chosen by his fellow councilors using the previous method of appointment.
The Chamber was among the most vocal proponents of the re-establishment of a popularly elected mayor position, which voters approved last November at the polls. Rathband headed the campaign to restore the publicly elected mayor a year ago, while Marshall pursued the measure through his seat on the council.
“The Chamber did not enter this saying, ‘Throw the bums out,’” O’Neil said. “The Chamber all along sought systemic change. … That does not necessitate a change of characters, but it does open the door to a new face and a new perspective.”
In its endorsement announcement Wednesday, the Chamber lauded Rathband for being “one of the few candidates to acknowledge the failure of the Housing Replacement Ordinance, which adds a $55,000 liability to most multi-tenant properties in Portland.”
“This [endorsement] provides the kind of boost all campaigns need at this point,” Rathband said.
Strimling also added to his list of supporters Wednesday with the announcement that the DownEast Pride Alliance, a gay and gay-friendly business networking group in southern Maine, is endorsing him for mayor.
The organization announced its backing in a newsletter, which said Strimling’s “commitment and support of the gay community is without precedent.”
The alliance cited Strimling’s behind-the-scenes work running the 1996 congressional campaign of Dale McCormick, who came within 2,000 votes of becoming the first open lesbian member of the U.S. Legislature, and his vocal support of the 2009 state legislation legalizing gay marriage as a state senator. That legislation later was overturned by voters at the polls but was overwhelmingly supported in Portland.
Strimling is also on the board of Equality Maine.
“I am honored to have the confidence and support of the DEPA as we enter the final weeks of my campaign,” Strimling said in a statement. “The DEPA stands for equality, civil rights and fairness, issues that affect everyone in this city and this state. They will continue to be important as we work to bring more jobs and more economic equality to Portland.”