PORTLAND, Maine — Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones, describing himself as tired of absorbing “politically motivated potshots” over how the city has been run under his watch, held a news conference Wednesday to highlight the $584 million in economic development activity that has taken place over the past four years.
Mavodones is seeking to be popularly elected as mayor on Nov. 8 after two consecutive years being chosen for the position by a vote of his fellow city councilors. The upcoming election represents the first time in 88 years the public will choose the city’s mayor.
A poll by the Maine People’s Resource Center released Tuesday found Mavodones in third place behind Michael Brennan and Ethan Strimling.
On Wednesday at the Bayside Trail, with photographs of newly built and renovated buildings at his side and the new $26.5 million Intermed Building in the background, Mavodones rebuffed assertions from opponents that new leadership is necessary in City Hall.
He handed out a list of public, nonprofit and private development projects that have taken place in the city over the past four years, adding up to total investments of $584 million. This list included the $73 million Portland International Jetport renovation, $20 million in the Ocean Gateway Terminal, $65.5 million in the new Mercy Hospital campus, and $78.9 million in Maine Medical Center’s Women & Infants Building. He was flanked by photos of the former Cumberland Cold Storage building on the waterfront, which underwent $12 million in renovations to accommodate the relocation of the law firm Pierce Atwood, as well as the new $15 million Hampton Inn and the jetport.
“Next Tuesday, voters have a choice,” Mavodones said. “They can elect a mayor who has the vision, leadership and experience to keep these kinds of investments flowing into our city, or we can put our momentum at risk by electing one of the 14 candidates offering a vague notion of change, backed by few specifics and no certainty of the outcome.”
Mavodones also pointed out what he felt have been inconsistencies in criticisms he has absorbed by opponents, some of whom have targeted him by arguing the city has been plagued by a lack of leadership.
“Some people have pushed for this [popularly elected] mayor position because they said [the council chairman] wasn’t powerful enough,” he said. “Yet, when they want to point out what they don’t like about Portland, they say it’s my fault.”
Mavodones reiterated his campaign pledges to seek streamlined permitting in the city, through online or same-day permitting for smaller projects, as well as his goals of working with state leaders to allow groundfishermen to locally sell lobster caught in their nets.
He said 20 boats, worth about $39 million in annual economic impact on the Portland waterfront, have left the city to take their catch to Massachusetts ports, where they’re allowed to earn extra money from the lobster bycatch.
“It’s easy to say as a candidate you’re going to do this, that and the other thing,” Mavodones said. “The reality is, you’re going to need five votes on the city council or seven votes on the city council to move ideas forward, and that’s what I’ve been able to do.”
Some of Mavodones’ competitors in the crowded 15-person mayoral field acknowledged the economic development seen in recent years, but argued more work needs to be done and new voices are still necessary in City Hall.
“Nick has served the city well, and I applaud all that he’s done in the time he’s been on the council and as mayor, but what I hear still is that Portland wants to go a different direction, building on that success,” said fellow candidate Jed Rathband, a consultant with no history of running for elected office and who has campaigned as the “fresh face” choice for mayor. “If we want to seize the next decade, it’s going to require new solutions to old problems. And that comes about with new leadership.”
Michael Brennan, who was projected as the frontrunner in the race in a Maine People’s Resource Center poll released Tuesday, said Mavodones’ news conference brought no new information to the campaign.
“On several occasions, Nick has made those same points about the amount of investment that has been made in Portland in recent years,” Brennan said. “I’m not going to dispute his numbers. But what concerns me, and what I’m hearing repeatedly from the business community [is that] the permitting process, the regulatory process and the licensing process is still a problem. And that’s not a problem that just came about in the last six months or the last year. It’s a problem that has not been addressed.”
Ethan Strimling, the top fundraiser among candidates and counted as running in second place in the aforementioned poll just ahead of Mavodones, admitted that “there certainly are some things happening in Portland.”
“But there’s also almost 15 percent vacancy in the downtown, and that’s as high as it’s been in a long time,” he continued. “It’s not that there’s no progress in the city, there’s just signs that the city is not what it should be. Look at our waterfront. It’s a wasteland. There’s nothing going on down there and there hasn’t been in years.”