PORTLAND, Maine — The dynamics of the city council are poised to shift with the election of three new candidates Tuesday night, giving progressive voters more of a voice in the city’s government.
Newcomer April Fournier collected 57 percent of the vote Tuesday after an instant runoff using ranked-choice voting, winning the council’s at-large seat occupied by outgoing councilor Jill Duson.
Progressive challenger Andrew Zarro, the 32-year old owner of Little Woodfords coffee shop, won out in a two-way race against Rosemary Mahoney in District 4. Zarro replaced sitting councilor Justin Costa, an accountant who sought council re-election in the at-large race rather than keep the District 4 seat he’s occupied since 2014.
Former Cumberland County Sheriff and state legislator Mark Dion won a four-way race for outgoing councilor Kimberly Cook’s seat in District 5. Dion, 65, beat progressive challenger Kate Sykes, former John Coyne and Kenneth Capron, a former Republican legislative candidate.
The vote can be seen as a small progressive shift for the council. Eight members publicly opposed a progressive coalition’s set of five initiatives that would raise the municipal minimum wage, strengthen a ban on facial surveillance technology, add environmental and tenant protections and return 400 non-owner occupied short-term rentals to the city’s housing market.
Voters passed four of five of those measures, opting only against the ban on short-term rental units like Airbnb.
The ballot questions were backed by People First Portland, a branch of the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America along with unions and other progressive groups.
“The fact that four of five passed demonstrates that the people of Portland who want change are in the majority and money can’t always buy power,” said Fournier, who had hoped to see all five measures pass.
Fournier, 40, is a member of the Diné (Navajo) nation and a manager at Head Start, a pre-K educational services program. She was endorsed by Duson, who did not seek reelection after holding the seat since 2001, as well as People First Portland and Black P.O.W.E.R., a local racial justice collective.
Zarro said the referendums on Tuesday’s ballot framed the race for every candidate.
While he said he was largely supportive of the progressive measures — and knew they would be popular with voters — his constituents weren’t comfortable with the political process that forced them to a broader vote because they should have been appropriately addressed by councilors.
“What we’re seeing is when the work is not getting done or the issues are being ignored, that’s when referenda pop up,” he said.
Dion, a Democrat and self-styled “bridge-builder,” carried the endorsement of the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund among several of his party’s prominent groups. He told Maine Public in 2018 that he supported a “community health care system” over “corporate medicine or hospital-based services.”
Sykes, a member of the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America, had the second-highest vote total in District 5 after the first round of voting before losing to Dion in the instant runoff. Sykes was part of People First Portland’s campaign, which drew less support from voters in the suburban district.