Nine progressive candidates won seats on Portland’s high-profile charter commission in Tuesday’s election, increasing the possibility of major changes to the government in Maine’s largest city including a more powerful mayor and taxpayer-funded election.
The vote has been more than a year in the making. Former Mayor Ethan Strimling lost reelection in 2019 to Kate Snyder after warring with City Manager Jon Jennings in a power-sharing arrangement that splits executive power between an elected mayor who makes a full-time salary and council-appointed city manager. Protests over police killings of Black men last year amplified long-standing calls from progressives to tilt power toward the mayor.
Nine candidates emerged as winners on Tuesday, with five elected in city council districts and another four in at-large seats. They will join another three charter commissioners picked by city councilors. The commission will work over the next year on charter revisions. Only 8,884 voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s election for a 14 percent turnout rate.
Portland used multi-winner ranked-choice voting for the first time in Maine history to pick the at-large winners. The first three seats were won by Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef, Marpheen Chann and Catherine Buxton. In the fourth race, Patricia Washburn, who only won 4 percent of first-round votes, charged back in later rounds to defeat restaurateur Steve DiMillo, a Republican who had the second-most votes heading into the runoffs.
In the council districts, the winners were Shay Stewart-Bouley (District 1) with 64.9 percent of votes, Robert O’Brien (District 2) with 81 percent of votes, Zachary Barowitz (District 3) with 51.2 percent of votes, Marcques Houston (District 4) with 54 percent of votes and Ryan Lizanecz (District 5) with 54.1 percent of votes.
Each of the candidates elected on Tuesday have indicated support for increasing the mayor’s power, though some have stopped short of endorsing a strong mayor who could hire and fire staff. The charter commission could also tackle a citywide analog to Maine’s so-called Clean Election program, which was rejected by city councilors in 2019.