PORTLAND, Maine — After a week of runoffs, a salad bowl drawing and public recounts, Roberto Rodriguez was finally declared the winner of Portland’s at-large city council race.
Runner-up Brandon Mazer formally conceded at 1:25 p.m. on Wednesday, after lawyers had met for nearly 10 hours over the span of two days to re-tabulate and discuss disputed ballots.
Rodriguez said he appreciated the concession, allowing the process to move forward so that he and two other new councilors could be sworn in.
“It’s a time of change in our city,” Rodriguez said. “I’m excited for that change. We built a lot of movement and energy in this campaign to bring a lot of voices that have been marginalized for a lot of years.”
The final tally was 8,547 for Rodriguez and 8,512 for Mazer. Thirty-seven ballots were the subject of disputes led mostly by Brandon Mazer’s legal team, who also hoped to close a small gap between the initial ballots counted by voting machines with the hand recount conducted by volunteers on Tuesday.
The city’s top lawyer, Jennifer Thompson, said it was “not at all uncommon for numbers on the machine to be different from the physical numbers” in a hand recount.
“The system is inherently fallible in some ways and the whole purpose of the recount, with paper ballots, is to get it exactly right,” Thompson said.
Mazer said his legal team still “have some questions on discrepancy in numbers” but that it was “a pretty high hill to climb” to reach victory.
He praised city staff and recount volunteers for a process that “couldn’t have gone any smoother.”
The outcome overturns last Thursday’s ruling, which declared Mazer the winner after his name was randomly drawn from a salad bowl outside City Hall. Mazer, 35, is chair of the city’s planning board and works as a lawyer for the firm Perkins Thompson.
While it generated headlines, the salad bowl drawing was never thought to be the final word. The drawing was seen by both candidates as a procedural move to determine a nominal runner-up so that they could formally ask for a recount. Only a losing candidate can request a recount per city law.
The official recount began on Tuesday, with two dozen volunteers and lawyers representing both candidates taking nearly eight hours to review roughly 21,300 ballots by hand at the city’s Ocean Gateway building overlooking the harbor. The parties reconvened at 10 a.m. Wednesday to go over the disputed ballots before Rodriguez was declared the winner and Mazer conceded.
The race was the first ranked-choice election in U.S. history to end in an apparent tie. The city’s initial ruling had Mazer and Rodriguez each finishing with 8,529 votes, after runoffs eliminated third-place finisher Travis Curran and fourth-place finisher Stuart Tisdale, Jr.
Rodriguez, a 42-year-old with six years experience on the school board, gives an emerging progressive wing a clean sweep in local municipal elections, giving them a solid 6-3 lead over councilors supported by the city’s business class.
The new council is poised to change the city’s direction after the departure of City Manager Jon Jennings and Portland police chief Frank Clark, who stepped down from their roles last week. Danielle West, formerly the city’s top attorney, has been appointed interim city manager, and assistant chief Heath Gorham was promoted to interim police chief.
The city’s progressive movement has had minority representation in city government the last decade, but that began to change last year when progressives won two council seats and passed referenda enacting rent control and a minimum wage increase.