Council newcomers Ferguson and Phillips vie for vacated District 3 seat

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Portlanders in District 3 will have a new representative this fall, after incumbent Councilor Tae Chong opted not to seek a second term.

Two candidates seek the seat on Nov. 8: 23-year-old data analyst Nathaniel Ferguson and 60-year-old Regina Phillips, a professor of social work and co-founder of a Portland organization that facilitates diversity, equity and inclusion.

Election Day is Nov. 8. District 3 covers the neighborhoods of Libbytown, Stroudwater, Nason’s Corner, Oakdale, part of Woodfords Corner and the University of Southern Maine.

Nathaniel Ferguson

Nathaniel Ferguson [courtesy of the candidate]
Ferguson, 23, is running because he’s concerned how the City of Portland was handling housing, citing “inaction from the City Council to proactively pass policies” to address that problem. He works as a data analyst for Onpoint Health Data, formerly the Maine Health Information Center in Portland. 

On the Charter Commission’s governance proposal: 

Ferguson has “complicated thoughts” about Charter Commission’s Question 2, which would establish an executive mayor separate from the council. He supports the idea, saying “it’s better to have power in the hands of an elected official,” adding that under the current system, residents who disagree with the city manager can only “complain and hope the majority of the Council agrees with you.”

Yet he probably won’t vote for it, because redistricting to increase the size of the Council from nine to 12 seats make it easier for councilors to be “NIMBYs” (slang for “Not in My Backyard” anti-development types) and “will dilute representation and create bigger splits.”

On housing and homelessness:

While the opioid crisis is a national problem, its effects are felt locally, and the city doesn’t always have the resources to “have a comprehensive model that supports that,” Ferguson said. He’d like to see the city continue to support people struggling with substance use disorder, especially with housing the homeless population, and supports harm reduction programs like the needle exchange and safe injection sites.

On housing, Ferguson said he wants to address the city’s “outdated and restrictive land-use policies.” He said off the peninsula, the city has troublesome housing policies, like not allowing someone to build anything bigger than a duplex.

“We need to be realistic if the city wants to grow to have enough space for everyone, and a great, important first step is to not make it illegal to build more housing,” Ferguson said.

On other stuff:

Beyond these issues, the biggest challenge facing Portland is how to “grow into a city that’s sustainable and works for the next 30 or 40 or 50 years,” adding that Portland is a very car-centric city which makes it difficult for pedestrians to get around.

“One thing we can do is start looking at how we build our streets and organize transportation in our city to make having a car not necessary,” he said. “If we change standards to prioritize walkability, it comes at essentially no cost but has value in walkability improvements and pedestrian safety.”

Regina Phillips

Regina Phillips [courtesy of the candidate]
Phillips, 60, has an extensive resumé. She is the co-founder of Cross Cultural Community Services, a Portland nonprofit that facilitates cultural competency and trainings on diversity, equity and inclusion. She’s also an equity resource coordinator in the Westbrook public school system and an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Maine School of Social Work. And she’s the daughter of Gerald Talbot, the first Black legislator in Maine and the founder of Maine’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the sister of State Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland). 

Phillips believes the city has a good Council and wants to have a bigger role in identifying solutions for Portland. 

On the Charter Commission’s governance proposal:

She’s undecided. Phillips has talked to people who have lived and worked under both forms – an executive mayor and a council mayor – to better understand the issue. She cited her work for the city under former city manager Jon Jennings, where she ran the city’s family shelter, but also worked in Westbrook Public Schools, a city with a strong mayor.

On housing and homelessness:

Phillips praised the city for collaborating with local service providers to help those impacted by the opioid epidemic, adding that help needs to come from the state because Portland can’t handle that and the homelessness crisis alone. 

She commended the work the city and its social service organizations do finding housing for those experiencing homelessness, pointing to Preble Street’s 40-bed wellness center in Bayside and Community Housing of Maine, which looks to open more affordable housing units in the region. She also said the city’s forthcoming 208-bed homeless services center in Riverside will help ease the crisis, and lauded the work of programs like Avesta’s Housing First and the city’s Bridging Rental Assistance Program (BRAP), which assists clients with mental health issues or substance use disorder find independent housing.

She supports efforts to remove exclusionary zoning laws to build more mixed-, multi-unit and workforce housing.

“I’m hopeful [that] within the next year or two the cost of housing looks different,” she said.

On other stuff:

One area Phillips thinks the city needs to spend some time on the recommendations that came out of the Racial Equity Steering Committee. Some of the proposals to come out of the steering committee include dissolving the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee for a stronger board, requiring all city departments — including the Police Department — to undergo regular racial equity assessments by an outside consultant, and creating more diversion programs for individuals who are charged with minor crimes. 

Additionally, she also voiced broad concern for how Portland cares for its elderly citizens along with the need for out-of-staters to continue coming to Portland to help with staffing issues.

“We have started to change the narrative of Portland and what opportunities are here,” she said. “We have so much to offer. If we continue to tell people that, they will continue to come here.”

 

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