As Portland glides into a new year, we asked several Portland leaders — including those who work in City Hall, the university, the cultural sector, social services and hospitality — what their hopes and dreams are for a changing city in 2023. Here’s what they said.
Following the record-breaking flooding event that took place on Dec. 23, Gayle Bowness, Municipal Climate Action Program Manager at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, said her 2023 hope is for people to learn how to talk about climate change more.
“We can’t plan for something that we’re not talking about. My hope for 2023 is that climate change becomes a part of everyday conversation. Pay attention to the environment around you — there’s evidence of climate impacts everywhere. Summer days are hotter. Tick populations have increased. There are more heavy rain events as well as prolonged drought. Winter seems shorter and mud season feels longer. Maple sap is running and ice out days are happening earlier in the year. And over the holidays we experienced a record setting coastal flood event because a storm surge occurred at the same time as a high tide. Climate change is exacerbating the risks associated with these events. Acknowledging these events is one step forward, but shifting conversation to what we can do to mitigate, accommodate, or adapt to these events will move us towards building climate resilience. So talk about what you see, share why it matters, and discuss what to do about it. Yesterday’s solutions may very well not solve today’s and tomorrow’s climate challenges. We need to add new innovative, creative solutions to our tool box and learn from communities around the world.”
Jeff Levine, former director of Planning and Urban Development for Portland, helmed the city’s planning department from 2012 until 2019. He sees leadership as the next big issue.
“In 2023 I hope the city will bring an experienced and successful leader on board as City Manager. In my experience the best city leaders understand how cities are different from private corporations. A strong City Manager will work collaboratively with other organizations, not seek to compete with them. She or he will partner with the Mayor and Council, the leadership in the Portland Public Schools, local nonprofits, regional agencies and the business community to make sure each organization lifts the others. Success is not a zero-sum game, especially in government. I hope a new City Manager will show the ability to bring people together and work to accomplish common goals, while at the same time watching the tax rate and the cost of living in this amazing city.”
Glenn Cummings, president of the Albert B. Glickman and Judy Glickman Lauder Family Office and Foundations, said while he is grateful to live in Portland and for all that it offers, the city faces real challenges in 2023. The former state rep and ex-president of USM said that we are “blessed with good schools, a gorgeous seascape and a community that cares,” which he tries not to take for granted.
“All of the assets of Portland cannot disguise, however, the very real challenges we face at this time. The increasing unaffordability of home ownership and rentals, the struggle of food insecurity for many among us, and our capacity to successfully bring much-needed new Americans into our community are tall challenges.
My hope for Portland in 2023 is a collective resolve among our community leaders in addressing these issues, knowing that leadership requires appropriate compromise and careful respect for differing views. Among our many assets, we are blessed to have good people in political leadership. May 2023 bring out the best in all of them — and all of us — to work together to keep Portland amazing.”
Abusana “Micky” Bondo is a co-founder and program director of In Her Presence, a nonprofit that works to empower and support immigrant women and their families. Bondo has led a variety of projects in 2022 to help meet the needs of immigrant families, like parent engagement, women’s health rights and their own advocacy and understanding of the U.S. through a lens of equity — but Bondo, who also serves as vice-chair of the school board, suggested it doesn’t stop there in 2023.
“It’s not enough to build a strong community if policies around affordable housing and healthcare are not implemented to support families to improve their lives. My hope for 2023 is to incorporate (immigrant families’) voice in the decision-making platforms where businesses, the school district and local government are in partnership, rather than primary decision makers (and) improve the integration.”
The pandemic has taught us a lot, says Dora Anne Mills, MaineHealth’s Chief Health Improvement Officer. Through the incredible stress of life under the cloud of COVID, Mainers have a clearer understanding of basic needs.
“I hope we can make some major inroads in addressing some health issues that are holding us back from growing in vibrant, healthy, and welcoming ways — substance use and mental health. The good news is that we’ve learned a great deal in the last three years of the COVID pandemic, including that when we address basic needs such as meaningful work, housing, nutrition, access to health care, transportation, education/training, social connectivity and the tools for relieving stress, we can make major improvements in addressing these and many other health issues for Mainers both new and old. Of course there are many contributors to a city’s vibrancy. When I asked my young adult children, who are both college students, what it would take for Portland to reach this goal, they immediately answered, ‘a professional soccer team,’ and ‘affordable housing’. Since I hope they will settle in the area, in many ways, their wishes are mine as well.”
Dinah Minot, the director of Creative Portland who established the Portland Artist Relief Fund, has lost neither her verve nor drive in pushing the city’s creative talents into the spotlight.
“We want to keep things salty as we witness incredible creative growth and strong arts community bonding. Creative Portland will promote our city’s artistic talents and cultural assets on both our website and our new Creative Portland app, available now for download at the Apple store. We hope to continue our Summer Stage Free Concert Series, and we’re thinking about curating an exciting 2023 New Year’s Eve celebration to include all of the existing music venues, clubs and concert halls, as well as family friendly initiatives. We plan to cast a wider net to attract new audiences and participation in Portland’s cultural life.”
Matt Lewis, president of the restaurant and hotel lobby group Hospitality Maine, foresees that despite the pandemic fallout and a long winter ahead, the state will continue to thrive as a tourist destination.
“I hope that Mainers will recognize the great efforts that our hotel and service worker Professionals make for tourists and locals alike. Visitors to Maine would not be coming back every year if it were not for the incredible travel experiences that travelers get when they dine in a Maine restaurant or stay at one of our fantastic hotels. In many cases, hospitality businesses are operating with fewer dedicated employees than a few years ago, but the welcome is still gracious and welcoming. Maine offers a travel experience that most states cannot duplicate or beat. 2023 shows no sign of slowing down on the travel front and our service workers are one of those reasons.”
As its executive director, Gia Drew oversees EqualityMaine, the oldest statewide organization advocating for LGBTQ+, transgender and queer Mainers. Having lived in Maine over 20 years, Drew’s hope for 2023 was a seamless adjustment to living in Portland for the first time — and Drew also hopes that other new Portland residents will feel the same welcome to the city.
“My wish is for anyone who visits Portland, that they feel welcome, and for those who work and/or live here, that they have an equitable say in what happens in this beautiful, and often fractured small city. I’d like Portland to feel like home for more folks.”
Michael Brennan, State Rep. for District 115 in Maine (which includes Portland), said that the story of 2023 was all about new leadership.
“During the next twelve months, Portland will hire a new city manager, select a new Superintendent of schools, and elect a new mayor. These three positions are pivotal to defining how the City moves forward. The hiring of a city manager and the selection of a new superintendent should be done with a significant amount of transparency and community participation so that consensus candidates will emerge. Hopefully, this will set the tone for a robust election to select the next mayor. In this election, a strong emphasis should be placed on discussing issues and policies that are critical to addressing current problems. At the same time, there must be a clear vision to guide the city. We all need to participate and make sure every voice is heard over the next year. In the end, a bright future is possible.”
Cullen Ryan is the executive director of Community Housing of Maine, an organization that works to find and secure affordable housing for vulnerable Mainers. Ryan has worked closely with city officials and social service agencies to help connect people experiencing homelessness with resources. He stated his 2023 goal succinctly.
“I would like to see Portland be a place where everyone has a home, and can be fully included and live up to their potential as a unique part of this wonderful community.”
Jacqueline Edmondson took over as the fourteenth president of the University of Southern Maine last spring. As she works to facilitate the university’s growth and partnerships within the state, she stressed that access to public higher education is a bedrock of democracy.
“In the years ahead, the University of Southern Maine will rise to new heights as a vibrant and vital educational hub for growth and development in our region, in part because of the strong relationship we have with Portland. Public higher education is essential to a democratic society, and USM is committed to providing accessible, affordable, and excellent educational opportunities to our students and to those in our communities. We look forward to deepening our commitment to the city through the new Portland Commons, the McGoldrick Center for Career and Student Success, and ongoing planning for the Center for the Arts. Our new degree programs in industrial engineering and education, along with our longstanding commitments to nursing, social work, and the arts, will further opportunities for students and the quality of life for those in our region. At USM, we are committed to engaging with community partners to ensure that we have a more just and equitable environment where people are educated and work toward the common good for all who live and work here.”
Reza Jalali has been the executive director for the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center. The author and former refugee praised Portland’s cultural offerings, like the Portland Museum of Art, the symphony and the food scene, as elements that make a small city feel large. He hopes that Portland can expand its capacity for care in the coming year.
“I hope Portland, the city built by immigrants of the past, continues to welcome today’s refugees and the world’s displaced people. Portland has a heart. My hope: the heart expands! My Portland cares, respects, and accepts those different, never mind the differences. I am glad it is hip, but I hope it does not become too trendy to make you feel uncomfortable wearing shorts and an old t-shirt in late January! I am worried it is becoming too expensive for the artists, the waitstaff, the musicians — the very same people who made Portland what it is to live here. Less political division will be cool. We have been a progressive and lefty community. Why change?”
Kate Snyder, the third popularly elected mayor of Portland since voters reestablished the position in 2010, inherited a tough job. She assumed the role just months before the pandemic, which reshaped the city in innumerable ways, and is not seeking reelection this November. But she registered a note of characteristic hopefulness as she assessed the work ahead in the new year.
“I’m looking forward to the opening of the Riverside Homeless Services Center in 2023. I am confident that moving from a rented facility, to one intentionally designed to serve people in need, one that includes on-site wraparound services in partnership with community partners, will yield positive outcomes.
I am also looking forward to the FY24 budget and investment work of the CDBG work, the CIP Budget and the annual municipal operating budget. I’m very focused on seeing the City of Portland hire a City Manager. By hiring a permanent City Manager we can move to address the many interim positions currently in place, as well as other vacancies. And, I look to the work of implementing the Charter amendments approved by voters in November 2022. The amendments to the City’s Charter will require significant City Council and City Staff time and focus — as well as community engagement.”
Mark Swann, executive director for Preble Street, a nonprofit which aims to provide barrier-free assistance for vulnerable people in Portland, said it has become “abundantly clear” that emergency shelters and housing programs are a critical part of public health infrastructure.
“For anyone paying attention over these last few years, it’s become abundantly clear that emergency shelters and site-based Housing First programs for people experiencing homelessness are an important part of the public health infrastructure. As we drive through Portland — or Bangor or Belfast or Presque Isle for that matter — we can all see more people are suffering from homelessness and hunger than in recent memory. We have a homelessness crisis in our city and in Maine as a whole and the available shelters simply cannot meet the need. This has left far too many people living outside, unsheltered.
We need better shelters, run by professional social workers, that not only provide warmth and safety, but also intensive case work services. We need more affordable housing and funding for expanded emergency food services. Finally, we need to find a way to expand site-based Housing First programs like Logan Place, Florence House, and Huston Commons in Portland.”