Portland Charter Commission draws interest from more than 2 dozen potential candidates

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With just over two weeks left before the filing deadline, 26 Portland residents have taken out nomination papers to possibly run for the upcoming Charter Commission, including nearly a dozen for four at-large seats.

As of Monday evening, none of the potential candidates had returned their papers.

There are nine seats on the ballot in the June 8 election: the four at-large positions and one in each of the city’s five voting districts. Three other commission members – Michael Kebede, Peter Eglinton, and Dory Waxman – were appointed by the City Council last summer.

The commission will be empowered to propose changes to the structure of city government. For example, the last time a commission was convened, it proposed the return to a popularly elected mayor, with day-to-day operations the responsibility of the city manager. Any commission proposals will need approval from the voters. 

In District 1, five people have taken out papers: Twain Braden, David Cowie, Daniel Stevens, Shamika (Shay) Stewart-Bouley, and Karen Snyder. Stewart-Bouley is best known for her “Black Girl in Maine” blog and podcast, and Snyder is a landlord on Munjoy Hill.

In District 2, four residents have taken out papers. They are Robert O’Brien, who served on the last Charter Commission in 2010; Em Burnett, who was a strategist on Mayor Kate Snyder’s successful election campaign and also served as an organizer and spokesperson for the progressive group People First Portland; Jared Sawyer, and attorney Urban Charles (Chuck) Remmel.

Three individuals have taken out nomination papers in District 3, including former one-term City Councilor Brian Batson. Zachary Barowitz and Leo Hilton, who has served as an organizer for People First Portland, have also taken out papers.

Two residents have taken out papers in District 4. They are Marcques Houston, who served on the board of Progressive Portland, is a former organizer for the Maine Democratic Party, and was field director for former Mayor Ethan Strimling’s failed reelection campaign, and former Mayor and City Councilor Cheryl Leeman.

District 5 so far has the only uncontested race, with University of Maine School of Law student Ryan Lizanecz the only resident to have taken out papers.

The most crowded field is for the four at-large seats, where 11 people have so far taken out papers. They are Planning Board member Marpheen Chann; Black POWER organizer Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef; former City Council candidate Kenneth Capron; Benjamin Grant, a former chair of the Maine Democratic Party who lost a primary election last year for the Maine House; Lawson Condrey; William Bailey; Steven DiMillo, owner of DiMillo’s on the Water and the treasurer of the group that opposed most of the referendum questions on the city ballot last fall; Patricia Washburn; former School Board candidate Anthony Emerson; Ian Houseal, a former Portland city employee who currently serves as Sanford’s community development director, and Travis Curran, who ran for mayor in 2019. 

Voters created the Charter Commission last summer, after the Fair Elections Portland group tried to put a proposed charter amendment on the city ballot to provide taxpayer funding for city elections. The group sued the city after city councilors rejected the proposal. That ultimately led to the referendum on creation of the commission, which was approved overwhelmingly. 

Nomination papers are still available at the city clerk’s office, Room 24 in the basement of City Hall. The entrance is via Myrtle Street, and masks are required. Papers are due back by March 29.

Candidates running in a specific district must collect a minimum of 75 signatures from registered voters and a maximum of 150. A candidate running for one of the four at-large seats must collect at least 300 signatures, and no more than 500.