The Portland Phoenix

Portland Charter Commission: Meet the candidates

More than 20 candidates are on the June 8 ballot for nine seats on the Portland Charter Commission. Campaign signs like these at the intersection of North Street and the Eastern Promenade can be seen throughout the city. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

10 vie for 4 at-large seats

The campaign for four at-large seats on Portland’s upcoming Charter Commission has turned into one of the hottest local election contests in recent memory.

The commission, which was formed by voters last July, will eventually include nine elected members and three members appointed by the City Council. It will reevaluate the city’s constitution and could recommend significant changes to Portland’s method of government – including possibly revising the roles of the hired city manager and popularly elected mayor.  

Ten candidates are competing for the four at-large seats in the June 8 election, which will also put the city’s use of ranked-choice voting to a new test.

In previous elections, the four candidates who received the most votes would win. But this election could be decided by four individual ranked-choice tabulations: Each candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the initial vote will be elected and removed from the pool of candidates; if fewer than four are in the first count the field will be reset and tabulated again until four candidates are elected. 

William Bailey

William Bailey

Bailey, 52, is perhaps the least known candidate in the race. He is a machinist at Limerick Machine Co. where he said he works on parts for nuclear submarines. Bailey has never sought elected office but said he felt compelled to run.

“I am completely out of my comfort zone,” the Southern Maine Community College graduate said.

Bailey, a lifelong Portland resident, said he decided to run because he wants to see a more “balanced approach” in city government. He said it seems to him that between the City Council and School Board, everybody has the same vision for the city.

“We need to hear voices from all sides, not just one side,” he said. “Everybody has the same point of view.”

Bailey said he’d like to see the Charter Commission streamline city government by eliminating either the elected mayor or city manager. He said he is “open to discussion” about both positions, but leans toward keeping the manager.

“I think a city manager makes more sense to me,” Bailey said. “That’s a highly skilled position.”

He said the mayor doesn’t have a role beyond the City Council, and given the amount of money the mayor makes annually, he doesn’t think the city gets its money’s worth.

“That would be a good start in my opinion,” he said. “I think running the city is a huge job that takes a highly skilled person. That’s what the city manager is for. The mayor might not be able to do that.” 

Catherine Buxton

Catherine Buxton

Buxton, 31, has lived in New York City and Boston and said a city like Portland presents more opportunities for individuals to get involved and help create change in their neighborhoods.

“If you look at the way our government is structured, there is so much space to make City Hall more participatory and more diverse and more serving for more people,” she said. “This is an opportunity to actually help Portland live up to the vision that I had when I moved here.”

Buxton is the communications manager for Speak About It, an organization that works to prevent sexual assault, but will soon begin a new career as a baker for Rosemont Market.

She said she would like to see several changes come out of the Charter Commission, but the most important thing is to focus on how power is structured.

One example, she said, is the structure of the city’s voting districts, and how the at-large seats on City Council and School Board can be adjusted. She said by redistricting these areas, elected representatives can be closer to their constituents and be “more literally neighbors.”

“That’s one way you can make the governing body more participatory and give people more access to their councilors,” she said. “The overall thing I’m interested in is building a more participatory government where more people feel they can go to, or it’s serving them.”

Buxton, who graduated from Vassar College with degrees in theater and sociology, has never run for elected office, but has volunteered for political campaigns and organizations. She also previously worked with Planned Parenthood and Portland Trails.

She said she believes in a “strong mayor system,” and the current system is outdated. 

“Most modern progressive cities have a strong mayor or elected executive system, where a person who is accountable to voters is more involved in budgeting and different policy-making decisions,” Buxton said.

Marpheen Chann

Marpheen Chann

Chann, 29, said he is running because this is a “very big opportunity” for Portland to “right the ship and really focus” on framing what the city residents want, instead of focusing on the personalities of those currently in charge.

“We want a city government that’s more transparent and accountable and equitable,” he said. “So how do we get there?”

Chann said it is important to not only “have the right ideas” but also to ensure a robust public process, a democratic process, and one where “people from all walks of life, not just one political persuasion, come together to really chart out a future for all of us.”

Chann, who works for the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, said he believes there is room for both a city manager and an elected mayor. But he said the mayoral role ought to be strengthened and have oversight over the manager, with the ability to appoint or dismiss the manager with approval from the City Council.

“I’m against eliminating the manager,” Chann said. “The bar is extremely high for me in that regard, but I’m in favor of keeping the mayor. … We should (also) keep a professional who is not a politician but has experience in managing cities. Having that helps the mayor and council focus on the broader vision.”

Chann said it should be the role of the mayor to focus on public-facing issues, such as homelessness and climate change, and deal with the big policy picture. He said that often gets lost amid personality clashes.

“The mayor’s role is important in a modern-day democracy,” he said. “Shifting some of those powers that the city manager has to the strong mayor-council-manager system would help the elected mayor do their job better.”

Chann previously ran unsuccessfully for City Council. He currently sits on the city Planning Board and has served on several other volunteer boards. He is also a student at the Muskie School of Public Policy at the University of Southern Maine and a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law.

Lawson Condrey

Lawson Condrey 

Condrey, 35, said he has been involved in civic issues for several years, including volunteering at Portland Adult Education and serving on the Community Development Block Grant annual allocation committee. He said he now wants to have a bigger impact.

“Everything I’m doing is rewarding, and great in a quiet, small way,” Condrey said. “But I wanted to do more. This felt like this is the best way to have the biggest impact on the future of the city.”

Condrey, a project manager at the software company Fionta, said he is in favor of a stronger, more executive mayor, and he wants to increase representation on the City Council and School Board. He said increasing the number of seats could have added benefits beyond clearing up any power struggles between the mayor and city manager.

“We could make the districts more neighborhood-oriented, it would give you more access to your representative, and they would have more shared issues with their neighbors,” Condrey said. “If you live in the same area you’re more likely to be neighbors, as opposed to now, where the districts are geographically vast.”

He added it makes just as much sense for Munjoy Hill or Peaks Island to have their own representative as it does for Riverton or North Deering.

Having smaller districts would also foster clean elections, he said, because smaller districts would likely result in less-expensive campaigns. He said it would likely get rid of the need for citywide mailings, spending thousands of dollars on signs, or even spending money on Facebook ads, since Facebook can’t target just the people in a small neighborhood.

“I think these are all benefits that would make our democracy a lot healthier and would allow more people to get involved who otherwise normally wouldn’t,” Condrey said.

The graduate of St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, said he is not in favor of abolishing the city manager, but would rather see that position be more of a city administrator. He said it’s not reasonable to expect an elected mayor to know how to do things like coordinate payroll for City Hall staff or other “learned, hard skills.”

He said he thinks “inherently political decisions” should be made by those who are elected. For example, he said the municipal budget should be crafted and presented by the mayor, not the manager.

Steve DiMillo

Steve DiMillo

DiMillo, 60, is one of the managers of DiMillo’s on the Water, a popular Commercial Street restaurant. He is also chairman of the board of the Hospitality Maine trade group, past chairman of the Maine Restaurant Association, and a volunteer with the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.

He said he is running to “hopefully add a little balance to the commission” and to maintain the status quo in city government. He said he believes in the current system of a strong city manager who reports to the elected City Council.

“That’s the main reason why I’m running, is to retain that form of government,” he said.

DiMillo said it is important to have a professional in that role instead of a politician, like an elected mayor, who may make policy decisions for political reasons.

“Obviously, I’m in the minority there,” he said.

DiMillo, a graduate of Deering High School, said his primary goal beyond that is to ensure there is no added burden on taxpayers. He said he is against increasing stipends for city councilors, and against giving them any additional assistants or staff beyond what they already have.

“I’m fiscally conservative,” DiMillo said. “… Less is more.”

Anthony Emerson

Anthony Emerson

Emerson, 26, said he wants to be “the voice of the working class” in Portland. As a cashier at Shaw’s Supermarket in Northgate, he said he is “the only essential worker running” for an at-large seat on the commission.

“We faced the brunt of the pandemic head-on, but often the city has not placed our needs high on their list of priorities,” he said. “If we’re going to set out a course for the city, we need someone who has been through the grinder throughout this last year. We need that voice in there to make sure this city is taking care of everyone.”

Emerson, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science and English from the University of Southern Maine, said the biggest change he’d like to see come out of the Charter Commission is increased representation and accountability in city government. At the top of that is the division of power between the city manager and mayor, he said, which needs repair.

“The person making policy decisions should be accountable to voters,” Emerson said. “And after they make decisions they should face ramifications.”

Additionally, he said he wants increased representation on the City Council: the islands should have their own councilors, and the nine-member council should be increased to 13 seats. He said Portland residents have “more representation (in the Legislature)” than they do on the council.

Emerson said he doesn’t think the city should completely scrap the city manager position. Instead, he thinks there should be a professional staff that is not involved with policy decisions.

Emerson unsuccessfully ran for School Board last fall. He also said he’s been “fairly involved” in Democratic politics, as a volunteer on U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, and Betsy Sweet’s recent campaign for U.S Senate in Maine.

Ben Grant

Benjamin Grant

Grant, 43, said he doesn’t believe city government has been producing enough results on key issues the past 10 years, from closing the achievement gap in schools to solving the homelessness crisis.

“I think the Charter Commission is an opportunity to create better structures to create progress,” he said. “I don’t lay the blame at the feet of those elected. We elected a lot of good people, but the city government is hamstrung by the system set up in the charter.”

Grant, a partner in the Topsham law firm McTeague, Higbee & Case, said the elected mayor doesn’t have enough authority, and the biggest recommendation he’d like to see come out of the Charter Commission involves how the city budget is created. He said the mayor should be like the state governor and propose the full budget.

“Right now the budget is created in two halves, at different times by two different people, neither of whom is elected,” he said, referring to the city manager and superintendent of schools. “It creates this unhealthy hot potato.”

Grant said he believes the “mayor should put their name on the budget and have a real, honest discussion on what’s going on.”

Grant, who attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut, then the University of Maine School of Law, said he favors transferring powers from the city manager to the elected mayor because “the mayor is accountable to the people, the city manager isn’t.”

“This isn’t about the current or past mayors or city managers, this is about the people in those positions in the future,” Grant said. “Too many decisions, especially broad policy decisions, are made by people who are not accountable to the voters.”

Grant said while the previous Charter Commission in 2009 created the role of the popularly elected mayor, it is up to the next commission to “fill in the gaps.”

He said he opposes eliminating the city manager position, however, because there should be professionals managing city staff.

“But I also think there is room to have a mayor come in,” Grant said, “(and) have a couple of appointments at the highest levels to have a team to implement their vision, which they presumably ran (for election) on.”

Grant served as Maine Democratic Party chair from 2011-2014, and was a senior adviser to Gov. Janet Mills during her campaign. He also served as legal counsel to the Maine speaker of the House, and was legal counsel to U.S. Rep. Jared Golden’s primary election campaign. He unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic primary for House District 43 last summer.

Ian Houseal

Ian Houseal

Houseal, 42, said the Charter Commission is an “opportunity to volunteer,” and having worked in government since 2007, he’s familiar with how municipal charters, including Portland’s, work.

“I’ve worked in government administration since that time too,” he said. “I work closely with city councils and help set up organizational structures. I write ordinances as well.”

Houseal is the community development director in Sanford, and was Portland’s first sustainability coordinator under City Manager Jon Jennings. While he hasn’t held elected office, he has served on the boards of the Portland Media Center and the former U.S. Green Building Council.

Houseal said one of the biggest changes he’d like to see come out of the Charter Commission is the need for a public advocate, or even an ombudsman position, to help residents more easily navigate government.

“Hopefully (the office) would advocate for those with a less powerful voice,” he said, “possibly for those parts of the community that don’t have a voice, such as its land and environment.”

Houseal, who has an undergraduate degree from Bates College in Lewiston and master’s degrees in architecture and regional planning from the University of North Carolina, said he doesn’t think the mayor or city manager should be the executive of the city. In fact, he doesn’t think the city needs a stronger executive at all.

“I think we need better balance,” he said.

While the city manager position as written is “far from perfect,” Houseal said, it was put there for due process and to ensure laws are upheld. He said he is against giving the mayor more power because it would reduce equity.

“When you have a political figure at the head there’s a lot more opportunity for violation of law,” he said, “because it’s up to those who seek power, versus the professional staff who are not there for that purpose.”

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef

Sheikh-Yousef, 30, said the structure of city government must be changed, specifically the role of the city manager: She’d like to abolish the city manager position and have a stronger, popularly elected mayor.

She also said she’d like to see a bigger push for local clean elections. She said as a working-class person, she has now experienced how stressful running for office can be and how difficult it is to raise money.

She said she’d also like to see at-large seats removed from the city council in favor of district representation, and make them full-time positions. 

Sheikh-Yousef, who graduated from the University of Southern Maine and works in food service at the Barron Center, said she wants to abolish the city manager because it’s an unelected position, and as such there is a lack of accountability.

“They can do whatever they want, that’s not democracy,” she said. “Jon Jennings has made so much harm to our city, and our mayor and City Council didn’t hold him accountable.”

Sheikh-Yousef said there are many people in the city who probably don’t know what the city manager does, and said it’s “unbelievable we allowed this to continue.”

“It’s time to go, this white supremacy system,” she said. “It was created by white supremacy,” referring to the Ku Klux Klan’s successful backing of a bid to eliminate the mayoral system in the 1920s. “It’s time to remove that and represent the poor, marginalized community. Let them know you matter in this city.”

Pat Washburn

Patricia Washburn 

As a person with a disability and a renter, Washburn, 56, said she has unique perspectives that aren’t often represented in city government.

“I’m interested in using my resources to make the city a better place,” she said.

Washburn, a copywriter for Aetna with a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University, said the biggest change she would like to see come out of the Charter Commission is either eliminating the city manager position, or making the role subordinate to elected officials “so decisions are being made by people who are responsive to the voters.”

She also said she would like to see more diversity, equity, and inclusion in city government to “dismantle structures of systemic racism and make functions of city government more welcoming for people with disabilities and all underserved populations.”

Washburn said she is in favor of scrapping the city manager position and giving more power to the mayor because she believes the voters should ultimately be in charge.

“All of us can’t take the time to run the city,” she said. “But those who do should be accountable to the voters directly.”

While she has not previously sought elected office, Washburn said she has been a board member of Disability Voters of Maine, and has been active in the Democratic Party, supporting the Affordable Care Act as well as “encouraging voters not to vote for Susan Collins.”

— Colin Ellis

Contests in 4 of 5 districts

Eleven people are on the ballot for five district seats in Portland’s June 8 Charter Commission election, including one who is now unchallenged.

Em Burnett dropped out of the District 2 race earlier this month, leaving Robert O’Brien as the only candidate.

In District 1, Twain Braden also decided to end his candidacy, leaving three candidates competing for that seat: Shay Stewart-Bouley, Karen Snyder, and David Cowie.

Ten candidates are also running for four at-large seats on the commission.

Voters formed the Charter Commission last summer after the Fair Elections Portland group pushed for taxpayer funding for city elections, also known as clean elections. A key issue in the race has also become the future of Portland’s governmental structure, which now has an elected mayor and hired city manager. Some candidates would like to see the elected mayor have more power over city policy and other operations.

District 1: David Cowie, Karen Snyder, Shay Stewart-Bouley

Cowie, 63, said he decided to run after some of his friends convinced him he would do a good job. If elected, he said he would approach the commission with an “open ear,” and aim to understand what changes the citizens of his district would like to see addressed.

David Cowie

Cowie holds a bachelor’s degree in education with a minor in political science from the University of Southern Maine. Before retiring, he was a sixth-grade teacher for 30 years in the Bath public schools. He has also served on the board and executive committee of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association and is a founding member of Friends of Fort Sumner Park.

Some city issues of importance to Cowie are making adjustments to police oversight, and working to make sure city government is “as accessible and equitable as possible,” he said.

Portland needs a city manager, Cowie said, because it’s too big to be managed by a mayor alone, and he does not like the idea of a politician overseeing the budget.

He said he also supports expanding the City Council to either bring more representation to existing districts or by adding districts, such as an island district to make sure all residents have access to their city councilors and are being heard.

Snyder, 53, said the primary issue the Charter Commission should focus on is the reason it was formed: clean elections.

While there are “a lot of issues floating around” that candidates are discussing, she said, it is more important for the commission to be thorough and focused on a few central issues.

Karen Snyder

Another one of those is redistricting. Snyder said there should be at least nine election districts represented by city councilors. That could be accomplished, she said, by eliminating the four at-large seats now on the council.

In addition to being a Portland landlord, Snyder works as a data migration consultant. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering from Oklahoma State University, and a master’s in business administration from Tulsa University. She has worked as a community organizer and is a board member of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association.

She has also recently advocated for the creation of the Munjoy Hill Historic District.

Snyder said “something needs to change” to ensure more transparency in city government and to “demystify” the relationship between the city manager and elected mayor. More balance is needed, she said, but Snyder believes the city manager should still handle functions including the budget.

After more than two decades of social justice work, Stewart-Bouley, 48, said she looks forward to carrying out a different type of public service if elected to the Charter Commission. 

Stewart-Bouley, who writes a blog called Black Girl in Maine, is the executive director of Community Change, a Boston-based anti-racism organization. She holds a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University in Illinois and a master’s from Antioch University New England.

She said she sees the Charter Commission as a way to review if Portland is “where we want to be” as a city. As a resident of Peaks Island, Stewart-Bouley said a key concern of hers is the island’s representation on the City Council, where she said islanders do not have direct representation.

Shay Stewart-Bouley

Stewart-Bouley said she would also like to streamline the school budgeting process, which she believes turns city residents into adversaries.

Additionally, she would like to consider allowing all Portland residents to vote, regardless of citizenship. She said other municipalities across the country have done so successfully, although safeguards would have to be created to protect people from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Stewart-Bouley would also like to see Portland move towards a stronger mayor system, though she acknowledged someone also needs to run the daily operations of City Hall.

Portland’s current government structure, she said, is “not one that necessarily promotes equity or democracy.”

Candidates campaign for mayor in Portland based on “a set of principles,” Stewart-Bouley said, and people vote for them thinking a mayor is capable of moving such policies along, but that is not the case. The current system leads to a lack of accountability, she said.

“I would like a system where the mayor would propose policies but would need approval from City Council in order to enact any of those policies,” Stewart-Bouley said. 

District 2: Robert O’Brien

This is the second time O’Brien, 41, has run for Charter Commission; he also served on Portland’s last commission in 2009.

O’Brien is a program director at the Maine Development Foundation and holds a bachelor’s degree from Bates College and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Southern Maine. He also served on the Portland School Board for three years and was president of the West End Neighborhood Association. 

Robert O’Brien

O’Brien said he studied and debated the issues for hundreds of hours on the last commission, and in the 12 years since has watched as the charter “played out in real time.”

“I’ve just never stopped thinking about it and I’d love to get back in there and make some big changes to the way we form our government in Portland,” he said.

One of the changes he supports is the election of a stronger, executive mayor. O’Brien said that the mayor could nominate department heads to be ratified by the City Council. Because city managers are not elected, he said Portland needs an administrator voters can hold accountable at the polls.

O’Brien noted there should also be job descriptions for each department head to ensure employees are qualified. Department heads should also be hired under contracts lasting one to three years, and only fired for cause, he said.

O’Brien said an executive mayor could hire a chief of staff to take on the city manager’s former duties.

He also supports a shorter mayoral term and believes Portland’s mayor should only serve for three years, which would hold them accountable more frequently.

Shortening the mayor’s term, he believes, will also reduce the number of referenda that are proposed each election cycle. He said he believes referenda are symptoms of voters feeling the city is not responsive to their concerns.

District 3: Zachary Barowitz, Brian Batson, Charles Bryon

For Barowitz, 52, the decision to run stemmed from what he called his long-standing interest in the work of the city’s last Charter Commission, which finished its work more than a decade ago. 

Zack Barowitz

As a community advocate with 15 years of experience, Barowitz said he has spent a lot of time working on public policy. He chairs the Portland Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and is past chair of the Libbytown Neighborhood Association, as well as the treasurer of the Greater Portland Community Land Trust. He has also served on the Libbytown Circulation and Street Study Task Force.

Barowitz works as a property manager for Gebhardt Property Management and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in American studies from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and a Master of Arts degree from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. 

Barowitz said he would like to see city government run more effectively by “enhancing democracy while maintaining professional administration for the city (and its budget).”

He pointed to Westbrook’s government structure as one he would support for Portland, employing a city administrator to handle duties such as ensuring city legal compliance and dealing with contracts. That administrator could make policy recommendations, but Barowitz believes elected officials such as the mayor or city councilors should make political determinations.

The system should have checks and balances, he said, including safeguards to prevent an elected mayor from choosing an administrator who would “politicize functions of city government.” The administrator, he added, could be ratified or removed by councilors with a supermajority.

“I would (support) a city administrator/manager who is hired and reports to the mayor, but with some council oversight,” he said. 

Voters may be familiar with Batson, 30, from his three years as a city councilor in District 3, which he believes will be a valuable experience if he is elected to the Charter Commission. He served as a councilor from 2016-2019.

Batson said it’s important for voters to remember the charter election is not just a “referendum on ideas,” and to be aware of what changes are realistic for the commission to make.

Brian Batson

“Ideas are going to become more fluid, perspectives are going to change,” he said. “It’s important to have someone there that’s experienced and capable of navigating these challenging discussions.”

Batson is a registered nurse who currently works as a community liaison for MaineHealth. He holds a bachelor’s degree in science and nursing from Lasell University in Auburndale, Massachusetts.

If elected, he said he would like to see the mayor have a “little more power than they do now,” which he said could include being more involved in the budget process, and possibly more power over city committee assignments.

He would also like to see voting expanded to all of Portland’s residents, citizens or not, in a “thoughtful and careful” way. He also supports clean elections.

Batson said Portland’s government “would not function without a qualified professional to run (its) day-to-day operations,” and that he would urge “extreme caution” about advocating for getting rid of the city manager position. 

However, he said, only elected officials like city councilors and the mayor should be policymakers.

“We need to be very careful when we are looking into the charter that we are not empowering staff to control policy,” Batson said. 

Bryon, 45, said he decided to run as a way to get more involved in local politics, especially after last November’s election where several referendums backed by grassroots organizations were passed.

Charles Bryon

While many candidates for the commission have a “variety of different agendas,” Bryon said, he thinks it is important to pay more attention to what the citizens of Portland want.

If elected, he said, he would like clearer language to be used in the City Charter. He believes the city manager and mayor should exist and work together, and if possible, the charter should allow for more collaboration between them.

He also thinks the mayor should have “more influence on policy,” he said, and – although he experienced “sticker shock” when he saw the salaries of Portland’s mayor and city manager – it is important to pay the city manager a good salary to ensure Portland is competitive with other cities.

He also said the city manager has a “huge job” and is “profoundly important” to the operations of the city.

Bryon is an accountant for Haley & Aldrich, a construction engineering company, and is the former owner of the now-closed Commercial Street restaurant The Salt Exchange. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of New Hampshire and a master’s degree in operations and project management from Southern New Hampshire University. 

District 4: Marcques Houston, Cheryl Leeman

Houston, 25, said he has worked on several political campaigns, most recently the successful campaign by U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia. Houston also worked on former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling’s unsuccessful reelection campaign in 2019, and has worked for the Maine Senate Democrats and Maine Democratic Party.

He was also an organizer of the Maine March for Racial Justice and serves on the board of Equity in Portland Schools.

Marcques Houston

Houston is a parent organizer for Starting Strong Early Education and Care, an organization that advocates for preschool and early education programs, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Colby College.

If elected, he said, he would like to see the mayor have more policy power. Despite being elected “based on a vision that they have for the city of Portland,” Houston said the city’s mayors have “no power to live out that vision in any capacity.”

He also wants to help create a more transparent and accountable city government and enact clean elections.

Houston said he thinks there is room for an administrator to lead the day-to-day operations of the city, but the commission should specify how the mayor and manager will work together.

“We’ve seen a lot of dysfunction in the past,” he said. “So (we should look at) how we can make sure those two are working together well.”

With 30 years of public service experience, Leeman, 73, said she hopes to bring two things to the commission that she thinks are lacking: experience and balance.

Voters may be familiar with Leeman for her three decades representing District 4 on the City Council, and her three years on the School Board.

Cheryl Leeman

Leeman, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Maine, said she is approaching the Charter Commission process with “no preconceived notions or opinions” about its outcome except that she believes the city needs a professionally qualified city manager.

That’s important, she said, because it allows for more accountability. If the city manager is not doing his or her job, the council can “get rid of them,” Leeman said. But if the same is true of an elected mayor, residents are “stuck with them for four years.”

One of her concerns about the Charter Commission process, she said, is that there are self-interested political groups “with a predetermined agenda” about what they want out of the process.

She said it is important for commissioners to do research and encourage public participation before making recommendations.

Leeman, who was a longtime regional representative for former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said some people are criticizing her because she’s a Republican.

“So, what?” she said. “This is a nonpartisan citizen review board. Period.”

District 5: Ryan Lizanecz, Mony Hang

Lizanecz, 23, grew up in District 5, which includes North Deering, Deering Center, and Riverton. He said he often refers to the three neighborhoods as “Portland’s forgotten district,” and is running to give it more of a voice and to lobby for “common-sense” changes.

One change he would like is the reintroduction of community boards – groups of citizens that advise city councilors on issues.

Ryan Lizanecz

Much of the frustration Portlanders have with how City Hall works, Lizanecz said, is due to not feeling heard and community boards could help alleviate that. He also supports clean elections, which he called a “low-cost reform” that would allow more people to run for elected office.

Lizanecz is a law student at the University of Maine School of Law and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Bates College. He also graduated from Portland’s public school system. 

He has worked on political campaigns and done local policy work, he said, including managing the campaign of state Rep. Ed Crockett, D-Portland, who also lives in District 5. 

Lizanecz said he would like to see a stronger mayor in Portland, but also thinks the city needs a city administrator who should work under the direction of the council and mayor on the day-to-day city operations.

Portland’s mayor is now essentially a “glorified city councilor,” Lizanecz said, and he thinks the council and the mayor, not the city manager, should implement policies. He also said the mayor should be more involved with decisions like appointing department heads, although that risks politicizing the appointments. 

“If we’re going to have a mayor (and spend) $70,000 (or more) a year on a mayor, they should be able to do things,” he said. “Either that or we should get rid of them.”

For Portland native Hang, 45, the Charter Commission election is his first campaign for elected office. He is running, he said, to become more involved and to better understand how the system works. 

Mony Hang

Hang is a real estate broker and owner of Milestone Realty. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from West Virginia Wesleyan College and is a graduate of the Portland Public Schools. He is also a track coach at Portland High School, and coaches a flag football team of 80 third- and fourth-grade girls.

Hang said he likes the way city government is currently set up and does not believe it makes sense to give the mayor more power over the city manager.

He noted that Portlanders may not know the mayor’s background and experience, but the city manager was hired with years of experience in his field. He said, however, his mind could change if he is elected to the commission because he is open to listening to “all different perspectives.”

Hang is also opposed to clean elections, and said the idea “doesn’t make any sense.” People who want to run for any city office should be “qualified and invested in the community,” he said, and should have to raise the funds necessary to run a campaign.

“It’s a good opportunity to meet people in the community and get to know everyone,” he said. “I just don’t agree that our tax money should go to support everyone that wants to run.”

— Elizabeth Clemente

Candidates report campaign finances

Candidates for the Portland Charter Commission were required to file finance reports 42 days before the June 8 election. The reports ranged from having raised little or nothing, to more than $10,000 for a bid in the crowded field of at-large candidates. 

District 1

Twain Braden: No funds raised or spent. He has since dropped out of the race.

Shamika (Shay) Stewart-Bouley: Raised $5,283 and spent $957. Received a $100 donation from City Councilor Pious Ali, a $104 donation from People First Portland representative Kate Sykes, and a $500 donation from John Frickle of Lakewood, Colorado.

Karen Snyder: Raised nothing, but spent $747.

David Cowie: Nothing raised or spent.

District 2

Robert O’Brien: Raised and spent $101, which he donated to himself.

Em Burnett: Raised $2,250 and spent nearly $748 before withdrawing from the race. Burnett, who is no longer running, said part of their remaining funds would be donated to first-time female candidates. Received several out-of-state donations, including unspecified contributions from residents of California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Washington D.C., Virginia, Vermont, and Hawaii.

District 3

Zachary Barowitz: Raised $9,561 and spent $1,812. Also reported loaning himself $5,000, and $226 worth of debt. Barowitz received several donations from contributors out of state, including $500 from Jordan Barowitz in Brooklyn, New York; $500 from Josh Wachs, president of Wachs Strategies in Washington, D.C.; $260 from Nicholas Scharlatt of New York; $104 from  Alex Bhattacharji of California; plus other larger donations from Mainers, including $500 from Andrew Bebe, an investor in South Bristol.

Brian Batson: Raised just over $610 and had spent $291. Donated $300 to himself, and received $208 from Charlton Smith, $50 from Mary Kate O’Sullivan, and $52 from James Michael Taylor. 

Charles Bryon: Raised and spent $17 of his own money. 

District 4

Marcques Houston: Raised $4,551 and spent $483, including donations of $50 or less totalling more than $2,900. Also received a $100 donation from former Mayor Ethan Strimling, a $100 donation from City Councilor Pious Ali, and a $100 donation from People First Portland representative Kate Sykes. 

Cheryl Leeman: Raised $3,071 and spent just over $1,040. Received several $500 donations, including one from herself, and one from Joshua Miranda, the owner of cocktail bar Blyth & Burrows.

District 5

Ryan Lizanecz: Raised $1,310 and spent $1,057. More than $500 came from donations of $50 or less. All of his other donations were $108 or less. He received a $100 donation from state Rep. Ed Crockett, D-Portland, and a $100 donation from state Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland.

Mony Hang: Reported a $487 loan from Maine Girls Flag Football, a nonprofit organization that is prohibited from making donations. Hang said he mistakenly used the organization’s credit card when purchasing lawn signs, and plans to pay the money back.


Ian Houseal: Spent $115 of his own money. 

William Bailey: Spent $237 of his own money.

Catherine Buxton: Raised $2,522 and spent just under $483. Reported a $300 loan to herself, and reported $1,541 of debt. 

Hope Rovelto: Withdrew from the race and did not raise funds.

Marpheen Chann: Raised $10,239 and spent nearly $6,108. Contributions ranged from $50-$500, with most from within Maine. He received $500 from real estate developer Robert Monks, $500 from entrepreneur Jay Norris, and separate donations from Joseph and John Baldacci.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef: Raised $1,372 and spent nearly $351, and has $1,500 in unpaid debts. Donations included $500 from Kate Sykes of People First Portland and $100 from City Councilor Pious Ali.

Benjamin Grant: Raised $7,735 and spent just over $2,858. Received $500 donations from Ross Mattis, former state Sen. Justin Alfond, and Clair Grant. Most of his other donations ranged from $25-$250. Also received a $100 donation from at-large candidate Marpheen Chann. 

Lawson Condrey: Raised $2,816 and spent almost $2,299. Most donations were $50 or less, but also had $100 donations from Elizabeth Condrey, Evan Smith, and Kalie Dunn, and a $200 donation from Michael Condrey. Also donated $400 to himself. 

Steven DiMillo: Raised and spent $330. Received a $300 donation from Stephen and Mary Anderson of Cape Elizabeth, and $30 from Jason Briggs of Biddeford. 

Patricia Washburn: Raised $1,291 and had spent $1,245. All were $100 or less, except for a donation of just over $200 from herself. 

Anthony Emerson: Raised $1,957 and spent nothing. Received a $200 donation from People First Portland representative Kate Sykes, and also appears to have used a donation of just over $1,080 left from when he ran for School Board.

— Colin Ellis

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