With differing career paths and levels of experience, the candidates for two Portland City Council district seats have different opinions about the best path forward for the city.
The two seats are available because incumbent Councilor Belinda Ray and former Councilor Spencer Thibodeau chose not to seek reelection. The candidates in the Nov. 2 election are Sarah Michniewicz and Anna Trevorrow in District 1, and Jon Hinck and Victoria Pelletier in District 2.
Michniewicz, 50, said she is running to replace Ray because of her experience living in Bayside for 25 years. She is president of the Bayside Neighborhood Association and said there are very few community issues she doesn’t have experience with, which has allowed her to be part of the city’s governing process.
“I felt that Portland needs some really committed, thoughtful, and nonpartisan leaders who will focus on common-sense solutions to problem-solving,” she said.
Michniewicz said while the work of the Racial Equity Steering Committee was important, it was equally important to note that the committee chose not to consider the cost of each of its recommendations, which means there is more work to do.
She said oversight of the Police Department is essential, and the existing Police Citizen Review Subcommittee doesn’t serve that purpose. She said if there is a will to revamp it, she would want to see the members be nonpartisan and be required to be versed in police work and use-of-force policies to ensure investigations are fact-based and fair. She also said having behavioral health experts as first-responders, as suggested by the RESC, is a good idea that has worked well in Bayside.
A seamstress by trade, Michniewicz said she thinks ranked-choice voting works well in one-seat races because it allows voters to vote their conscience. But she said the formula doesn’t work as well when several candidates are running for several seats. She said she would like to see the system amended to reduce the threshold of victory to be proportionate to the number of seats, instead of just 51 percent.
Michniewicz said she believes the city manager position has worked well for Portland, and there have been “several years of responsive and responsible budgeting.” She said she is “hard-pressed” to see how a stronger mayor would ultimately benefit the city.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to place legislative and executive power in the same seat,” she said, adding that the criticism of the manager has had little to do with the actual position. She also said the current elected mayor-hired manager system works fine “if everyone knows their roles.”
Michniewicz said she supports the city’s process and plan for a 208-bed homeless services center on Riverside Street. As a supporter of the moratorium on new shelters in Bayside, she said a facility like the one proposed, with all the necessary services in one location, will allow people to navigate homelessness more efficiently. She said the planned shelter might have been better on a site closer to downtown, but the existing facility on Oxford Street remains “immoral.”
“This is the piece we are missing,” she said. “The Oxford Street Shelter has been holding us back.”
Michniewicz said she may have voted against a proposed mask mandate for indoor public spaces had she already been a councilor because there was a lack of city-specific information and the lack of a statewide mandate. She also said she does support individual businesses requiring the use of masks.
Michniewicz said the first job for the next council will be to address affordable housing. She said Portland has to come to terms with its popularity and the council must work to keep the city affordable, sustainable, and livable.
One way to do that is to incentivize developers to build the right kind of housing and rehabilitate existing housing stock, she said, as well as better use of the Jill Duson Housing Trust Fund and other revenue streams.
Trevorrow, 39, said she is running because she wants to take her experience as an elected public official and “get to work on a number of issues” the city is facing. The longtime member of the School Board, and former School Board chair, said as the child of public-school teachers she was taught to “participate civically and engage.”
Trevorrow, who served on the city’s last Charter Commission in 2010, didn’t initially recall the recommendations that came from the Racial Equity Steering Committee. But once prompted, she said she would support dissolving the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee and having mental health professionals serve as first-responders.
During her tenure on the School Board, she said, there was a lot of work on anti-racism, learning how internal biases inform decision making, and how disadvantages are upheld through biases.
“That’s work the council needs to continue,” Trevorrow said, “and really commit to policymaking through an equity lens.”
Trevorrow, a malpractice paralegal at the law firm Norman, Hanson and DeTroy, said she was a “chief proponent” of ranked-choice voting on the Charter Commission because it reflects the majority will of the voters. She said sometimes that result can be “a bit shocking,” as with June’s commission election, but she doesn’t have a strong opinion about how Portland’s system worked in that case and it should be a question for the sitting Charter Commission to tackle.
Trevorrow said she leans toward strengthening the mayor’s role in city government, which was also an issue the last Charter Commission tackled. The thinking at the time, she said, was there were projects – such as the development of the Maine State Pier – that would get shelved, and the hope was an elected mayor would have the bandwidth to carry out policies they promoted.
“We came to a compromise,” she said. “I’m not really sure we gave enough teeth to the position to be able to fully affect what we were hoping.”
Trevorrow said she agreed with the city’s plan for the Riverside shelter. She said she appreciates the sentiment of the smaller shelter initiative, but “from a humanitarian perspective” there is an urgent need to get people out of the Oxford Street Shelter and “into a more dignified living situation.”
“I don’t think it’s perfect but it’s a big step up,” she said. “It’s important we follow the momentum that’s begun with that. My concern is starting at ground zero puts us behind at meeting the immediate needs of people sleeping at the Oxford Street Shelter.”
Trevorrow said she would have supported a proposed mask mandate because masking is a small thing everyone can do to protect public health.
She said the most important first job for the new council will be hiring a city manager. With Jon Jennings leaving, she said, the city has an opportunity to look at what its values are and hire for a strategic vision.
That was the approach the School Board used to find Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana, Trevorrow said, and his strategic plan is the guiding document for the board.
Hinck, 67, is no stranger to elected politics; he served as an at-large city councilor for one term that ended in 2016. He said he is running to replace Thibodeau because he has remained engaged with public policy in the city and wants to help steer the city towards a good future.
Hinck, who is also a former state representative, said most if not all of the recommendations from the RESC should be implemented. He said specifically he would like to see the PCRS overhauled to have “more heft,” and also supports having mental health professionals be part of the crisis first-response team.
“We’ve come to recognize that many of the times police are called into action, what really is needed at the time is an intervention with respect to mental health,” he said.
Hinck, an attorney at the Fitzgerald Law Group, said he has long been a supporter of ranked-choice voting and introduced a bill in 2006 to have the gubernatorial election be conducted with RCV. However, he acknowledged there is more than one method of RCV, and admitted the system Portland used in June – known as multi-pass runoff – was not the right system for the Charter Commission. He called that a strike against the methodology, not RCV.
Hinck said while he doesn’t want to undermine the ongoing work of the Charter Commission, he believes the relationship between the mayor and city manager is not right. He said there’s a substantial amount of work the mayor can do even if it’s not a more executive position, and he even posited the mayor could be a part-time position.
He said the last Charter Commission did a good job in creating a mayoral position that prepares the council, is an interface with the manager, and can be a focal point in the community. He said he doesn’t support the idea of a more executive and powerful mayor.
Hinck didn’t want to hypothesize about how he would have voted on certain issues had he been on the council, since he said councilors have more information at their fingertips than even the most informed citizens. Regarding the Riverside shelter, he said he has no reason to believe the council and Planning Board “didn’t do a careful review and make a considered decision.” He said he would go along with the decisions made by both bodies.
Similarly, on the proposed mask mandate, Hinck said the council was presented with more information than he as a citizen accessed. He said he felt fine deferring to the decision made by the council, which was to avoid the mandate.
Hinck said a top priority for the next council is addressing affordable housing. He said that was something the council was working on when he previously served and it has now become a statewide issue.
“There’s a pretty good list of small measures that a city can take to try and create more affordable housing and also to address our response to unaffordable housing,” he said, adding those tools include rent vouchers and fees for developers of market-rate housing.
Pelletier, 33, said she is running because she wants elected leaders to reflect the real experience of people in the district. She said as a young Black woman who is a renter, her life experience is important, especially in terms of housing. She said she is afraid she won’t be able to live in Portland if housing prices continue to increase.
Pelletier, a special projects coordinator working in racial equity with the Greater Portland Council of Governments, said she thinks all the recommendations of the RESC should be adopted. Two highlights she mentioned as important are dissolving the PCRS and adopting an alternative crisis model. But she also said it is important to allocate more funding to have social workers and people trained in de-escalation as first-responders instead of police.
Pelletier said she is happy with RCV, and said voting is an area where Portland leads by example. She said she knows some people don’t like the system, but it encourages more people to vote.
“It doesn’t limit people to just singular votes,” she said. “It allows democracy to be heard.”
Pelletier said she is open to electing a stronger mayor. She said under the current power-sharing dynamic voters are unsure of where the power is held, so eliminating the manager and elevating the mayor would be a positive new direction for the city.
Regarding the Riverside shelter, Pelletier said it is important to remember the people talking about the proposal and deciding on it come from a point of privilege – they all have homes. She said she supports the smaller shelters initiative because helping the unhoused is not a one-district issue. She said the Riverside shelter is a bad idea, designed to move the unhoused community away from the downtown area and out of tourists’ sight.
Pelletier said she would have supported a proposed mask mandate and is disappointed the council rejected it. She said it was a strange decision to ”wait for a problem to happen” and then call for a mandate as a response, rather than acting preemptively.
She said the most important job for the next council is to inspire unity. She said each person has a viewpoint, but the council will need to work collectively to make Portland a better place. She also said housing affordability is a major issue the council needs to address, and it will have to reexamine existing zoning laws to do that.
“We are going to have to work as a team on common goals,” Pelletier said.