Friday, November 17, 2006

The Forecaster

New ruling class; A younger generation gets into local politics
By Kate Bucklin (published: November 16, 2006)

PORTLAND – Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall decided they were going to run for City Council in March.

Shortly thereafter, Marshall kicked Donoghue out of his Pine Street home.

“I found him a new place to live,” Marshall, 28, said this week as he and Donoghue relaxed and talked at Sebago Brewing Co. in the Old Port.

Donoghue, 27, moved to Munjoy Hill and began preparing to run for the District 1 council seat. Across town, Marshall plotted his campaign for the District 2 seat. Both of them won, and are among four young, political neophytes elected last week who have the potential to change the face of Portland politics and government.

The others are newly elected School Committee representatives Robert O’Brien, 27, and 32-year-old Rebecca Minnick.

Both Donoghue and Marshall are active in the local Green Independent Party, which Donoghue is credited with helping to resurrect, but their decisions to run were more personal.

For Marshall, who grew up in Augusta and whose prior elected office, he jokes, was president of his eighth-grade class, the decision to run was made when the council OK’d a series of statues outside Hadlock Field.

“That made me angry enough to run for council,” Marshall, an artist, said. His gripe was with the council’s rejection of a Public Art Committee recommendation against accepting the bronze statues depicting a family going to a Portland Seadogs game.

“They put together this group of community members, from the arts community, and then largely ignored them,” Marshall said.

Donoghue said he did not have a specific moment of clarity. Instead, he had an urge to do what he went to school for. “Maine gave me an excellent education, but no opportunity to use it,” said the recent Muskie School of Public Service graduate.

“Kevin creates new bus route maps in his spare time,” Marshall said with a laugh. Only he wasn’t joking. Donoghue has created a new routing system for Metro. And he has plans in the works for other city services and land, too.

Their approach to campaigning was grassroots. Marshall knocked on 70 percent of the doors in the West End, asking people to vote for him. Donoghue, a Beverly, Mass., transplant, also toured his district and gained visibility by getting a seat on the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization board.

When voters went to the polls Nov. 7, they overwhelmingly supported the two young men who now represent Portland’s entire peninsula.

Marshall beat Cyrus Hagge and Michael Patterson for the West End and Parkside seat. He received almost 1,900 votes – 500 more than Hagge.

In District 1, Donoghue upset incumbent Councilor Will Gorham by about 600 votes, 1,815 to 1,218.

Marshall said he is excited to represent his district, and especially to try and make local politics interesting for a new generation.

That is a goal for Donoghue, too, who said he wants to make what is happening in City Hall relevant to the twentysomethings living on Portland’s peninsula.

“The Portland Peninsula is my whole world, and I want to shape my environment,” he said.

For the past few days, the two have been enjoying their newfound authority. The morning after celebrating victory at Brian Boru, Marshall said he had eight voice-mail messages on his cellphone from people who had never bothered to call him before.

Since then, Donoghue said, “we’ve been having fun watching our cell phones race across the table.”

“We’ve been celebrating for days,” Marshall said.

“I’ve been keeping my eye on the Old Port,” Donoghue joked. “It’s my district now.”

School Committee

The youth trend extended to the School Committee races as well, at least in the West End.

Robert O’Brien, who turned 27 this week, pulled an upset in District 2, beating incumbent Stephen Spring by fewer than 200 votes.

O’Brien is a sixth-generation Portlander, but the first in his family elected to office.

When he decided to run for School Committee this summer, the Muskie School student and Central Maine Power Co. employee didn’t know if he’d have time to wage an effective campaign.

“Then the fever takes over,” O’Brien said. His first public debate was a little unnerving. But he went with common sense, the Bates College graduate said, and also advocated for Reiche School every chance he got.

O’Brien is president of the West End Neighborhood Association and lives on York Street with his fiance, Stephanie Dickens. He does not have children, but O’Brien said he is comfortable with school issues.

“Some people are older in years, but they lack the naivety and youthful energy that is sometimes needed,” he said.

Donoghue, Marshall, O’Brien and Minnick are scheduled to be sworn in Dec. 4.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net.

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