Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Forecaster

Councilors want switch to elected mayor
By Kate Bucklin (published: March 01, 2007)
PORTLAND – Freshmen City Councilors David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue will begin a formal campaign this week for the city to have an elected mayor.

Donoghue said he and Marshall believe a popularly elected mayor would be more accountable than the current arrangement at City Hall, where councilors annually select one of their council colleagues to be mayor.

A City Charter amendment is needed to enact the change. There are a few ways to pursue such an amendment, but all routes end with a citywide vote on the proposal.

Marshall and Donoghue said they plan to petition the city clerk Friday to begin a signature-gathering campaign. They would have to gather 5,000 signatures in 120 days to get the measure on the November ballot.

“That is our goal,” Donoghue said.

The two councilors said they have also considered lobbying fellow councilors to support a charter amendment by the council. That way they could avoid having to gather signatures, although a citywide vote would still be held if the council approved the measure.

Donoghue said some councilors have indicated they would support switching to an elected mayor if the council also moved to set up a Charter Commission to study the issue and then make recommendations on changes.

“That would probably lead to a ‘strong mayor,’” Donoghue explained. “Our proposal would keep the mayor’s power as it is now.”

Marshall and Donoghue said they also plan to push for redistricting if their elected-mayor campaign is successful. Donoghue said the initiative includes increasing the number of council districts from the current five to eight – equal to the number of legislative districts in the city – and decreasing the number of at-large seats from four to one.

“That at-large seat would be the mayor,” said Marshall, who represents District 2.

Having smaller districts allows voters more of a voice on the council, Donoghue said. If the islands had their own district, for example, they could have more of a presence on the council, as opposed to being lumped with mainland neighborhoods. Smaller districts also lower the barrier for potential candidates, he said.

What those districts would look like is a decision likely to be made by the whole council, Marshall said.

The mayor’s post is now largely ceremonial and has traditionally been held by a different councilor each year, depending on seniority. Mayor Nick Mavodones is serving his second term as mayor, having previously held the position in 1998. He lobbied for the seat this year, as did Councilor James Cohen, who served as mayor in 2006.

That is not the typical fashion in which councilors have appointed a mayor in the past, but the elections last November shook up the presumed line to the seat.

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

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