Thursday, November 01, 2007

PRESS HERALD

Pier issue may hurt two council members
Election 2007: Challengers accuse Portland incumbents James Cloutier and Jill Duson of bungling the process.

By KELLEY BOUCHARD Staff Writer November 1, 2007

The role that Portland City Councilors James Cloutier and Jill Duson played in the effort to find a developer for the Maine State Pier could be a deciding factor in their re-election bids.

A controversial position that two Portland city councilors took in reviewing Maine State Pier proposals could be a deciding factor in whether they get re-elected on Nov. 6.

The election also could change the political makeup of the nine- member council, adding Green Independent Party members or an unenrolled candidate to a board that usually is dominated by Democrats.

James Cloutier and Jill Duson, at-large councilors who are up for re-election Tuesday, sit on the three-member committee that oversaw a four-month review of competing proposals to redevelop the city-owned pier.

Ocean Properties Ltd. of Portsmouth, N.H., and The Olympia Cos. of Portland are vying for the opportunity to negotiate with the city to build a hotel, office building and other waterfront amenities worth more than $100 million.

The 85-year-old pier and its large industrial shed were formerly used by Bath Iron Works and Cianbro Corp. Portland officials rezoned the property last year and sought mixed-use redevelopment proposals, largely because the pier needs at least $13 million in repairs and because the city has been unable to find new tenants for the shed.

The challengers in the at-large race, John Anton and Mark Reilly, say Cloutier and Duson bungled the effort to find a worthy developer for a major public asset.

"The Maine State Pier process has been flawed from the start," Reilly said.

Cloutier and Duson say the process was open and comprehensive, but it was overshadowed by major public- relations campaigns mounted by the competing firms.

"One thing we didn't anticipate was the level of political action from the applicants," Cloutier said, who has been committee chairman for four years. "The first meeting and every meeting after was like a political rally, with PR firms and scripted supporters speaking in favor of each proposal."

The community development committee voted 2-1 to recommend Ocean Properties to the full council. The third committee member, Councilor Kevin Donoghue, supports Olympia. He openly opposed the review process that was developed by Cloutier and backed by Duson.

The council is now deadlocked on the issue, having voted 4-4 on the competing firms last month. Councilor James Cohen recused himself from even considering the proposals because he has a professional conflict of interest.

Many people, including Donoghue, have criticized the way the community development committee reviewed the proposals.

Some said the process was unfair because the committee allowed the firms to change their proposals after they were submitted in February. Others said the search for a developer lacked community backing because city officials didn't ask Portland residents how the pier should be redeveloped before seeking proposals.

Anton, president of an affordable housing investment company, and Reilly, a letter carrier, say the review process was unfair, inept and led the committee to recommend the wrong firm. Anton and Reilly support Olympia.

"This election is about the way the city does business," Anton said. "There are these time-consuming processes that lead to decisions that appear to have been done deals from the start."

Cloutier, a real estate lawyer, and Duson, a state administrator, say the committee's recommendation of Ocean Properties was sound. Cloutier is seeking a fourth three-year term. Duson is seeking a third term.

"The process was thorough and transparent, and both applicants were well aware of how it would be conducted," Duson said. "The process wasn't a surprise to either of them."

Duson said residents had opportunities to comment on what kind of development should be allowed on the pier when the council rezoned the property last year.

The seats held by Cloutier and Duson are two of three council positions up for election Tuesday. The other is the District 3 seat held by Donna Carr, who also supports Ocean Properties. She isn't seek re-election to a second term for health reasons.

Although Portland's municipal races are nonpartisan, some voters pay attention to party affiliation. The council currently has six Democrats (Cloutier, Duson, Carr, James Cohen, Nicholas Mavodones Jr. and Edward Suslovic), two Greens (Donoghue and David Marshall), and a Republican (Cheryl Leeman), said City Clerk Linda Cohen.

Maine's largest city is dominated by Democrats. Among Portland's 40,345 active voters, 18,173 are registered Democrats, 13,401 are unenrolled in a party, 6,743 are Republicans and 2,028 are Greens, Cohen said.

Democrats' hold on the council weakened last year with the election of Donoghue and Marshall, and it could grow weaker.

Cloutier and Duson could be unseated by Anton, who is a Green, or Reilly, who is currently unenrolled but has been registered within the last four years as a Republican, a Green and a Democrat, Cohen said.

The candidates for District 3 include three Democrats (Anthony Donovan, Richard Farnsworth and Daniel Skolnik) and a Green (William Linnell).

While Linnell said he supports Olympia, Donovan, Farnsworth and Skolnik said they support Ocean Properties.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

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