Thursday, May 26, 2011


Study: State is bike-friendly, but lacking enforcement
By Matt Dodge
May 26, 2011 12:00 am

Maine might be the second most bike-friendly state in the nation, but it’s not very strict when it comes to enforcing bike safety laws, a study released this week finds.

The annual rankings, released by The League of American Bicyclists, placed Maine behind only Washington state in the list of bike-friendliness. However, in reviewing for the first time the performance of states in six distinct areas, Maine received an “F” in the category of enforcement.

The state’s overall grade on the study was a “B”, with the state excelling in legislation, education and encouragement, and infrastructure, evaluation and planning.

Many in the local and state-wide bicycling community acknowledge a lack of such enforcement both on the driver and cyclist side of the equation.

“I do think it is the area we are the weakest in. We need to work more closely with law enforcement so they both better understand bicycling laws and have the confidence to enforce them,” said Nancy Grant, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and a Portland resident.

“I think a lot more people would ride correctly if they knew somebody was going to say something,” Grant said.

The most common bike-related traffic offenses in Portland include cyclist riding on the sidewalk or against the flow of traffic, according to Grant, who thinks that Portland Police are often not familiar enough with cycling laws to feel comfortable enforcing them. “Sometimes they’re not even sure what thew laws are and they don’t want to hassle bicyclists,” she said.

To that end, Grant said the Bicycle Coalition is working to connect with law enforcement, having recently hosted a meeting between the group’s education director and the chiefs of some Maine police departments. “We want to have a really cooperative relationship with law enforcement,” she said.

Portland Police did not return multiple calls seeking comment on their enforcement efforts.

An avid cyclist who does a lot of riding in the city, Grant said that cycling scofflaws represent a small part of the local bike community, and are often just uninformed.

“I think the vast majority of the riders who aren’t obeying the rules either simply don't know or don't follow any rules anywhere,” she said.

City Councilor David Marshall, a member of the Portland’s Transportation Committee and a bike commuter, said that while there are already rules on the books governing bike safety, “we could certainly use more enforcement.”

“It could probably go a long way towards getting other bicyclist to comply with the rules,” Marshall said, who like Grant, acknowledges that a small percentage of the city’s cycling populace account for a majority of the violations.

Most of the bicycle-related discussion coming out of the Transportation Committee has been in regards to infrastructure improvements, said Marshall, who suggested that further education might make an increased focus on enforcement unnecessary.

“It’s certainly worth putting some attention on enforcing the rules, but you also want to educate the public about what the rules are,” he said.

Josh Cridler, owner of local bike retail and repair shop Portland Velocipede, said that an increased focus on enforcement could go a long way in strengthening the relationship between the cyclist and motorist who share the city’s streets.

“It would get cars to realize that it’s going both ways. I think that when just cars are getting pulled over and see a bike not following a law, that gets people get more angry about bicycles on the road,” said Cridler. “It’s important that the law goes both ways, if one party sees the other party following the rules, everybody falls into suit.”

While they all agree the city could beef up its enforcement efforts, neither Grant, Marshall or Cridler support the idea of forcing bicycle to be registered and licensed through the city, an idea recently floated by a state Assemblyman in the New York City borough of Queens.

Two bills introduced by Michael G. DenDekker would have required commercial cyclists to pay a $50 registration fee and all other cyclists to pay a $25 registration fee. The measure was in response to a number of complaints DenDekker said he received from constituents, who complained that unsafe cyclists were not being held accountable.

“Constituents were complaining that if a bike is involved in any incident and they ride away, there is no way to identify them,” DenDekker told the New York Times.

“I think it would hurt the perception of our bike friendliness,” said Grant. “Other states in the country have tried the registration requirement and they’ve all abandoned it because it’s so hard to enforce and the fees that are generated end up being less than the cost of administering the registration program,” she said.

“We would rather have enforcement groups working on safety than whether people have paid a fee or not,” she said.

May 19

Ranked-choice balloting is wild card in mayor's race
Candidates will be 'guinea pigs' in a campaign where no one is really sure what will work, an analyst says.

By Edward D. Murphy
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - The chance to be the city's first elected mayor in generations is attracting a long list of candidates who also will have the distinction of being the first Maine politicians content to be a voter's second or third choice, thanks to ranked-choice voting.

Ten candidates have registered with the city so far, meaning they are free to raise money and build a campaign organization.

Nominating papers, which will require signatures of at least 300 Portland voters, will be available July 1 and must be returned to the city clerk between Aug. 15 and Aug. 29.

The ballot is expected to get even more crowded in the coming weeks, with candidates attracted by the full-time job -- it will pay about $66,000 a year -- the four-year term, some limited powers and the ability to set precedents.

"We're looking for our George Washington, someone who can take the position and transform it," said Jim Cohen, a former councilor and mayor who was on the charter commission that drafted the rules making the mayor position subject to ranked-choice voting. Voters ratified the charter in November.

Cohen said supporters believe an elected mayor is needed to provide leadership and establish a long-range vision for the city. Currently, mayors are city councilors who are chosen by their peers and hold the largely ceremonial post for one year.

Cohen is now involved in a group called Portland Tomorrow, whose members have developed a list of criteria they'd like to see in a mayor. Cohen reiterated that he's not running.

The organization also plans to publicize the ranked-choice election method, under which voters will mark their ballots not only for the candidate they'd like to see win, but also rank the rest in order of preference.

If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and the second choices of those voters are added to the first-choice totals for all other candidates. It's possible that the new totals would require a change in the order of finish.

If no one has a majority after one candidate is dropped, the new last-place candidate is dropped and his or her second-choice votes are added to the first-choice totals. If any voter's second choice is a candidate who's already been eliminated, the voter's third choice gets the vote, and so on.

The process continues until one candidate gets more than 50 percent. Voters need not rank all the candidates, but that would reduce their say if the runoff process continues for more than a round or two.

Michael Brennan, a former state legislator who recently announced his mayoral candidacy, said the ranked-choice approach will mean less negative campaigning.

In a conventional race with so many candidates, one might go on the attack, hoping to galvanize supporters and get perhaps a quarter or a third of the vote, likely enough to win with 10 or more names on the ballot, he said.

"In this race, you can't do that, or at least you can't do that successfully," he said.

The large field will probably separate into a group of front-runners, all jockeying to stand out while not turning off the other candidates' supporters, said Edward S. O'Meara Jr., managing principal for public affairs at Garrand, a Portland communications company.

Ranked-choice voting, he said, means the candidates in this year's race are "guinea pigs," where no one can really be sure what will work.

"You don't necessarily have to get more votes, but you need to be a very strong number two or everybody's number three," he said. "It's uncharted territory."

Maybe for Maine, but San Francisco has had ranked voting -- also known as instant-runoff voting, because it ends up with a winner getting more than 50 percent of the vote -- since 2004.

Francis Neely, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University, said exit polls he conducted have indicated that four out of five voters like the method. But in the first two races run under the system, 30 percent to 40 percent went to the polls not realizing they would be asked to rank candidates.

Neely said San Francisco's system allows voters to rank up to three candidates and it produces some strange campaign tactics. In the last election, he said, a sign on a bus stop had the names and pictures of three candidates for the same position, basically asking voters to allocate their three votes among that trio, regardless of who was picked first, second or third.

"It's not an 'either-or' thing," he said.

In every San Francisco election, the candidate who finished first in the initial round of ballot counting has gone on to win, Neely said. But in Oakland, which adopted the system more recently, a candidate who finished third in the initial count ended up winning.

The winner had specifically courted supporters of other candidates for their second- and third-choice votes, he said.

David Marshall, a councilor who is running for mayor, said voters he talks to are looking forward to choosing a mayor, even though the election is still nearly six months away.

As for ranked-choice voting, "people are trying to get a handle on it, but they're generally excited about it and think it's a system with legitimacy," he said.

Marshall said he thinks it would be a good system for other offices, such as Maine's governor, which often ends up with a winner selected by less than a majority because of independent and third-party candidates.

But that is likely years off, he said, and only if Portland's system proves successful and other cities and towns in Maine adopt it.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

Artists chosen to render Bayside bench concepts
By Matt Dodge
May 20, 2011 12:00 am

Two Maine artists and a Washington, D.C.-based design firm lead the field of candidates vying to create unique seating options along Portland’s new Bayside Trail.

The Portland Public Art Committee reviewed the resumes and work of a half dozen artists before narrowing down the list to four frontrunners during the committee's monthly meeting on Wednesday.

The leading candidates for the bench design project include, in no particular order, Mainers Aaron T. Stephan and Celeste Roberge, Gary Haven Smith of New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. design firm Skye Design Studio, Ltd.

The PPAC reopened the search for artist-designed public benches after an underwhelming response to the 17 designs submitted in an initial round of the competition.

The benches were slated to be installed by June in time for the city’s annual Trails Day event, but with only two of the proposed designs earning five-to-three affirmative votes from the project’s commissioning committee, the PAC decided to revamp the submission process in hopes of drawing a larger pool of candidates.

This time around the PPAC took a different approach — sending out a request for qualifications (RFQ) instead of a request for proposals (RFP). An RFQ asks designers and artists only to submit their professional qualifications instead of a fully-rendered bench design.

“We need dozens [of submissions], not a dozen,” said Jack Soley, former PPAC chair, during January’s meeting.

The former director’s wishes were met during the RFQ process, which drew 107 submissions, including a strong showing of Maine artists.

“I’m really pleased with the RFQ process because now we’ve been able to see people's work at their best and we have a good understanding of what is possible," said city councilor and PPAC member Dave Marshall, adding, “The RFP process was, I think, a little too rigid.”

The PPAC chose three bench sites along the 1.2 mile-long trail — the plazas adjoining Elm Street and Planet Dog, and the base of the Loring Trail on the Eastern Prom. Now the committee must decide whether to select one artist to create a suite of three designs or exhibit one artist at each site.

“If one proposed design is very expensive but worth it, what are the considerations of allocating all of the budget to one artist?” asked commissioning panel member Anne Pringle during Wednesday’s meeting.

Some on the PPAC felt if a strong first round of artist-designed benches could find favor with the people of Portland, the Bayside Seating project could become an ongoing initiative drawing additional public and private sponsorship.

“My feeling is this first person has to hit a huge home run,” said Peggy Greenhut Golden. “I’ll feel badly if it's not a Maine artist, but I think this has legs and it's our job to make this first one absolutely fabulous.”

The four artists leading the field after Wednesday’s meeting will be interviewed by phone next week. Depending how the interview process goes, some or all of these artists will be paid a stipend and asked to submit design concepts and budgets, according to Pringle.

The concepts will then be presented by the commission panel to the full PPAC, who will make their final selection of the one, two or three artists who will be asked to create detailed designs which will be brought to the City Council for approval by early September.

“We are still in the qualifying process, with the final selection a few months down the road after the concept phase,” said Pringle in an e-mail to the Daily Sun.

Stephens, who earned his MFA from The Maine College of Art in 2002 and has shown extensively around Portland, was lauded by the PPAC for his background in site-specific work.

Notable Stephens pieces in the Portland area include a tree-shaped sculpture created from salvaged lumber located in Westbrook High School, and an impossibly high dining room table and matching chairs in the atrium of the University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center.

“Having seen his work around for years, I have confidence that he could do something fabulous,” said Greenhut Golden.

“I think he's a great, great choice. always comes up with something very intelligent and aesthetically pleasing that works on multiple levels,” said PPAC member Virginia Rose, who suggested that Stephen's notoriety in the Portland area might make him the ideal candidate to attract additional funding for the project. “If we're looking for more funding, he's such a known quantity,” she said.

Roberge, a native Mainer who teaches sculpture at the University of Florida, was also well regarded and very familiar to many on the panel. Specializing in furniture-based forms, Roberge is known for creating chaise lounge-inspired sculptures both functional and decorative.

Rose, who has helped to sell Roberge’s work to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, said the artist’s industrial style would fit well in the post-industrial Bayside neighborhood. “I’m biased, but I think she fits in perfectly with that neighborhood and has the ability to identify with [it] historically,” she said.

Slides of Roberge’s metal grid chaise lounge sculpture filled with smooth rounds stones caught the committee’s attention, but in a letter to the PPAC, Roberge expressed interest in designing a piece around the concept of seaweed.

“I love the bench with the stones, I would have bought it and put it in my backyard, but I would have no problem working with her to create a concept around seaweed,” said Greenhut Golden.

Included in the Washington, D.C. design firm’s submission to the PPAC, a slide of Skye Design Studio’s “zipper bench” garnered a strong reaction from the group.

“The zipper bench was really impressive, I could totally see it in Bayside,” said Marshall.

“It’s beautiful. They are landscape architects, engineers, they get landscaping and design and they are creative,” said Greenhut Golden. However, some on the committee expressed concerns that a large, multi-national firm like Skye might not be interested in splitting a $40,000 commission.

“I would be thrilled to have them do all three, but they a very big firm and this seems like a small project for them,” said Greenhut Golden.

“It’s not clear if they would be interested if they only got one out of three [sites],” said artists and PPAC member Pandora LaCasse.

The simple, naturalistic stone bench designs of New Hampshire sculpture Gary Haven Smith were seen as a fitting aesthetic for the trail. Smith expressed interest in siting his work at the base of the Loring Trail, envisioning benches created from two glacier boulders, tumbled by the forces of nature for over 10,000 years, which would be visible from Interstate 295.

Council approves budget
By Casey Conley
May 17, 2011 12:00 am

City councilors last night approved a $201 million budget for 2012 that retained core services and for the first time in three years did not include employee layoffs.

The unanimous vote comes a week after city voters approved an $89.4 million 2012 budget for Portland Schools.

Taken together, the $290 million city and school budget will bring a 2 percent property tax increase next year, raising the tax rate to $18.28 per $1,000 in assessed value. At that rate, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would owe about $70 more next year.

One by one last night, city councilors praised the two-month budget process, the city staff who helped draft it, and the final result — which came as a stark contrast to recent budgets that included pay freezes, layoffs, widespread fee increases (parking meters, blue bags) and noticeable cuts to public services.

(Two years ago, two downtown fountains were shut off to save roughly $10,000. The Pullen Fountain, behind Central Fire Station, was later turned back on after a local horse owner complained).

Councilor Dave Marshall noted that the last three budgets, with 0 percent, 1 percent and 2 percent property tax increases, respectively, averaged out to a 1 percent property tax increase per year. The 2012 fiscal budget takes effect July 1.

“I feel very happy to be voting on a budget that doesn’t have reductions, on the city side budget,” he said, lamenting staff cuts in the school department budget approved last week.

While the 2012 city budget includes relatively few frills — there are no major initiatives or programs being created or upgraded — it also preserves core city services that in recent years have been trimmed back (fewer flowers have been planted citywide in recent years to save money).

Indeed, the budget projects stabilizing revenue sources almost across the board, and even some increases tied to the improving economy: Building permits fees are due to increase by upwards of $200,000, while city revenues from cruise ship visits are also due to increase by about $110,000.

Non-union employees are due a 1 percent raise in this budget, while employees in the city’s half-dozen different unions will see different raises, or not, depending on terms of negotiated contracts.

“It’s a good budget,” said Councilor Cheryl Leeman. “We would always like to make (the tax increase) less, but given everything we are dealing with, it’s come in at a good place.”

Portland budget approval, 2% tax hike, a quiet affair
By Kate Bucklin
May 17, 2011 9:40 am

PORTLAND — The City Council Monday evening approved a nearly $202 million municipal budget for fiscal year 2012, an increase of about 1.2 percent over current spending.

The municipal budget, combined with the previously approved school budget of $89.5 million, will increase the property tax rate 2 percent to $18.24 per $1,000 of assessed value.

This year's municipal budget did not include any layoffs or service cuts, and drew little public comment. Councilor John Anton, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said the committee concentrated this year on developing policy for city budgeting and spending, and will continue to do so.

"This was a year of stability," he said, referring to the nearly status quo budget. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 budgets, more than 100 jobs were eliminated. Services were cut during those years, too, and city departments were combined.
Councilor David Marshall said that although the tax rate will rise, there was no increase in 2010 and a 1 percent increase in 2011.

"Combined we've had a 1 percent increase in the last three years," Marshall said. "That's not bad."

Councilor Cheryl Leeman called it "a very responsible budget."

The council unanimously approved the fiscal year 2012 budget, 9-0.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @katebucklin.

Initial vote likely on proposed graffiti ordinance
By Casey Conley
May 10, 2011 12:00 am

After another round of revisions that eased fines and restrictions on property owners, proposed anti-graffiti rules being debated by a city council subcommittee over the past four months could face a preliminary vote tonight at City Hall.

Councilor Ed Suslovic, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, says he’s hoping to advance the measure to the full city council.

“We’ve been working on this since January, and we’ve had several public meetings, and taken input, and it’s certainly been widely publicized, so I feel like we have really bent over backwards to make sure everyone gets a chance to weigh in,” Suslovic said.

The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. tonight in City Council Chambers.

The ordinance, which was introduced earlier this year, is viewed by many city officials as a crucial component in the ongoing battle against graffiti.

“It's important for the city to take an official stand against graffiti and the problems it signifies in our community,” said Trish McAllister, the city’s neighborhood prosecutor, in an email. She helped draft the proposal with help from Doug Fuss, a local bar owner.

“Adoption of an ordinance will not replace the criminal prosecution of those who are caught committing graffiti; it simply gives more alternatives to enforcement officials and the local judiciary when it comes to addressing this problem,” McAllister continued.

The plan would impose civil penalties on anyone caught writing graffiti as well as property owners who fail to remove graffiti from their buildings. It would also create new restrictions on sale and possession of “graffiti implements” — spray paint and art markers — and hold parents responsible for vandalism caused by their underage children.

Some of the more controversial aspects of the ordinance — fining property owners who don’t remove graffiti within 10 days from receiving a city notice — are watered down in the latest draft.

Newly proposed language would fine non-compliant property owners $100 or less for a first offense, instead of $250. Property owners could also avoid fines by presenting a graffiti abatement plan to city officials within the 10-day window.

“If someone is being responsive, they can avoid a fine. If it’s during winter and it’s impossible to get the graffiti cleaned up, all they’ve got to do is come in with a plan,” Suslovic said.

The revised ordinance would no longer exempt property owners from the ordinance from Jan. 1 through April 30. Instead, the same rules would apply year-round. It also allows for a six-month “sunrise” provision that gives property owners time to prepare for the new regulations.

Councilor Dave Marshall, a committee member and declared mayoral candidate, is proposing revisions that go even further. He wants to establish language dealing with legal graffiti murals like those found on Joe’ Smoke Shop or The Asylum nightclub, and also wants to do away with fines for non-compliant property owners.

He believes most property owners will comply with the rule to remove graffiti with or without the fines. But for those who don’t, he says a provision allowing the city to remove graffiti themselves, and bill property owners for the work, plus a 10 percent fee, would achieve the desired result.

“I see the fine against property owners as an unnecessary, punitive measure that we can strip out of the ordinance and still have the ordinance be more effective and embraced by a wider segment of our property owners in the city,” Marshall said yesterday in a phone interview.

Marshall, who is in San Diego visiting family, won’t attend tonight’s meeting, leaving his amendments in doubt, at least during this stage in the ordinance review.

As far as Suslovic is concerned, the question of fines for property owners has already been resolved.

“I think we have debated the fines quite a bit,” he said yesterday, adding, “My feeling is there is pretty strong support to leave fines where they are proposed.”

McAllister said she also supports leaving the fines in place. “Such a strategy simply gives the city more enforcement tools to be able to use as necessary in the cases of very negligent/non-responsive property owners,” she said.

Marshall, an artist who owns a gallery on Congress Street, indicated he may not support the proposal if the fine schedule remains intact.

“I am supportive of it without the punitive fines on property owners,” he said.

Thursday, May 05, 2011


Convention tilts young, focuses on grassroots
By David Carkhuff
May 03, 2011 12:00 am

Shrugging off the label of electoral "spoilers," members of the Maine Green Independent Party embraced Portland's new rank choice voting system as a third-party-friendly approach to electing the city's mayor.

"I think it will encourage people to run positive campaigns, and rather than having the so-called spoiler, Ralph Nader effect, which is not true at all ... it will totally separate that, because there are no spoilers in rank choice voting," said Tom MacMillan, a Maine Green Party steering committee member who lives in the West End of Portland.

Portland this year embarks on an elected-mayor campaign that replaces a council-appointed mayor with one elected to an at-large seat. Through a city charter change, voters also will choose their next mayor through rank choice voting, where if any candidate falls short of a majority, then the "second choice" votes come into play in the tabulation.

MacMillan is working on the mayoral campaign for Portland's David Marshall, an incumbent city councilor and Green Party member seeking the elected-mayor office. Another Maine Green Party member, former state legislator John Eder of Portland, announced in February his candidacy for the Mayor of Portland.

Green Party members said rank choice allows people to vote their conscience instead of feeling they're casting a vote on a potential "spoiler" who could drain votes away from one of the two major parties.

Wells Staley-Mays, an attendee at the Maine Green Party's annual convention Sunday in Brunswick, drew on history to illustrate another role of a strong third party.

"I always like to use the example of the Liberty Party," he said. "I'm sure the Democrats and the Whigs looked upon the Liberty Party as spoilers, but the Liberty Party people like our own Samuel Fessenden of Portland, Maine, hung in there year after year after year. I know by the time it morphed into the Free Soil and then ultimately into the Republican Party, it had changed dramatically, but it kept the antislavery agitation going, just like I see the Green Party keeping the ecological and environmental focus going."

Founded in 1984, the Green Party focuses on environmental and social justice messages. The party counts itself the oldest state Green Party in the country. But for the nation's oldest, Maine's Green Party is skewing young, observers agreed.

"The new steering committee is much younger than the old one was," Staley-Mays said. "So I have a lot of faith in the future. I think the voting reflected that. We elected younger leadership, and they're bright and they're dedicated. I feel great."

MacMillan, who is considered one of the rising stars of the Green Party, won a seat on the party's steering committee and was named New Green of the Year during Sunday's convention.

"I wanted to run because I think the Green Party is the best method for changing politics in Portland and across the state, and I want to be part of the change," MacMillan said, noting this was his first convention.

John Rensenbrink, a steering committee member whom Staley-Mays called one of the "gray-haired elders" elected Sunday, has discussed party strategy. In a statement on the party's website (, he urged a grassroots approach that sought office from the bottom up.

"Party activists, spurred by Ben Chipman and Anna Trevorrow, the Party Chair, were able to recruit and assist 18 Greens around the state to gain qualified ballot status as candidates for the state House and Senate," Rensenbrink wrote in a summary of 2010. But campaign-finance rules and other hindrances made it difficult for candidates to qualify, he noted.

"The party needs to re-focus its thinking on the grassroots and now turn its attention in a serious way to building the party starting at the town level and on up to the county level," Rensenbrink wrote.

Copyright 2011, The Portland Daily Sun - Portland's Daily Newspaper - One Longfellow Square, Suite 202, Portland, ME 04102 - (207) 699-5801

Greens' convention looks to the future
Maine Green Independent Party members anticipate the precedent-setting mayoral race in Portland.

May 2

By Glenn Jordan
Staff Writer

BRUNSWICK - At their annual convention Sunday, members of Maine's Green Independent Party discussed issues of ecology, social justice and grass-roots democracy. They spoke of diversity, personal and global responsibility, community-based economics, non-violence and decentralization of wealth and power. Of gender equity, future focus and sustainability.
click image to enlarge

Phil Sheridan of Appleton comments on an energy issue during the Maine Green Independent Party’s annual statewide convention Sunday in Brunswick.

Photos by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer
click image to enlarge

Lynne Harwood of Anson, right, joins fellow Maine Green Independent Party members Patrick Banks of Portland and Fred Dolgon of Old Orchard Beach as they vote on an energy amendment during the party’s annual statewide convention Sunday in Brunswick.
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They looked back -- at a gubernatorial race without a Green candidate on the ballot -- and they looked ahead -- at a precedent-setting mayoral race in Maine's largest city.

"It's a very important race, for sure," Fred Horch, who ran a close second in Brunswick to an incumbent Democrat in a three-way race for a seat in the State House, said of November's ballot in Portland, where the public will elect a mayor for the first time in 87 years, and under a ranked-choice system to boot.

"I think having the mayor be a Green would give a legitimacy to the party. It would raise the profile of the party. And the policies the mayor pursues will certainly get in front of the voters," he said.

David Marshall, a Portland city councilor, is a mayoral candidate. A Green since 2000, Marshall addressed three dozen party members Sunday in a meeting room off the Curtis Memorial Library.

Marshall talked about his accomplishments on the council, about the new geothermal heating and cooling system at Portland's airport, about the extension of the Downeaster train service to Brunswick and the potential for passenger service between Portland and Montreal.

"My vision for the city of Portland really works to encompass the entire state of Maine, because we're all partners here," he said. "As mayor, I'm going to work to expand this philosophy of energy efficiency to every single building in the city."

The resultant savings for residents, he said, could be spent to "support our great businesses, our excellent nightlife and our awesome arts scene. We have so much we can put this money into besides oil."

With a ranked-choice system, voters will mark their first and second choices for mayor. After votes are tallied, if no candidate has a majority, the last-place finisher will be dropped and that candidate's second-choice votes will be allocated. The process continues until one candidate attains a majority.

Such a system, Horch said, eliminates the splitting-the-vote argument often used against Green candidates in a three-way race and leaves voters with a candidate who can legitimately claim a majority representation. He noted that each of Maine's most recent three governors, Republican Paul LePage, Democrat John Baldacci and independent Angus King, won his first term by plurality rather than majority.

"So now people are going to see how that system works," Horch said. "If you really want to be Green, but you really don't want to (vote for) a Republican, now you can vote Green first, Democrat second."

Horch received one of three awards presented Sunday, as Green of the Year. Tom MacMillan of Portland won New Green of the Year and Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, who failed to collect enough signatures to get in the governor's race but wound up with 12.6 percent of the vote in a bid for Senate District 28 won by Republican Brian Langley, won Candidate of the Year.

Each received a framed, hand-painted work of art featuring a black-capped chickadee perched on a horizontal sunflower with an olive background, reminiscent of the Woodstock poster of a dove on the neck of a guitar.

Other featured speakers were Sarah Bigney of the Maine AFL-CIO, who talked about legislative attacks on unions and working families, and Ben Chipman of Portland, the only independent member of the House and a former Green Party member. A former legislative aide to John Eder, who served two terms as a Green Party representative to the Legislature from Portland, Chipman talked about a few of the 17 bills he has introduced this session.

"I'm trying to be on the offensive," he said, "in spite of who's in charge."

One bill of particular interest to Greens would change the number of signatures required to get on the gubernatorial ballot from 2,000 to either 2 percent of the membership of a political party or 2,000 -- whichever is less. Anne Trevorrow, party secretary, said there are currently more than 33,000 registered Green Party members in Maine.

"This is the time that all of the people who are most concerned with the Green Party come together and set the goals for the upcoming year," Trevorrow said.

"We assess what we did this year, what we could do better for next year, and really make sure that we're on the track that's responsible to our membership."

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

Teachers' union chief on city payroll irks Portland councilors
By Randy Billings
Apr 26, 2011 1

PORTLAND — Some city councilors this week sounded concerns about a provision in the recently ratified teachers' contract that puts the full-time union president almost entirely on the city's payroll.

School officials agreed to pay 80 percent, or roughly $75,000, of Portland Education Association President Kathleen Casasa's nearly $94,000 a year salary.

Casasa has been the union president for about 20 years. For the last five years, she has been fully released from her special education teaching duties to represent the union full time.

Starting in September, the union will no longer reimburse the district for 80 percent of Casasa's salary.

The provision went largely unnoticed until The Forecaster wrote about it last week.

Councilor Jill Duson was one of three City Councilors who questioned the provision at a workshop on Monday night.

Duson on Tuesday said her questions stemmed from "complete befuddlement and curiosity" with what she called a "very unusual" contract provision.

"I've been a union member before, and it just struck me as odd that my representative would be paid for by my management," she said. "But that's what (the teachers) want."

Casasa is the only full-time release union president in the state, but officials at the National Education Association said the practice is not uncommon around the country. The NEA could not, however, comment on whether it is common for a district to pay the president's salary.

Other councilors agreed the provision is unusual, but said control over it is out of their hands. They also noted the contract was overwhelmingly approved by rank-and-file teachers.

But Councilor David Marshall said he would have like to have seen a concession spread out over the whole union. He was also concerned about setting a precedent for other unions.

"It's strange to have someone on our payroll who is not going to be reviewed by city staff," he said. "(But) it would be out of bounds for us to say what the School Board and superintendent can do in their negotiations."

Duson said she will not vote against the school budget next week because of the provision. And Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. said he believes the contract is ultimately good for the schools and students.

Superintendent James C. Morse Sr. said he was focused on negotiating a contract that benefited the district both financially and academically.

Morse said the union agreed to $3 million in concessions over three years, so a $75,000 concession on the district's part was a good deal.

"I would do that any day of the week," he said. "(But) I failed to measure the political winds. That, I think, was what the councilors were reacting to."

Morse last week estimated Casasa's salary would cost the district $68,000, but this week said the actual cost will be nearly $75,000.

School Board Chairwoman Kate Snyder also emphasized the contract is a good deal for students, since they will have five extra classroom days at no cost to the district.

Snyder said she fears that the overall good of the contract will be overshadowed by the controversy. "It's a win-win negotiation," she said.

Snyder, however, acknowledged the council's concerns and suggested the board may have concentrated too much on the financial gain to the district.

"We may have looked at this too narrowly," she said. "(The provision) will be a conversation that will happen when we head into the next round of negotiations."
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

Mural-removal debate continues at event today
By Matt Dodge
Apr 08, 2011 12:00 am

A lunchtime public forum today at the Portland Museum of Art is scheduled to feature both supporters and opponents of Governor Paul LePage’s decision to remove a labor mural from a government building two week ago.

The event, called “Whose Art Is It?” will feature opening statements from the labor mural’s creator, Tremont artist Judy Taylor, as well as comments from PMA director Mark Bessire before a panel of five speakers – representing Maine’s art and business communities – discuss issues of public art and the controversial removal of the mural from Maine’s Department of Labor.

The removal set off a firestorm and made international headlines, with a variety of organizations protesting the governor's decision.
Today's discussion will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the PMA’s auditorium. Admission is free, but on a first-come, first-served basis. Organizers say they seek to continue a conversation.

“We were listening to a lot of the conversations taking place and there seemed to not have been any dialogue. It seemed like the museum would be a good place to create a forum for a discussion on the issue,” said Bessire.

Seeking a politically balanced panel, the PMA organizers said their first call was to the office of LePage, but the governor could not fit the forum into his schedule. “It just wasn’t going to work out,” said Bessire.

Sharon Corwin, Director and Chief Curator of the Colby College Museum of Art, Christina Bechstein, Sculpture Professor and Director of Public Engagement at Maine College of Art will also serve on the panle.

The moderator for the event will be Alan Hinsey, producer and host of statewide business television show Mainebiz Sunday. “We felt it was important to have moderator who wasn’t coming in on one side, that’s why I invited Alan,” he said.

“I hope we have a good conversation and both sides are represented,” said Bessire. “We’re not trying to point fingers.”

To that end, the PMA decided to narrow the focus of the forum to a common questions that arises in the debate over public artwork. “The subtitle of the event is “Whose Art Is It?” which is just one of those classic public art question, “ said Bessire.

“The money made available by the government, but once it goes into a public government building, who is responsible for it? Whose art is it?” he said.

The museum held off hosting such a forum until now, waiting until all the facts on the mural’s removal came in. “We spent some time analyzing the situation. Each day it seemed like more information kept coming out, so we waited until all the issues were really on the table,” said Bessire.

City councilor and artist David Marshall said he plans to attend today’s forum, and is happy that, controversy aside, the arts are being discussed on a large stage.

“I think there is a lot of good that can come out of this,” he said. “What the government has done inadvertently is make the artist and mural famous and taught us more about labor history than we ever knew.”

Marshall said he hopes that the debate over the mural will make the LePage administration reconsider the impact on art and artists on Maine’s economy, a positive trend he said has been growing in recent years.

“At this point, the creative economy is almost as big as [Maine’s] manufacturing industry,” said Marshall, citing 63,000 jobs in the state categorized as “creative industries”.

By comparison, Maine’s manufacturing industry employees 68,000 Mainers, local government employs 60,000 and the wood products industry employs 7,500, according to Marshall.

“The creative economy will pass manufacturing in the near future. The arts industry has grown 24 percent in the last five year. We need to be making decisions that will continue that growth,” he said.

An increased focus on Maine’s creative economy would prove a wise investment for the future, said Marshall, noting that such jobs are far less likely to be outsourced to foreign countries.

“We’re starting to see our manufacturing base disappear. But creative economy jobs are the ones that are going to stay around because you cant outsource these things for pennies on the dollar,” he said.

“That's’ where we need to bank our future, on the types of jobs that aren’t going to be moving overseas,” said Marshall.

Copyright 2011, The Portland Daily Sun - Portland's Daily Newspaper - One Longfellow Square, Suite 202, Portland, ME 04102 - (207) 699-5801

U.S. Labor Department asks for return of Maine mural funding
Meanwhile, the removal sparks a new protest in Augusta and gets a mention in the pages of Time.

April 5

By Tom Bell
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA — The U.S. Department of Labor says Gov. Paul LePage violated the terms of a federal grant when he removed a labor-themed mural from a state office building last month.

Now the federal government, which paid most of the mural's $60,000 cost, wants its money back.

Gay Gilbert, administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Unemployment Insurance, sent a letter Monday to the Maine Department of Labor, requesting reimbursement.

"Alternatively, the state could again display the mural in its headquarters or in another state employment security building," Gilbert wrote.

Adam Fisher, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Labor, said the department received the letter Monday morning.

"We have reviewed the letter and are assessing what it may mean for the agency moving forward," he said in a written statement.

Gilbert's letter is the latest twist in a growing national dispute over LePage's decision to remove the 36-foot-long mural from the state Department of Labor's headquarters.

LePage has said the mural presents a one-sided view of labor history, and that some business owners complained that it is hostile to employers.

The mural, which was installed in 2008, depicts scenes or people such as a paper mill strike in Jay, female shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works and former U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, whose parents were from Maine.

The federal government gave the state a grant that covered 63 percent of the cost of the artwork.

LePage's order to remove it has drawn attention at a time when lawmakers in Wisconsin and other states are considering measures to restrict collective bargaining by public workers.

Stories about the mural have appeared in newspapers across the country, and comedians on national television shows, such as Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show," have mocked LePage's decision.

The April 11 edition of Time magazine notes the controversy in its "Milestones" section, which says: "REMOVED: A mural in Maine's Department of Labor building that depicted workers' history; the governor said he had received complaints about the painting's being too pro-labor."

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has not commented publicly on the dispute.

Her spokesman, Carl Fillicio, said she "has monitored the situation and asked staff to look into it."

Also Monday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree become the first member of Maine's congressional delegation to comment on the controversy, calling on the Republican governor to return the mural to the Department of Labor's lobby.

"The best solution at this point would be to put the mural back up and avoid having to use taxpayer money to pay back the federal government," she said.

"Public art belongs to all of us and I don't think the governor should have acted so hastily in taking it down. It wasn't a decision for one person."

The 11-panel mural is now in storage, awaiting transfer to "a suitable venue for public display," said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.

About 350 people demonstrated in the State House on Monday in support of the mural. The crowd chanted: "Put it back," "Recall Paul" and "Idiot power" – a reference to LePage's characterization of protesters at a previous pro-mural rally.

Natasha Mayers, a founding member of the Union of Maine Visual Artists, told the crowd that LePage's behavior since his inauguration three months ago – including his decision to remove the mural – has tarnished the state's reputation.

She noted a recent editorial in the Hartford Courant, which called the mural's removal "the most moronic and mindless anti-worker gesture in the country."

In trying to "re-brand" the state as pro-business, Mayers said, LePage has "dealt a staggering blow to the state's tourism industry and creative economy."

Portland City Councilor David Marshall, who owns an art studio, said the controversy has produced some positive results. He said LePage has made the mural internationally famous.

"He has taught us more about Maine's labor history than we have ever known," Marshall said. "He has brought us together."

One of the speakers at the rally was Charlie Scontras, a labor historian at the University of Maine who advised the artist, Judy Taylor of Tremont, when she was creating the mural. Taylor used Scontras as a model for the shoemaker in the mural's first panel.

The Maine Republican Party issued a news release Monday that described the mural as "a self-honoring monument" selected by Gov. John Baldacci's labor commissioner, Laura Fortman.

The party contends that Fortman had Taylor paint her into the mural, in a panel with Perkins.

The party distributed photos comparing Fortman with the figure in the mural.

Taylor told the Lewiston Sun Journal that the figures in the mural were based on composites of hundreds of people who walked into her studio.

"Nobody, in particular Laura Fortman, asked me to put them in the mural," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at:

Labor mural not expected to land in Portland
By Kate Bucklin
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Mar 29, 2011 2:00 pm

PORTLAND — The Maine labor history mural that was unceremoniously removed over the weekend in Augusta is not likely to find a home at Portland City Hall.

After originally considering accepting the 36-foot mural that Gov. Paul LePage ordered removed from the Department of Labor building, city officials quickly cooled to the idea.

That happened at about the same time Friday afternoon that the governor's office issued a press release saying the city had accepted the mural, pending City Council approval.

City Councilor David Marshall said this week that after being approached March 24 by state Rep. Ben Chipman, I-Portland, about possibly displaying the mural at City Hall, he initially was open to bringing the issue to the council for discussion.

But Marshall soon changed his mind.

"On Friday I went to the protest up in Augusta," said Marshall, who is a professional artist. "I called Pat (Finnigan, the acting city manager) and said, 'We need to not participate in this.'"

While it was previously reported that the mural would be subject to a City Council public hearing and vote April 4, city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg confirmed this week that the item would not appear on the council's agenda.

Councilor Dory Waxman said she does not think the city should get involved with the mural.

"That was not the intention of the Portland City Council," Waxman said. "I think I can safely say that on behalf of all the councilors."

Waxman also noted that there are rules for state-commissioned art, and those rules need to be explored.

"I really question whether it is the governor's right to remove (the mural)," Waxman said.

Marshall called the governor's offer of the mural a "Trojan horse" and said he supports legal action to determine whether LePage had the authority to remove the mural.

According to the Maine Peoples Voting Coalition, the 2-year-old mural was commissioned with a federal grant. The coalition is questioning whether the mural is therefore owned by the federal government.

Marshall said the mural, created by Judy Taylor, was commissioned by the Maine Arts Commission and is a product of the Percent for Art program.

"It went through a serious political process to get there," Marshall said. "Anyone could have objected then and they did not."

Mayor Nick Mavodones did not return a phone call seeking comment this week.

The governor ordered the mural removed because, he said, it is too one-sided in its depiction of the state's labor history. The governor's office has also referred to an anonymous fax it received that compared the mural to brainwashing techniques used in North Korea.

LePage's decision has become national news and fodder for everyone from Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert to The New York Times, which ran a Sunday editorial that said the governor has "stooped to behavior worthy of the pharaohs’ chiseling historic truth from Egyptian monuments."

The mural disappeared over the weekend. In a three-sentence statement from the governor's office, little was revealed about its whereabouts. "The mural has been removed and is in storage awaiting relocation to a more appropriate venue," the statement said.

Chipman, the District 119 representative, said he wanted the mural to remain at the Labor Department, where it was commissioned for display in 2008. He said Portland City Hall was an alternative to having it sold or put in storage.

Those comments came before he knew the mural was gone.

"I was not aware of that," he said Monday. "I'm really disturbed they've been taken down."

Artists who protested in Augusta last Friday have planned another demonstration for April 1 at noon in the Hall of Flags at the Statehouse.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @katebucklin

Missing mural, empty wall
Art depicting Maine's labor history is stashed at a secret location.
March 29

By Tom Bell
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA — Donald and Patricia Pickett visited the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor's headquarters Monday expecting to see the now-famous mural depicting Maine's labor history.

Gov. Paul LePage’s press secretary said Monday that there has been so much publicity about LePage's decision to take down this mural, which depicts Maine's labor history, that the administration has decided to safeguard it by not disclosing its storage location. LePage’s decision has angered labor groups and artists and drawn attention from the national media.

Staffers told the retired couple from Pittston that the mural had been removed during the weekend.

"We asked, "Where is it?' " said Donald Pickett. "They said, 'We don't know.' "

Indeed, the whereabouts of the mural are a secret.

Gov. Paul LePage's press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, said Monday that there has been so much publicity about the mural that the administration has decided to safeguard it by not disclosing its storage location.

"We are protecting the mural right now," she said.

Bennett said the mural will be stored until the governor develops a plan for where to put it. She said LePage is waiting to hear whether the Portland City Council wants it at City Hall.

That now seems unlikely.

The council was scheduled to take up the issue next Monday, but Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavodones said the council is postponing discussion of the issue, maybe indefinitely.

Mavodones and four other councilors, Kevin Donoghue, Dory Waxman, John Anton and David Marshall, expressed little enthusiasm Monday for the idea of displaying the mural on the second floor of City Hall.

Marshall, who initially was supportive, said he changed his mind after realizing that the mural would be a "Trojan horse" because the city would be facilitating its removal from the Department of Labor, something he strongly opposes.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said city officials shouldn't make it easy for the governor to remove the mural.

"If the governor wants the mural down, let him deal with the consequences," she said.

LePage's decision to remove the mural has angered labor groups and artists and drawn attention from the national media. While some conservative talk show hosts have praised LePage, liberal comedians such as Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" have mocked him.

The New York Times published an editorial Sunday that said LePage has "stooped to behavior worthy of the pharaohs' chiseling historic truth from Egyptian monuments."

Several hundred people attended a rally Friday in the department's headquarters to protest LePage's order to take down the mural.

One artist at the rally suggested that people form a human chain to block its removal. When a reporter from WCSH-TV (Channel 6) asked LePage what he would do if that happened, he replied, "I'd laugh at them, the idiots. That's what I would do. Come on! Get over yourselves!"

The Department of Labor leases space for its headquarters in a privately owned building on Commerce Drive in Augusta. Bennett said the company's facilities staff removed the 11-panel mural during one of its regular workdays, so there was no cost to taxpayers.

Judy Taylor of Tremont received a $60,000 commission in 2008 to create the mural for the department's new administrative office. The money was a portion of the federal funds that were earmarked for the space.

Taylor said she was discouraged when she heard that the mural had been removed. She said she has been so upset and distracted that she hasn't been able to work for nearly a week.

Donald Pickett, 76, who was a maintenance foreman in the Maine Department of Transportation, said he and his wife drove from Pittston to Augusta on Monday because they wanted to see the mural before it was taken down.

Now, they said, they are worried about its condition.

"It belongs to us," Pickett said. "We'd like to know where it is."

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at:

Mayor: Proposal to hang mural at City Hall 'on hold'

By Stacey May
Mar 29, 2011 12:00 am

Labor mural removed from state office building

Last Friday, state Rep. Ben Chipman, I-Portland, predicted somewhat ominously that the newly controversial labor-themed mural hanging at the Department of Labor in Augusta might be gone when the building re-opened Monday.

Turns out he was right.

The mural depicting images from Maine's labor history, which hung relatively unnoticed in the building's lobby for three years before being targeted for removal by Gov. Paul LePage, was nowhere to be found Monday.

Adrienne Bennett, a spokesperson for LePage, confirmed that the artwork was taken down, just days after she assured this reporter that the mural would remain on display until a new home was found.

"The administration feels that the action taken this weekend was appropriate, and that's all we are releasing at this time," Bennett said Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, LePage's proposal to "loan" the 36-foot mural to Portland has been met with growing skepticism. At least three city councilors expressed opposition to the plan, offered Friday as a sort of compromise to keep the artwork in public view.

"I believe that the mural is the property of the state and should remain with the state," said Councilor John Anton. "I think the city and the state together face several common economic challenges and our time would be better spent discussing those."

Councilor Dave Marshall on Monday likened the state's loan offer to a "Trojan horse."

"The mural should stay as the property of the state and be properly displayed in the Department of Labor," said Marshall, who attended rallies on Friday in Augusta by artists and workers in support of the artwork.

Councilor Kevin Donoghue said he will “resist the impulse to accept the mural” without “prior assurance that its home is at the Department of Labor.”

“I would prefer that Governor LePage find the humility to reconsider what was clearly an impulsive decision. We all get to make mistakes,” Donoghue added.

Mayor Nick Mavodones on Monday said there was no space on the April 4 council agenda to hold a public hearing on the mural offer. And with the budget review set to dominate council time for the next eight weeks, he wasn't sure when the matter would come up, or if any councilor would even sponsor it.

"I think now it's all on hold," the Mayor said.

LePage made international headlines for his decision last week to remove the mural, which in 11 panels portrays noteworthy images from Maine's labor history. It was created three years ago by Judy Taylor, of Tremont, after she won a $60,000 federal grant.

Taylor told the New York Times last week that the mural represents historical fact and is not intended to be political. Slides include images of former U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, women shipbuilders during World War II, the first Labor Day celebration, and a 1986 strike at the International Paper plant in Jay.

Bennett, the LePage press secretary, said state workers placed the mural in a "secure storage location" this weekend, but wouldn't say where that was.

"We are not disclosing that location for the protection of the mural," she said.

Ben Chipman, the first-term state representative who was helping develop the deal to bring the artwork to Portland late last week, said he was "upset and frustrated" that LePage took it down so soon.

"I feared this might happen," he said yesterday. "I hoped it wouldn't, but I am upset that it has."

He said the mural's whereabouts was a mystery, even to him and other state legislators. "Nobody seems to know were it is, and the history of labor in Maine, as depicted in the mural, has been hidden from us."

Marshall, as an artist who has painted numerous murals over the years, said he was offended that Taylor's art had become a political football. He noted that the piece did not engender opposition when it was commissioned three years ago by the previous administration, and worried its removal would set a bad precedent in Augusta.

Still, he predicted all the media attention on the piece could bring a silver lining.

LePage’s actions “have only made the artwork far more powerful and have made the artwork famous,” Marshall said.

Copyright 2011, The Portland Daily Sun - Portland's Daily Newspaper - One Longfellow Square, Suite 202, Portland, ME 04102 - (207) 699-5801

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