PORTLAND, Maine — City Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr., seeking a seventh at-large term, is being challenged by two newcomers.
David Foster, 35, of 45 Deane St., and Matthew Coffey, 36, who is homeless but lists his address as the Preble Street Resource Center at 5 Portland St., are hoping to unseat Mavodones for the three-year term.
Mavodones, 55, of 79 Chenery St., is the operations manager at Casco Bay Lines. He has also served on the School Board and ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2011.
Foster manages social media marketing for the Great Lost Bear at 540 Forest Ave. Coffey is an arborist’s apprentice who has also worked in landscape design and construction.
The at-large seat is one of three City Council seats being contested on Election Day, Nov. 3. Municipal elections are run without party affiliations.
After serving since 1997, Mavodones said he was uncertain he would run again this year.
“I very much enjoy the work, but the council has been a challenging place, in my opinion, in the last two or three years,” he said. “Much of it has been about leadership, the direction we are taking, details about working together.”
A day after Ethan Strimling announced his candidacy for mayor in August, Mavodones announced his intention to run again, and endorsed Strimling. He said other councilors and constituents urged him to run, and he hopes for effective leadership and cohesiveness between the council and the mayor.
His perspective as chairman of the council finance committee makes Mavodones worry about the city’s future.
“If one were to look back at my voting record, I may have had one of the more liberal records on spending,” he said. “But I have come to the realization we need to rein in our spending. We are budgeted at a point where it is really not sustainable.”
Mavodones opposes both referendum questions on the city ballot.
Question 1 would mandate a $15 per hour minimum wage at all private businesses by July 1, 2019.
Question 2 would amend zoning on a portion of the Portland Co. parcel at 58 Fore St., set up a task force to evaluate other areas with scenic views, and require more detailed plans for zoning changes.
Mavodones supported raising the city minimum wage initially to $8.75 per hour, as proposed by Councilor Jill Duson during finance committee discussions. The council ultimately approved an initial increase to $10.10. The current minimum wage in Maine is $7.50 per hour.
“It is much too high for the economy of Portland,” he said of $15. “There has to be an understanding there are other consequences, particularly to businesses and what it does for the bottom line.”
Question 2, Mavodones said, also goes too far.
“I think we are clearly governing by initiative or referendum too much,” he said. “I don’t want to turn into California. I think the unintended consequences are significant.”
Mavodones said finances and services will be a focus if he wins a new term.
“The thing I hear most from people much more in the last few years is ‘my taxes are going up and I don’t see my services improving,’” he said. “I sense a real frustration in the electorate in what most people deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
A Brownfield native, U.S. Air Force veteran and University of Southern Maine graduate, Fostersaid he is running because of his own concerns about the city’s direction.
“I was just laying awake at night and thinking about everything that was going wrong,” he said. “I figured I had to do this myself.”
He said his top priority is creating a municipal fiber-optic network to increase broadband and high-speed Internet service and free Wi-Fi, as is happening in South Portland and Sanford.
Foster considers it an economic tool to expand businesses and draw high-paying jobs to the city.
Foster has qualified support for Question 1 and the proposed $15-per-hour “living wage.” He opposes the accompanying $11.25-per-hour wage for people who make at least $30 per month in tips.
“You are already putting a lot of stress on business,” he said. “Why are we trying to destroy the tipping culture?”
Foster supports Question 2 and its zoning amendments.
“The natural beauty of Portland should be protected,” he said. “I highly recommend that concerned citizens look over this document, as it contains some interesting clauses that could certainly slow down development in many parts of the city by only requiring a petition signed by 20 residents in order to determine new protected sites in the future.”
Foster said he worries about how affordable life in the city will be.
“This is it, this is the spot where you stake your claim,” he said. “I feel like we are right on the threshold of it being taken out of our hands.”
He also objects to the way the city works with developers and its effects on residents.
“I looked at the (tax increment finance zone list) and it is ridiculous we have these contracts for 30 years,” he said.
Foster sees increasing property taxes as a question of value.
“It is not that the property taxes are too high, it is what you get for them,” he said.
He would like to replace city street lamps with more efficient LED lights that also have Wi-Fi antennas.
“Everything looks great; the city is beautiful. The way technology could make it better is invisible to the naked eye,” he said.
He promised to lead in a different fashion.
“Everybody thinks they are kind of normal, but I am an abnormal person,” he said. “I think of things in ways other people don’t. I want to apply that skill or talent as a public service.”
Coffey is a seven-year resident of Portland, now in an unorthodox way.
“I currently am homeless by choice, squatting on a small piece of undesirable, unbuildable land,” he said.
He said his living conditions have given him a unique perspective.
“I want to contribute to my community, and I don’t feel the current City Council is an adequate representation of the community as a whole.”
Coffey said he does not necessarily favor more spending or programs as solutions, and opposes Question 1, to create a $15 wage.
“I am a libertarian, so I am opposed to government intervention in private business,” he said.
He supports Question 2 and its zoning amendment.
“I feel those citizens who bought those houses have a point,” he said. “I wouldn’t want my view destroyed and my property values to go down.”
Overall, Coffey said the city council has overlooked many of the city’s residents and favored too many developers.
“I am not totally opposed to development,” he said. “I understand cities need to grow, but it seems that they are repurposing old buildings to build fancy hotels and condos.”
He objects to city tax policies he said have led to an increasing property tax rate for ordinary residents, while developers can take money out of the city.
“I don’t understand why anyone would give a tax break to a multi-million dollar corporation,” he said. “Why not give a tax break to the average Joe who owns a couple of buildings and keeps his apartments affordable?”
Coffey said city resources are not properly utilized to help the homeless population, and advocates having those living in shelters help maintain the buildings while the city increases their educational opportunities.
“Case managers are handing out towels, they are cleaning toilets,” he said. “For the most part, you have got ablebodied workers down there.”
He also criticized the council for being too intrusive by instituting a 5-cent fee on plastic shopping bags and a fee on property owners to help pay for stormwater and wastewater system upgrades. Foster said he would also try to revoke a ban on e-cigarettes and vaping in city parks.
His said his deep faith guides his personal convictions, but not his policy objectives.
“I am a Christian, but I am also a libertarian, so I wouldn’t want laws based on my morality,” he said. “If we continue to lose our moral base, it plunges us into either anarchy or tyranny.”