Journalism: Urbanism: Urban Conditional: Urban conditional: Local Elections Recap — The real winners and losers of Portland

Nov 13, 2017

Local Elections Recap — The real winners and losers of Portland

by Zack Barowitz

The establishment ran the table in council races and citizen questions, but the four school bond sailed. Ho-hum? Hardly. Here’s what it all means.

The Winner: The school bond was Mayor Ethan Strimling’s way of controlling a bit more of the city budget. But with the Mayor’s approval rating at around 50 percent, the victory may have come as much in spite of his efforts as because of them.

The Wiener: Progressive Portland co-founder Steven Biel staked his ground on this bond but the victory came at a heavy cost to his reputation when he got caught sharing a voter list with Bree LaCasse campaign for the at-large City Council seat.

The Real Winner: The kids, it’s all about the kids.

The Loser: City Manager Jon Jennings wanted just a two-school bond, but he’ll survive.


Referendum on rent regulations including incremental increases: Failed, 64 percent opposed.

The Winner: The Landlord’s Association was the main opposition. They had city officials, nonprofit developers, and the city establishment on their side while the proponents of the bill ran out of steam just as the battle reached the pitch.

The Real Winner: Jill Duson. As head of the Housing Committee, Duson held the party line against the activists and was duly rewarded, although an open discussion of the matter would have saved a lot of time and money.

Money Matters: The landlords spent $20 per vote (and raised about $300,000). The bill’s sponsors spent less than $1 per vote.

The Loser: Proponents are hoping this is the start of a conversation about rent stabilization — but it might be the end.


Neighbor Approval of Zoning Changes: The measure failed with 53 percent opposing, but it was closer than many had anticipated and strongest in the peninsula districts.

The Winner: A development-friendly group that included Maine Medical Center.

Money Matters: Amendment sponsor Mary Davis and her YES campaign spent virtually nothing. Her opponents spent roughly $100,000 (about $10 per vote).

The Real Winner: Off-peninsula homeowners. Interestingly, more conservative districts (3, 4, and 5) voted against but are most likely to see the most rezoning voted. The city planning department is getting set to “upzone” some neighborhoods of single-family houses on quarter-acre lots. The denser development will increase property value.

The Loser: YIMBYs. Considering the strong showing of this somewhat cuckoo proposal, it does not appear that these anti-change forces are going away anytime soon, especially on the peninsula.


City Council At-Large

The Winner: Incumbent Jill Duson carried the day with 44 percent while Joey Brunelle (30 percent) and Bree LaCasse (26 percent) fractured the left-wing opposition. [Disclosure: I was a contributor and volunteer for the Brunelle campaign.]

Money Matters: LaCasse raised over $40,000 thanks in large part to Steven Biel. Duson raised about $25K, mostly in a late push and with some real estate donors, and Brunelle $13k, accepting only in-state contributions.

The Wiener: State Senator Mark Dion’s robo-call for LaCasse touted a bogus poll that put her in close contention. He also mispronounced her last name. Not an auspicious start to his gubernatorial campaign.

The Real Winner: The Portland establishment kept Duson thanks to Biel’s recruitment of LaCasse after Joey Brunelle refused Biel’s support. As a bonus, they got to sit by and watch Mr. Brunelle’s widely publicized takedown of Biel over the unethical sharing of voter lists.

The Loser: Steven Biel came out of this pretty bruised. Biel lost his leadership position with Progressive Portland, and his wife, Emily Figdor, is being challenged for her chair by the Portland Dems.


City Council District 5

The Winner: Kim Cook won the vote with 63 percent against two challengers.

The Real Winner: Affordable housing. Cook’s work as a consultant for affordable housing developers and the district’s rejection of the NIMBY proposal (Question 2) might clear the ground for some low-income housing projects off-peninsula.

Meet the New Boss: Cook was the treasurer for David Brenerman, the current D5 councilor, and like him, she is a political consultant. She should soon be feeling comfortable in his old chair.


City Council District 4

The Winner: Justin Costa held his seat with 68 percent against Kim Rich. With an easy victory over a progressive challenger, Costa should now consider his seat safe and can take on greater leadership of the City Council.

The Loser: Cheryl Leeman, who is the former District 4 councilor, an aide to Senator Olympia Snowe, and longtime Portland power broker. Although Leeman supported Costa in his campaign, her sway over him should now be on the wane.