2017-10-13 / Front Page

Two vie for District 2 City Council seat in South Portland

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — There are three seats up for grabs on the South Portland City Council for the Nov. 7 election, but only one is an actual contest. In District 1, incumbent councilor Claude Morgan is running unopposed, while on the opposite end of the city in District 5, planning board member Adrian Dowling is staging a similarly uncontested campaign. Only in District 2, where Mayor Patti Smith is forced to sit out at least one year due to a charter-imposed term limit after three consecutive terms, is there a real horse race.

In that contest, Margaret Street resident Christopher Breen will face off against Kate Lewis of Mussey Street. Although neither has ever held elective office before, it’s not for lack of trying. Breen ran for a spot on the Portland City Council and the Portland School Board before moving to South Portland eight years ago. Lewis, who has lived in South Portland for 11 years, ran for a spot on the city council in 2016, finishing third in a seven-way race for two at-large council seats, narrowly missing out by less than 60 votes.

The Sentry sent both Breen and Lewis a candidate survey to fill out. Their answers are listed below in alphabetical order.

South Portland voters are able to vote in all district council races, not just the one in which they reside. So, all registered voters can vote in the District 2 race, as well as for the candidates in Districts 1 and 5. Absentee ballots are available now and in-person. Early voting begins at city hall Oct. 12. All polling place will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 7. Directions to each polling location are available on the city clerk’s section of the South Portland webpage, www.southportland.org.

Name: Christopher Breen

Age: 47

Address: Margaret Street (one year, has lived in South Portland eight years total).

Contact: Phone: 272-7351; email: chrisbreen2020@gmail.com; Twitter: @chrisbreen4SPCC; Facebook: facebook.com/christopherbreenforspcc.

Occupation: Analyst for Delhaize America in Scarborough (two-year temporary project through Bonney Staffing. Previous experience in printing, mailing and information technology, contracted to the U.S. Postal Service through Compaq and Northrop Grumman. Also worked for Allen Uniform Sales in South Portland.

Family: Married, with three children (one adult, one school-age, and one newborn Oct. 5).

Education: Cape Elizabeth High School; Bachelors degree of in Business from University of Maine at Orono, with a concentration in accounting and finance.

Organizations and activities: Cape Elizabeth Historical Society; Irish-American Club; Also spent time documenting and cleaning cemetery on Forbes Street in Portland.

Political experience: Candidate for Portland City Council, 2001. Candidate for Portland Board of Education, 2005.

Top three issues:

Environmental issues: As I have my third child being born soon, I want to make sure the city is making great and logical decisions that could affect my family and the inhabitants of our city, i.e. I support the pesticide ordinance. As I look at other towns and cities in Maine, it seems that some seem too much focused on industry. Our city is balanced. We need to protect our watersheds. The Long Creek watershed was rated one of the worst watersheds in the state. It was one rating away from being rated hazardous. The city was able to clean up this watershed.

Opioid addiction: I want a new position in the city to help fight this terrible addiction problem that has affected the whole country and this city. This position is not a police person or a counselor. It is more of a personality person that everyone in the city knows. That person is the person to start the conversation with if you or someone you know has an issue and you need guidance. We need to be proactive on this issue. When we open the newspaper and we see another story about all the young people lost, we feel helpless. We need to help these people before their deaths.

Elderly issues: I will seek some program to help the elderly in the city to relieve them of raising tax bills. If their residency has been 40 years at their home and all occupants are over the age of 65 then their tax bill rate should be frozen at that rate for all future tax bills. The city is experiencing gentrification. We welcome the new residents but need to protect the elderly from this. There are 14 affordable housing options in this city. I will continue to support affordable housing for the elderly.

Why are you seeking office?

It seems that the West End of South Portland will continue to see much growth in the decade to come. I want to make sure that we are protecting enough open spaces while we see the growth in this city. I walked this past weekend on a guided tour given by the South Portland Land Trust of the Long Creek Trail. It was amazing to see such beauty. But I also noticed the cars driving along the creek on I-295. We need to find the right balance of open spaces and the pressure of building. I also enjoyed a walk on the Clark Pond’s trail with my dog this past weekend. When you think of the mall area so busy with industries, stores and parking, it is nice to find peace on these trails. These trails areas are an example of a balance I want to keep as the city feels the pressure to build during this decade to come in the West End.

Should the city come into possession of Mahoney Middle School as a result of the school department’s middle school renovation project, what would you view as the best possible disposition of that building?

There are many issues with this building. There is structural, health, safety, mechanical and handicapped  access deficiencies with this building. It also has asbestos materials throughout the whole building. I cannot believe in the year 2017 we still need to deal with the issue of asbestos. I do not think that this building should stay after we come into possession of it. I do not think city hall should move into it. The city is in short supply of housing. I would support selling the land to a nonprofit to build affordable housing. I do not think it should be a retail store as I often see vacancies in the Milk Creek area.

The city council has elected not to pursue a ban on retail marijuana sales. Do you agree with that course of action? Why or why not? The council is instead now debating where and under what conditions to allow retail marijuana operations. What advice would you offer on that question?

The city clearly voted for the passage of legalization of marijuana. I believe that marijuana is not an issue that we need to spend much time on. We should be more concerned with other issues. The state of Maine is in the process of issuing mandates that we should follow. i.e. no drive-up windows. I am in agreement with Councilor Eben Rose on most of the issues on this topic. We would mostly follow the same rules as we already have currently for alcohol. The inhabitants of our city currently make their own beer in their homes. I have no problem with people at home growing small amounts of marijuana plants. My biggest concern is if a place is selling edibles. It should be only one dose per edible. There is a case where a guy had a reaction eating an edible with six doses. We need to think if a child eats that edible. Marijuana is considered safer than alcohol. You do not hear about people overdosing on marijuana. Retail stores will check for IDs. A drug dealer would not check for a teenager’s ID. Marijuana is easy to get. Because of that, I want that done in a safe store environment. For the last decade I have always pictured in my mind that when you went into a local store that the marijuana would be right next to the cigarettes. With retail stores selling marijuana we will have less crime and violent drug dealers in this city.

Considering that the court case has cost South Portland $1.28 million to date in attorney fees and other expenses, is the city doing the right thing by continuing to defend the 2014 Clear Skies Ordinance that banned diluted bitumen (a.k.a tar sands oil) from the city? Why or why not?

If we look back at the history of what happened, it looks like the city council made this ordinance about the oil sands against the will of the people. The citizens put out an ordinance that was clearly against oil sands. If you look online back then, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance was clearly against oil sands. If it passed then the council would not be able to touch it. Some said don’t vote for it so the council can make their own ordinance that they could control unlike the Waterfront Protection Ordinance referendum. It was clear in the referendum and the Clear Skies Ordinance debate that there would probably be a law suit. If you had a re-vote of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance with a $1.5 million price tag, I don’t t think it would pass. The passage of the Clear Skies Ordinance seems to be against the will of the city’s citizens. I think we should vote against the Clear Sky Ordinance. Think if you were thinking of moving to this city. The second item listed on our front page is the Clear Skies Legal Defense fund. To me, that says the city made a mistake and wants the inhabitants of the city to cough up money for their mistake.

By all accounts, the cost of housing is a growing concern for low- to median-income households in South Portland. Do you believe city government has a role to play in that issue and, if so, what do you view as the fairest and most equitable solution to the problem?

The city of South Portland has a general assistance program that can help low-income inhabitants of the city. The government responsibility is to make sure that no one is left out on the streets. I believe the city has made a great effort in supporting affordable housing. The city has a revolving loan that can be used to start the process of building affordable housing. I support a future tax increment financing (TIF) district for building affordable housing. That TIF would last 30 years. This past week, I was walking on the trails next to Barberry Creek. I came along an abandoned homeless site in the woods. There were several pillows. It looks like a family was there. There should be no homeless people in our city. The city, as a last effort, based on a person’s financial situation regardless of immigration status, would provide $2,093 for a family of four for a heated and utilities-paid apartment. The problem is that some landlords might raise their rent each time the city raises the rate they will pay for. I do not believe in rent control. I believe in increasing the supply of apartments which would lower the rent across the city. Rent control would create a safety and health issue. As I look out my high-rent apartment, I see them working on the roof of one of the apartments. With rent control, why would they replace the roof if it would not bring them extra rent.

Name: Katherine W. Lewis

Age: 41

Address: Mussey Street (11 years).

Contact: Phone: 233-7615; email: katewhitelewis@gmail.com Facebook: facebook.com/sopokatelewis.

Occupation: Director of development for Greater Portland Landmarks (five and a half years). Previously, office manager to vice president at regional nonprofit consulting firm, Demont Associates (11 years). Also, directed grassroots environmental and public interest campaigns in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine.

Family: Married, with one school-age child.

Education: South Kingstown (Rhode Island) High School; Bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont (1998), with major concentrations in environmental studies, political science and French. Certified Fund Raising Executive certification obtained October 2006 (with re-certification in 2010, 2013 and 2016).

Organizations and activities: South Portland Land Trust Board of Directors, 2010-present (president, 2016-present); South Portland Ad Hoc Open Space Strategic Planning Committee, 2017; Northern New England Association of Fundraising Professionals Board of Directors,2005-2015 (president 2013-2014); Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Portland, vestry and stewardship chairman, 2011-2014; New England American Camp Association Board of Directors, March 2016-present; Maine People’s Alliance Board of Directors, 2001-2007 (co-chairman, 2004-2007).

Political experience: Candidate for South Portland City Council, 2016.

Top three issues:

Green, community and open spaces: We are fortunate to live in a city that has green and open spaces of varying sizes that give character to our neighborhoods and recreational opportunities to our residents and visitors. With development pressure strong throughout the region, I will champion plans to conserve green and open space as necessary components of a livable city. We need to proactively inventory our open space and set priorities for protecting it in ways that benefit all residents, while emphasizing smart design and redevelopment of industrial areas.

Forward-looking economic development: South Portland can continue to thrive economically by embracing cutting-edge, healthy green industry and local businesses that support the people who live here. I want to develop our economy based on critical questions like: What is making local businesses succeed in South Portland and how can we create those conditions for others? How will this business support the city’s tax base relative to the amount of land it uses? How many local residents are employed with living wages at this business? What city resources will this business require because of its effect on traffic and infrastructure?

Quality schools: While ensuring quality education is mostly the work of the school board, few elected officials in any part of city government are parents with kids in the schools. The city budget passed annually by the council affects education and we have looming questions about how to update our middle schools and how to address serious deficiencies in scholastic achievement at some of the elementary schools. I plan to support and champion the strategies that will most positively impact learning. As a parent and taxpayer, I’m a strong advocate for quality schools leading to lifelong success for kids.

Why are you seeking elected office?

South Portland is right now making decisions that will have local and global effects that last for decades. Because of the desirability of living and working here, we have both development pressure for growth, and a responsibility to our residents to keep their quality of life strong and intact – in quality housing, recreation opportunities, education that is responsive to kids of all abilities, clean air and water. I want to shape a positive future for our 25,000 residents on these 13 square miles we call South Portland. I want to represent hard-working people who are too busy making ends meet, or juggling busy family schedules with kids and grandkids to make their voices heard often enough. I want to represent people who have been disconnected from the work of city government and how it is impacting their lives. I have a lot of energy, a lot of experience working with all types of people and am committed to problem-solving for the greatest good. After a near-win last year for the at-large council seat, it would be my privilege to succeed Patti Smith as the District 2 council representative for South Portland.

Should the city come into possession of Mahoney Middle School as a result

Should the city come into possession of Mahoney Middle School as a result of the school department’s middle school renovation project, what would you view as the best possible disposition of that building?

Mahoney Middle School is an important civic building on a major thoroughfare in an area that is an important community center of South Portland – with a library, park, school and businesses nearby. Ideally it will remain a civic building, and preferably a school. If the community decides not to renovate it as a school, we should renovate it for use as city hall to solve some of the problems of space and dispersion that plague city departments and staff while keeping it available to the public.

The city council has elected not to pursue a ban on retail marijuana sales. Do you agree with that course of action? Why or why not? The council is instead now debating where and under what conditions to allow retail marijuana operations. What advice would you offer on that question?

With proper protections in place, retail marijuana sales will diversify and augment our tax base, helping to keep property taxes lower. As to where and under what conditions we should allow these operations, I advise that we apply existing retail zoning laws, and that we impose the same restrictions as we would for the sale of alcohol. Too much regulation might allow black market sales and unlawful activity to continue, and only incentivize major corporate marijuana operations. We should track and regulate the industry at all points from growth to sale, including wholesale, to equalize opportunities for sole-proprietors or small businesses in this sector.

Considering that the court case has cost South Portland $1.28 million to date in attorney fees and other expenses, is the city doing the right thing by continuing to defend the 2014 Clear Skies Ordinance that banned diluted bitumen (a.k.a tar sands oil) from the city?

Of course South Portland had to defend itself when initially sued over its Clear Skies Ordinance, especially after the time and energy that was spent on creating the ordinance to satisfy all parties. The legal fees have reached levels that are astonishing to some of our taxpayers. Depending on the judge’s impending decision, and without being privy to legal counsel’s advice to this point, I would take a close look at the options and their costs and consider whether we should continue defending this particular ordinance, and/ or pursue any other means that ensure sustainable waterfront industries that don’t put health and lives at risk.

By all accounts, the cost of housing is a growing concern for low- to median-income households in South Portland. Do you believe city government has a role to play in that issue and, if so, what do you view as the fairest and most equitable solution to the problem?

Yes, city government has a role to play in keeping housing costs affordable. Given the numbers related to the number of renters, average income and average rent amounts in South Portland, there has been little action other than to build more housing stock, with the idea that higher volume means rent goes down. We need only look in our backyards to see that more housing stock has had no effect on decreasing housing costs locally. However, in some neighborhoods, out-of-town, out-of-state investors are buying up blocks of housing to be used and advertised for short term rentals (by the day or weekend), which are attractive to tourists and vacationers, but immediately eliminate those units from being on the rental market for people who live here, and skirt regulations required of hotels. Renting these units in structures that are not owner-occupied should be prohibited, to free up desperately-needed longer-term rental housing stock, which will have the general effect of lowering costs. I want to explore a policy where rent increases beyond normal cost of living changes and/or inflation must directly correspond to demonstrated property repairs or improvements or are prohibited. I want to explore a policy that incentivizes developers to create a percentage of new rental units for low to median income people/families. If we want to seriously and directly affect this issue, I support the city itself (maybe in partnership) building or purchasing units and making them available at below-market rates to people who qualify.

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