In Portland City elections, Mayor Strimling came out a winner and he wasn’t even on the ballot.

Strimling campaigned for Emily Figdor, who won the District 2 School Board seat in a landslide. Figdor’s margin was surprising because her opponent, Jeanne Swanton, ran on a similar platform (pro-school funding). Swanton was with Figdor on the Fund 4 School bond referendum, campaigned hard, and drew support from around the city, including former councilors Cheryl Leeman and Dory Waxman as well as at-large incumbent City Councilor Nick Mavodones. Figdor also had the support of her husband Steven Biel, a political consultant and fundraiser best known locally in the press as a lightning rod for political controversy and his creation of the Progressive Portland organization.

Figdor’s easy win could spell bad news for the future of some incumbent city councilors and might give pause to potential challengers to the 2019 mayor’s race. The Strim may not be as vulnerable as people may have been thinking.

 

Question of Democracy

This past election tested a fundamental tenet of our democracy, one that could have far-reaching repercussions throughout the state and across the country.

I’m speaking of course about Yarmouth Ballot Question Five. Despite coming out overwhelmingly for progressive causes (like renter protections) and candidates (like Mills and Pingree), voters in Yarmouth also passed a measure restricting public employees from seeking elective office.

In a town like Yarmouth, where most municipal employees make below the median income, this amounts to a form of candidate suppression as it restricts trash collectors, janitors, and teachers (whose contracts are not even decided by the town council) from even considering a chance to seek office. There are of course no restrictions on wealthy private sector citizens from running for office. The origin of the initiative is unclear, but some large right-wing organizations have been rumored and right-wing partizan Matt Gagnon of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center lives in Yarmouth.

More troubling is that the new law does not apply to vendors doing business with the town. Municipal Corruption 101 (graft, kickbacks, patronage, inside deals, etc. ) starts and ends with city contracts, which require significant oversight. But putting overt corruption aside, does a vendor with $2,000,000 in road contracts not have any special interests? What about an employee of that vendor?

The Maine ACLU is considering challenging the constitutionality of the case, I suggest they get cracking.

Gale Force Sweeps Maine Democratic Party Chair Out of Office Despite Statewide Triumphs

Prior to its midterm surge into power, the Maine State Democratic Party’s biggest problems could be summarized in two words: weak candidates. So it may be easy to miss the utter debacle of the recent Cumberland County District Attorney’s race.

In June, an allegation of sexual misconduct against one Democratic primary candidate (Jon Gale) was brought to the attention of Maine Democratic Party (MDP) chair Phil Bartlett by a competing primary campaign (that of Seth Levy). Gale privately denied the accusations, the party turned its focus to bigger races, and Gale won the primary. However, when the press threatened to expose the allegations just days before the November election, Bartlett asked Gale to withdraw from the race, clearing the path for the only remaining viable candidate, Independent Jonathan Sahrbeck (the Republican had officially withdrawn as well).

While it is unfair to hold Phil Bartlett accountable for Gale’s behavior, one lesson of the MeToo movement is that every institution from the American Gymnastics Federation to National Public Radio must take swift action to research victim’s claims and decisive action to stop harm if it is identified. Allegations were dismissed in June, then self-verified by Gale in October when Bartlett finally conferred with the victims.

What makes matters worse, the party blundered the election by asking Gale to step down rather than run as a paper candidate who may then step down after the election. Rather than risk any blowback, the party simply handed the race to Sahrbeck, the most regressive of all candidates and who was endorsed by the outgoing Republican DA of 28 years, Stephanie Anderson.

Bartlett announced that he will be stepping down from chair of the MDP. A new party chair will be elected by the Democratic State Committee in January.

Zack Barowitz is a flâneur. You can view his meanderings at zacharybarowitz.com

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