Candidates for charter commission represent diversity of Portland

Portland Press Herald, Maine
·11 min read

Apr. 5—A diverse group of 24 candidates has qualified to run for nine seats on a charter commission that could recommend big changes in Portland city government.

Here is a brief introduction. More information about the candidates and their priorities will be published before the June 8 election.

DISTRICT 1

Elizabeth Street (Peaks Island) resident Twain Braden, 50, is a Democrat, a maritime and admiralty lawyer at Thompson Bowie & Hatch, president of the Casco Bay Lines board of directors, president of the Propeller Club and chairman of the Salvage Committee of the Maritime Law Association of the United States. He is interested in increasing islanders' voice in city affairs by creating a council seat to represents the islands. "Our islands are fragile cultural ecosystems that are fundamental to the fabric of the City of Portland, but their sustainability is withering."

North Street resident David Cowie, 63, is a Democrat, a longtime Munjoy Hill resident, a founding member of the Friends of Fort Sumner Park, a retired sixth-grade teacher, former union official and former board member of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization. A lifelong progressive, Cowie said he's passionate about policing, zoning and housing reform, and having accessible city government. And he believes the commission would benefit from his experience in education, negotiations, mediation and restorative justice.

Waterville Street resident Karen Snyder, 52, is a Democrat, a data migration computer consultant and landlord. She was involved in efforts to protect Congress Square from development in 2014, preserve the views from Fort Sumner Park in 2017 and protect the working waterfront in 2019. She currently serves on the city's Pesticide Management Committee and the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization board. She said she'd have an open mind about possible change, while keeping an eye toward fairness and equity for all residents.

Island Avenue (Peaks Island) resident Shamika (Shay) Stewart-Bouley, 48, is a Democrat, executive director of Community Change Inc., a Boston nonprofit anti-racism organization, and creator of Black Girl In Maine blog. She holds a master's degree in education, administrative supervision. She believes her 25 years of nonprofit experience, including 13 as a chief executive, will bring a systems approach to reforming the charter, which should focus on racial and financial equity. "While Portland has overall embraced racial and ethnic diversity, true representation needs to improve — the city's continuing embrace must mean seeing people of color in key decision-making roles in our city," she said.

DISTRICT 2

Park Street resident Emma (Em) Burnett, 31, is a Democrat and senior community manager for Code for America who holds a bachelor's degree from McGill University. Burnett, who uses they and them pronouns, was a campaign strategist for Mayor Kate Snyder in 2019, a volunteer for People First Portland in 2020 and field director for the Maine House Democratic Campaign Committee in 2012. A longtime advocate for open government and civic technology, Burnett said they will be looking to make city government open and accessible to all. "For nearly a decade, I've committed to studying and implementing ways to make civic institutions more transparent and accessible. I've learned from cities across the world who are creating new and innovative models of participatory democracy."

West Street resident Robert O'Brien, 41, is a Democrat and program director at the Maine Development Foundation, focusing on community revitalization and economic development in mill towns. O'Brien has a master's degree in public policy and represented the district for one term on the school board in 2006, when he chaired the policy committee and served on the finance and facilities committees. He also served on the previous Charter Commission and is a former president of the West End Neighborhood Association. "With deep roots and loads of experience in Portland, I want to be part of the conversation on how to make our municipal democracy run smoothly and be accessible by all," he said.

DISTRICT 3

Huntress Street resident Zachary Barowitz, 52, is a Democrat, writer and residential property manager, who has a degree in American studies and a master's in urban design. He's the current chairman of the city's Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, treasurer of the Greater Portland Community Land Trust and past chairman of the Libbytown Neighborhood Association. He'd look to enhance democracy by increasing the number of council seats and adding community boards, while also clarifying the roles of elected officials and professional staff. "While it is essential to have a competent, professional, and impartial city administration, political decisions should be made by our elected officials."

Capisic Street resident Brian Batson, 30, is a Democrat and registered nurse who also works in community relations for Maine Medical Center. Having previously served one term as district city councilor in 2016, Batson said he understands what works and what doesn't in city government, as well as having experience working on issues important to the district. "I have a proven record of listening, open-minded pragmatic policy, and navigating challenging discussions."

Bradley Street resident Charles Bryon, 45, is a project accountant and controller for a local environmental engineering firm in Portland, who used to own a local restaurant, The Salt Exchange on Commercial Street. He described his political views as "a moderate independent who appreciates social progress coupled with fiscal accountability." As a commissioner, he'd conduct outreach and engage the community about what changes it would like to see in the charter.

DISTRICT 4

Ocean Avenue resident Marcques Houston, 25, is a Democrat, a parent organizer at Starting Strong, which focuses on early childhood education, and Colby College graduate who is working toward a master's degree in education from Thomas College. A former field director for former Mayor Ethan Strimling in 2019, Houston is a board member of Equity in Portland Schools and a co-organizer for Maine March for Racial Justice, among other campaigns. He's running to ensure "everyday Portlanders have a voice in City Hall" and build a city government with integrity, transparency and accountability.

Savoy Street resident Cheryl Leeman, 73, is a self-described moderate Republican who represented the district on the City Council for 30 years, including two stints as an appointed mayor, before retiring in 2014. She's worked campaigns for Tom Andrews for the Legislature, John Kerry for Congress, John McKernan for governor, and Olympia Snowe for U.S. Senate. She said her experience would help ground discussions. "I truly believe that we need to know where we have been to know where we want to go, and I will bring that important historical perspective, knowledge and experience to the review process."

DISTRICT 5

Fisher Street resident Ryan Lizanecz, 23, is a Democrat, Bates College graduate and full-time student pursuing his law degree at the University of Maine School of Law. He was a former campaign manager for Portland State Rep. Ed Crockett. A lifelong resident of North Deering, Lizanecz said he deeply understands the neighborhood and city schools, which will help him work toward making government more accountable, transparent and reflective of residents' needs. "I value good government, collaboration with others, the law, and the balance of powers."

Summit Street resident Mony Hang, 45, is not enrolled in a political party and is a real estate broker who has a degree in communication studies from West Virginia Wesleyan College. He said he is running because he loves the city. "I was not born in Maine but I am proud to call myself a Mainer. I have two young kids in the Portland school system (7th grader and a freshman). I love Portland too much to stand by and not be a part of the decision-making process."

AT LARGE (4 seats)

Yale Street resident William Bailey, 52, is a Republican and a machinist who has no political experience, but is running to ensure there is a balance among the commissioners. "I believe the focus should not lean too far in any one direction. Instead we need to hear from multiple perspectives and from many voices that make up a diverse Portland community."

Washington Avenue resident Catherine Buxton, 31, is a Democrat and communications manager at Speak About It, a consent education and sexual assault prevention nonprofit. Her previous experience includes working for Portland Trails and volunteering on state and local campaigns, including Medicaid expansion in 2017. She sees the commission as a way to combat structural inequality. "I am excited to listen deeply to my neighbors and hear their visions for how to share power and build a more just, representative, and accessible city that works for everyone who lives here."

Rackleff Street resident Marpheen Chann, 29, is a Democrat, an activist/educator at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, president of the Cambodian Community Association of Maine, and a member of the Maine Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Equality Community Center in Portland and the city's Planning Board. He said his priorities are making city government more inclusive, equitable, fair, transparent and accountable.

Auburn Street resident Lawson Condrey, 35, is a Democrat who works as a project manager at Fionta, a software consulting company. He's currently a member of the city's Community Development Block Grant committee and a volunteer with Portland Adult Education. He said he's running to make city government more accountable, accessible and transparent. "Whether it's increasing representation, making communication from the city to Portlanders more effective, and creating a more defined structure around roles in City Hall — we can make a government that works for all of us, produces less confusion, and promotes a healthier dialogue."

Pleasant Avenue resident Steven DiMillo, 60, is a Republican and a Deering High School graduate who now owns a DiMillo's restaurant and serves as chairman of the HospitalityMaine board. He said his experience as a lifelong resident and business owner will create balance on the commission. "I have heard from countless voters in Portland who are looking for individuals they can count on to bring perspective that rings true to more folks to this crucial process. I hope to bring useful insights, relevant experience, and a knack for collaboration to Portland's Charter Commission."

Milton Street resident Anthony Emerson, 26, is a Democrat and a grocery store cashier who holds an English degree from the University of Southern Maine. He hopes to offer his perspective as an essential worker during the pandemic to the review process. And he criticized the city for not supporting the implementation of hazard pay during the pandemic, which voters approved in November but is now being challenged in court. "We are now in year two of the pandemic, and the sacrifices made by essential workers have been overlooked by those in power. The working class needs a voice on the charter commission, and I'm running to be that voice."

Catherine Street resident Benjamin Grant, 43, is a Democrat and attorney and partner at McTeague Higbee with deep experience in state Democratic politics, including serving as party chairman from 2011-14 and executive director of the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee from 2003-04. He also co-chaired the transition team and was a senior adviser for Gov. Janet Mills in 2018. He believes the city should have a strong mayor, who would assume control of daily city operations from the city manager, a new budget process and a better balance between the council and mayor.

Florida Avenue resident Ian Houseal, 42, is a former city of Portland employee who has worked for the last four years as the community development director in Sanford. Houseal said he has no political affiliation. He has master's degrees in regional planning and architecture. "As a citizen this is an opportunity to volunteer on a civic-topic, to review and discuss the guiding document for the local government."

Congress Street resident Hope Rovelto, 44, is a Democrat and self-employed screen printer and educator, who holds a master's in ceramics and bachelor's in sculpture. Rovelto said she is a business owner, queer and an activist fighting for "justice, freedom, equality, diversity, authority, privacy, due process, property, participation, truth, patriotism, human rights, ending racism, (and) dismantling white supremacy." And she said she's running to ensure that everyone has a voice in city decision-making.

Washington Avenue resident Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef, 29, is a community organizer with a degree in political science and a member of Black POWER, which has advocated for the elimination of the city manager position in favor of a strong mayor. She described herself as a progressive Democrat. "I am an activist, a community organizer, and passionate about making a change in Portland. I am running for charter commission at-large to bring a more strategic vision to Portland's legislative governance and decision-making."

Cumberland Avenue resident Patricia Washburn, 56, is a Democrat and former journalist who works as senior copywriter at Aetna and has been active in Democratic campaigns since 2008. A person with a disability who serves on the board of the Disability Voters of Maine and is a renter in Portland, she hopes to add "thoughtful progressive values" to the charter review. "I pledge to run a positive campaign focused on the issues and on increasing justice and equality in Portland's government and management. I want to listen to voters, especially those whose concerns can tend to go unheard.