Jun. 30—After 30 years in elected office, Nicholas Mavodones will not seek re-election this fall, creating a second open seat on the Portland City Council and giving energized progressives another opportunity to continue their string of electoral wins.
Mavodones, 61, said in an interview Tuesday that he is stepping aside to spend more time with his three grandchildren, whose ages range from 3 to 8.
"I've been doing this for a long time," he said. "I really want to spend more time with family, particularly my grandkids. They're growing up so quickly. And I'm not sure I have the energy frankly for another long campaign."
The move creates another opening for progressives, who have seen steady electoral success in the last few election cycles both in candidate races and in passing citizen initiatives. The progressive movement here and across the country was energized by Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign and gained urgency after Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of the United States.
Three council seats are up for grabs in Portland, at least two of which will not have an incumbent seeking reelection. In addition to Mavodones, two-term incumbent Belinda Ray already has announced that she's not running again in District 1, which includes the East End, Bayside and the islands, because she is taking a new job with the Greater Portland Council of Governments.
City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau has not said whether he plans to seek a third term representing District 2, which includes the West End and Parkside. He plans to make an announcement in the coming weeks.
"I am grateful for the outreach I have received from neighbors and friends encouraging me to continue serving the people of Portland on the City Council," Thibodeau said. "I believe in these uncertain times that experienced leadership is necessary, and I feel that there is still a lot of work to be done."
Mavodones' decision comes as progressives, including the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, have been notching electoral wins in Maine's largest city. DSA member April Fournier won an at-large seat last fall vacated by longtime Councilor Jill Duson. She beat a two-term incumbent, Justin Costa, who left his District 4 seat to run for the at-large seat. And Kate Sykes, a DSA organizer, finished strong in District 5, one of the more conservative areas of the city.
That same election cycle, the DSA-backed People First Portland campaign successfully passed four out of five citizen initiatives that strengthened the city's ban on facial recognition technology, instituted rent control, created a Green New Deal for Portland and established a $15 minimum wage plus hazard pay during emergencies. A fifth proposal to strengthen short term rental restrictions was narrowly defeated.
Progressives also successfully advocated for the creation of the Charter Commission, which will spend the next year examining the underpinnings of city government.
Last June, six of the DSA's seven endorsed candidates won seats on the commission, solidifying a progressive majority that is likely to recommended giving the elected mayor more executive control over city operations, demoting or eliminating the professional city manager position, expanding the number of district councilors, extending voting rights to noncitizens and examining ways to enact criminal justice reform and advance racial equity within the city's charter.
Mayor Kate Snyder said Mavodones will be missed on the council. She said his experience and institutional knowledge have been appreciated, especially last summer when the city was lurching from one crisis to another, ranging from the coronavirus, to mass protests here and nationally calling for racial justice and a two-week homeless encampment at City Hall.
Snyder described Mavodones as a model public servant — calm, professional, earnest, a good listener and not tied to any political factions.
"It's so clear he's been engaged in representative government for the sake of public service and I just really admire that," she said. "He's been a sage advisor. He's been this continuous source for understanding the context of an issue in a deeper way than anyone else can bring because of his years of service and all the people he's worked with."
Mavodones will have served 24 1/2 years as a city councilor when his term ends in December. He was first elected to the council in 1997, after taking a two-year break from serving 6 years on the school board.
He was an appointed mayor four times throughout his tenure and has been mayor pro temp for popularly elected mayors since 2011, filling in when they were unable. He's led the council's finance committee in recent years and has been an advisor to elected mayors, city managers and councilors alike. And his role as operations manager at Casco Bay Lines gave him insight into issues surrounding the working waterfront.
Portland does not have term limits. After Mavodones, Thibodeau and Ray are the most senior councilors, with each finishing their sixth year. They are followed by Councilor Pious Ali, who is finishing his fifth year.
City Manager Jon Jennings said Mavodones has been one of his most important mentors since he was hired as manager in 2015.
"Councilor Mavodones' decision to leave the city council is a tremendous loss," Jennings said. "He has steadfastly supported city staff and uniquely understands all we deal with on a daily basis. His years of experience have been invaluable to me personally. Nick has been one of the most important mentors for me during my time with the city. He has always been available and willing to listen when I needed his advice. He is one of the best people I have ever known. I will miss him professionally but plan to enjoy years of friendship in the future."
Cheryl Leeman, who also served in elected office in Portland for three decades before retiring in 2014, also lamented the loss of institutional knowledge on the council. Leeman has also felt the effects of a shifting electorate in Portland. She sought a seat on the charter commission this year, but lost to a more progressive challenger.
"During Nick's tenure he has shown incredible leadership on many issues with a common sense, reasoned approach to solutions especially budgeting issues, and his all important historical knowledge with the city will be missed," she said.
Mavodones is stepping away after narrowly beating a progressive challenger during his last re-election campaign by a little more than 700 votes. He also attempted to mediate a very public dispute between former Mayor Ethan Strimling and Jennings over the limit powers granted to the elected mayor under the current charter.
Mavodones resistance to progressive policies, plus his concerns over city spending, have made him a target for progressives in recent years. He's disheartened that the vitriol and polarization of national politics has filtered down to municipalities like Portland.
"I don't remember a time so contentious in my adult life," he said. "What we're seeing are unfounded accusations that people are throwing out. I think it's flowing down nationally from Washington. It's almost like there's a license to act this way."
Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, commended Mavodones for his service as mayor, councilor and a school board members and urged future candidates to consider him as a role model.
"While we wish he was running again, we implore current and future elected officials to look to him as an exemplary municipal official who always brings thoughtfulness, balance, and practicality to the weighty decisions before the council," she said. "From his responsible leadership of the finance committee, to his institutional knowledge of City Hall he will leave a hole on the council that will not soon be filled."