“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

That’s not exactly an original first paragraph, but it seems like a good way to introduce a tale about Portland being divided into two cities by last week’s failed vote to raise the local minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Surprisingly, the story made the national news. In fact, I first saw it on a national website and briefly thought it had to be about the left-coast Portland, because I had believed it would pass easily in our own city by the sea — and would have done so even if it proposed a raise to $100 and mandated 50-minute rest breaks every hour, with employer-provided couches and fluffy pillows.

Portland, after all, is one of David Brooks’ “latte towns,” the urban liberal enclaves where “Two Broke Girls” is considered a Midwestern reality series and Democrats are the right-wingers.

Or, as Brooks put it in a 1997 essay in The Weekly Standard in his pre-New York Times days, “You know you’re in a latte town when you can hop right off a bike path, browse in a used bookstore with shelves and shelves of tomes on Marxism the owner can no longer get rid of, and then drink coffee at a place with a punnish name that must have the word “Grounds” in it, before sauntering through an African drum store or a feminist lingerie shop.”

The voting map revealed the “two cities” part, because the peninsula, the islands and Libbytown voted for the ordinance, and the entire rest of the city voted against it, defeating it by a 58-42 percent margin.

Thus, my Dickensian lead is correct: It was the worst of times because some in Portland were wacky enough to put a $15 minimum wage on the ballot, either not knowing or not caring what it would do to small businesses in the city; and it was the best of times because Portlanders voted it down, much to the nation’s surprise (and probably their own).

Minimum wage laws, of course, render unemployable anyone whose labor is not worth the mandated amount, and $15 would make lots of employees redundant overnight.

Local businessman Scott Rousseau was said in the Press Herald to have “fought back tears” of relief and joy over the outcome. Rousseau said the measure would have forced him to fire staff and could even have put him out of business. He was undoubtedly not the only local business owner who felt that way.

You have to feel empathy for people like Rousseau, because they are fighting a battle against ideologues willing to harm the very people they say they’re trying to benefit.

But you also should be concerned about the workers who would no longer have had jobs if this had passed.

However, the minimum still will rise from the current $7.50 to $10.10, because of a recent City Council vote, and activists already are preparing a referendum campaign to put a $12 minimum up to a statewide vote next year. No one has calculated yet the number of job losses and business failures those measures would produce.

Still, if Portland won’t double the minimum wage by popular vote, the statewide response is hardly likely to be more progressive. This isn’t Vermont, you know.

In another surprise, city voters also turned down a proposal to protect scenic views for existing properties, a measure aimed primarily at a developer’s plan to put taller buildings on the eastern waterfront at the old Portland Co. site.

Voters appeared to support letting the city’s normal approval process work unimpeded by individual interventions.

If laws are alleged to be broken or rules ignored, those objections can be heard via the appeals process and ultimately in the courts.

And in South Portland this week, the City Council fell short of enough votes to put a one-year moratorium on a natural gas storage facility at the Rigby Yard.

It seems odd that, while Mainers are converting to propane from fuel oil at a fast clip (I did it, and am very satisfied with the cost and utility of the conversion), some of their political leaders are unwilling to create facilities to improve the on-hand availability of this important resource.

Do they favor people running out of fuel if supply interruptions occur?

While the final vote is a month off, enough councilors said they support the plan by NGL Supply Terminal Co., a subsidiary of a Texas firm that also owns Downeast Energy, to replace its Portland storage site with one at Rigby.

Maybe people are finally realizing that more jobs are better than being unemployed, profitable businesses are better than vacant storefronts, and adequate fuel supplies for the winter are better than running out.

Sanity. It’s a wonderful thing.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. Email at: [email protected].

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