Five candidates for the open seat representing District 3 on the Portland City Council squared off Wednesday night at a forum organized by several off-peninsula neighborhood associations.

The seat representing neighborhoods in the southwestern part of the city is now held by Brian Batson, who is not seeking re-election after serving one term.

The candidates seeking to replace Batson are: Tae Chong, 50; Andrew Graham, 67; Lalah “Layla” Kargar, 33; Edward Suslovic, 59; and Andrew Volk, 35. They touched on a range of issues, including gentrification and the City Council’s controversial decision to relocate the city’s homeless shelter to Riverside Street.

Wednesday’s event, organized and co-hosted by the Jewish Community Alliance in conjunction with the Nason’s Corner Neighborhood Association, Libbytown Neighborhood Association, University Neighborhood Organization, and residents from Stroudwater Village and Deering Center, was the first time all five candidates had been on stage together.

Chong, the manager of social enterprise and workforce development for Catholic Charities of Maine, said the biggest challenge facing the district is affordability and a growing sense there are two Portlands – the peninsula and off-peninsula. He said the city should be improving infrastructure in neighborhood centers as an incentive for developers to build multi-unit apartment buildings there instead of downtown. That could ease development, housing and traffic pressure from the peninsula and encourage people to remain in their neighborhoods, he said.

“What I’m most concerned in Portland about is losing our young people and housing our elderly,” Chong said. “If we lose our young families and our young millennials … they’re not going to come back to Portland. That puts a bigger burden on people like my 84-year-old parents and people like us. Our property taxes are going to go even higher.”

Graham, a small-business owner, said that affordability was the primary challenge and that development should be focused on traffic arterials. “Lots of attention has been paid to what’s going on the peninsula,” he said. “In our district, we need basic services. We need playgrounds that are better. We need potholes filled. We need snow removed. We need sidewalks that are safe.”

Kargar, who owns a payment processing company and publishes Incomer Magazine, said the city should “tax the rich,” including out-of-state property developers, and provide additional tax relief to seniors and those who need it most. She said District 3 had been “forgotten.”

“We have people here and we should tax them,” said Kargar, whose parents came to the U.S. as refugees from Afghanistan in 1989. “We just need someone on the council to say it. And I will say it and I think we’re all going to be happy for it.”

Suslovic, a former councilor who lost his seat to Baston three years ago, said he would ask tough questions during the budget process to keep property taxes in check. He reminded attendees that he was not afraid to question the size of the fire department, which has more firefighters per capita than other similar-size cities, though firefighters said that analysis does not account for Portland’s airport and islands.

“Budgets are about making tough decisions,” he said. “I ruffled some feathers sometimes on the council because I was asking tough questions.”

Volk, who owns two restaurants in Portland, said he would add a unique voice to the council as a small-business owner and the father of two chilren in the public schools. He said the city needs to advocate for more state revenue to help with property taxes and the district needs a councilor who can clearly articulate where tax dollars are being spent, while putting progressive values into action.

“This city needs to think about how it is growing,” Volk said. “We need to think hard now how we represent our values in that growth.”

None of the candidates supported relocating the city-run homeless shelter to Riverside Street. Suslovic said he would ask the council to reconsider that decision so it could be studied by a task force. But Volk said the city should adequately fund the plan with input from service providers since the council had already made a decision. The other candidates did not say how they would approach the issue if elected.

Neighborhoods within District 3 include Libbytown, Stroudwater, Nason’s Corner and parts of Oakdale and Woodfords Corner.

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Friday to clarify the parts of the city included in District 3. 

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