Portland Mayor Kate Snyder and seven city councilors announced Tuesday that they oppose all five citizen referendum proposals placed on the Nov. 3 ballot by the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America.

The group, which comprises the entire City Council except for Councilor Pious Ali, urged residents to vote against Questions A through E on the city ballot. The proposals would change the minimum wage, affordable housing requirements, building-construction practices, short-term rental regulations and enact rent control.

The mayor and councilors did not state their positions on a sixth ballot proposal, Question F, which would lift the cap on the number of marijuana retail stores in the city.

Their opposition is rooted in the process and substance, they said. The group said in a news release that the proposals were “developed in isolation by one organization” and ignore previous citywide votes against referendum initiatives on rent control (2017) and a $15 an hour minimum wage (2015).

They also expressed concern that the initiatives would “disregard recent public process” and the council’s work on two topics: banning the use of facial surveillance technology and a joint climate action plan with the city of South Portland. They noted that an ordinance enacted through a referendum cannot be repealed or amended by the council for at least five years, unless it’s through another citywide referendum.

The council banned the use of facial recognition technology over the summer, but did not include enforcement provisions contained in the referendum initiative. And city staff have said they do not plan to conduct an analysis of how Question C, a sweeping reform package being called the Green New Deal for Portland, compares to recommendations in the joint climate action plan before the election.

Outgoing City Councilor Kim Cook said in a written statement that the DSA’s referendums “subvert the open public process” of policy-making and constitute “an abuse of our citizen initiative process to pass the Democratic Socialists’ agenda without consideration by local elected officials or members of the general public.”

Volunteers for the DSA’s political action committee, People First Portland, responded by releasing a series of comments from representatives of nearly 20 groups that have endorsed at least one of their initiatives, including several unions, labor and trades groups, and local activist organizations such as the People’s Housing Coalition, Black POWER and Progressive Portland.

“Our city is at a crisis. If we allow the current patterns to continue, we’re gonna lose what makes Portland such a great place to live,” Evan LeBron, vice chair of the Portland Democratic Committee, said in a written statement. “At the Portland Dems, our membership is proud to support and uplift local direct democratic efforts like People First Portland. Power imbalances in this city need to be addressed in order for us to have an equitable thriving democracy and our members urge everyone to vote yes for the Green New Deal, Rent Control, and the ban on Facial Surveillance.”

Justin Beth, co-chair of the Portland Green Independent Committee, said the DSA reached out to his group in the spring to help craft the Green New Deal for Portland. “The mayor and council members’ characterization of ‘crafting language in secret’ flies in the face of what we experienced,” he said.

The position taken on the referendum questions offers a stark contrast in the four-way, at-large council race to replace Jill Duson, who is retiring and opposes the initiatives being promoted by the DSA.

City Councilor Justin Costa, who is leaving his District 4 seat to seek the at-large post, also opposes all six referendums, while April Fournier, who has Duson’s endorsement in the at-large race, supports them all.

“These referendums, developed with no public process or input, threaten many unintended consequences that cannot be undone for 5 years,” Costa said in a written statement. “They will severely threaten many small businesses and restaurants, hamstring affordable housing development, and put our elementary school renovations at risk. I encourage all voters to reject these referendums.”

Fournier, in response to an interview request, issued a written statement that did not directly address the reasons she supports all five referendums. Instead, she highlighted that the council could amend any of the ordinances by initiating another citywide referendum.

“It seems like we all agree that the intentions behind these referenda were good, but some have disagreed with the process,” Fournier said. “There are no disagreements that the people and the council cannot solve together, and I look forward to being instrumental in bridging that communication gap. Councilors have now made their position known. At this point, it’s time for the people to speak through voting.”

Two other candidates in the race, Ron Gan and Laura Kelley, have mixed views.

Gan says he opposes the tenant ordinance, short-term rental restrictions and the Green New Deal. Kelley said she supports lifting the cap on marijuana stores, as long as the revenue can go toward public health initiatives, but she opposed the rest and is voting against the facial recognition ban because it was already banned by the council.

Councilor Ali did not respond to an interview request to discuss his positions on the referendums.

The Press Herald is previewing all five referendums this week. And the full ordinance proposals can be read on the city’s website.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.