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Portland Greens Effective Bloc In City Government

An article in today’s Portland Press Herald focuses on the impact that three Portland Maine Greens have had on the Portland City Council. (thanks to Dan J for the tip) This is another classic example of Greens positively improving their community though local government.

PORTLAND — Three years after first winning seats on the Portland City Council, the Green Independent Party can claim some success in pushing its agenda through City Hall.

Political observers say the three Greens on the council have proved to be effective consensus-builders on their core issues, such as reducing the city’s energy usage and revamping land-use and transportation plans to encourage more housing downtown and less reliance on automobiles.

“These are the guys who are moving and shaking,” said Christopher O’Neil, the Portland Community Chamber’s liaison to City Hall. “There is some question among Portlanders as to whether Portland should be moving or shaking, but the fact of the matter is … they are the ones driving the agenda.”

Critics, though, say that the Greens have put ideology ahead of economic development and that some of their ideas benefit a minority of the city’s population at the expense of the majority.

The Greens on the council include Kevin Donoghue, 30, who represents the East End, and David Marshall, 31, who represents the West End. Both were elected in 2006 and plan to run for re-election this November.

The third Green member is John Anton, 44, sometimes called the “grown-up Green” because he is older and more moderate on some issues. Anton was elected two years ago to an at-large seat.

The rest of the council is made up of five Democrats and one Republican.

The Greens do have a distinct political philosophy. Founded 25 years ago, the party now claims 32,000 members statewide. Members adhere to 10 key values: grass-roots democracy; social justice and equal opportunity; ecological wisdom; nonviolence; decentralization; community-based economics and economic justice; feminism and gender equity; respect for diversity; personal and global responsibility; and future focus and sustainability.

On the Portland City Council, the Greens frequently challenge the status quo and advocate for more transparency in government and more public involvement.

On the environment, they are “urban greens,” embracing the philosophy that high-density neighborhoods use land more efficiently and allow people to get around without automobiles. They believe that many of the city’s policies and ordinances reflect a suburban point of view rather than the city’s historic development patterns.

Many people mistakenly believe that the Greens are left of the Democrat Party, said Steven Scharf, president of the Portland Taxpayers Association and an activist in the Republican Party. But Scharf said the Greens are fiscally conservative. He noted that on the Finance Committee, Anton was a strong advocate this year for a budget with no tax increase.

He said the Greens have accomplished more in a three-year period than most city politicians have in recent history, in part because they work hard, show a willingness to compromise and have realistic goals.

“Their ideas are not so far off the wall they can’t be done,” he said.

The Greens’ platform highlights the role of party politics on a board that is supposed to be nonpartisan. Anton, though, said the council is not as polarized by party affiliation as many people believe.

“We have a lot more in common than we are different,” he said. “Plunk the City Council down in the middle of Kansas, and we’d all be seen as a bunch of left-wing freaks.”

PIER PROCESS DRAWS COMPLAINTS

Critics have big complaints about the Greens’ decision to back Olympia Cos. to redevelop the Maine State Pier, rather than Ocean Properties. By selecting the smaller company whose plans were in conflict with state law, over a much larger and wealthier company, the Greens assured that nothing would be done, said Councilor Dan Skolnik.

When Olympia Cos. pulled out and the council then endorsed Ocean Properties, Marshall spoke so harshly against Ocean Properties’ business practices that his comments might have caused the company to pull out of the deal, Skolnik said.

In the end, nothing was done, the city was ridiculed, and Portland lost revenue that could have kept workers employed, Skolnik said.

“What’s the better benefit?” he asked. “The question is, does their success on environmental issues outweigh the Maine State Pier debacle?”

Markos Miller, former president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association, said Donoghue has worked hard to involve residents in the planning process.

He noted that the city’s effort to redesign Franklin Arterial began as a neighborhood initiative.

“He made sure City Hall was aware of it and brought us into (City Manager) Joe Gray’s office,” Miller said.

Harold Pachios, a lawyer who sometimes represents clients who have issues with the city, said many of the Greens’ ideas – such as reducing the number of parking spaces required for new development on the peninsula – will make it harder for many people who depend on vehicles to visit or commute to the city.

He said Marshall and Donoghue in particular don’t seem interested in economic development and strengthening the city’s tax base.

“All the good things that Donoghue and Marshall would like to do depend on money, depend on revenue,” Pachios said. “Otherwise, the schools and other services are going to suffer.”

The Greens say the city is better off that the Maine State Pier projects have collapsed because the council can now more thoughtfully plan the pier development. They also say that some of their accomplishments – such as an energy audit that will guide the city as it spends nearly $700,000 in federal stimulus money on energy-saving improvements – will allow Portland to spend more money on services without raising taxes.

Marshall, who owns a downtown art gallery, said the Greens support economic development. He pointed to an ordinance he crafted that directs new property revenue in the arts district toward investments that foster the creative economy.

With the Maine State Pier issue dormant, the council in recent months has been working much more as a collective group, some members say. Some proposals are now winning unanimous approval, and partisan lines are less apparent.

“The dynamics have changed,” Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said. “This council as a group generally works pretty well together.”

Mayor Jill Duson, who chairs the council meetings, said Anton’s ability to articulate his positions has increased his influence. She said Donoghue and Marshall, like other new councilors before them, have learned how to work with the city staff and other councilors to achieve their goals.

“I think the Greens are doing well in managing to figure out how to be effective in our group of nine,” she said. “Of course, I’d like to see those seats filled by Democrats, but they are doing fine.”

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald

Copyright © 2009 MaineToday Media, Inc.

Ronald Hardy

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