Michael Brennan

 

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Community Engagement

1. Have you been to/participated in any local events? Naked Shakespeare, The Farmers Market, Pride, City Council Meetings, Art Walks, Take Back the Night, or others?

I have been to the Pride Festival, Farmers’ Market, Art Walks and Take Back the Night. I have been an observer and participant at City Council and School Board meetings. I have attended meeting and events with the Back Cove Neighborhood Association.

2. What organizations do you belong to?

I serve as: Board Member of Catholics for Marriage Equality, Steering Committee of Engage Maine, President of the Board of Common Dreams, Co-Chaired Shared Youth Vision Council, Chair of the National Board of Casey Family Services. I belong to: Maine Coalition for Educational Excellence, National Association of Social Workers, Peace Action Maine, NAACP, and Pax Christi.

Leadership

3. In a few sentences, summarize your vision for Portland.

I believe a vision for our city must be based on common values and build on our strengths. Together we will work for a Portland that embraces diversity, acts with compassion, encourages artists as well as business leaders, promotes energy conservation, preserves open spaces, expands buy local and grow local initiatives, builds affordable housing, and offers accessible healthcare. To accomplish this I will create a responsive city government that acts faster to meet Portland’s needs, and forge connections between local businesses and colleges so that tomorrow’s generations will never have to move elsewhere to find quality jobs and raise a family.

4. How do you stay informed about local issues?

I read local news sources such as the Press Herald, West End News, Daily Sun, Phoenix, Forecaster, Bollard, and many others. As a policy associate with the Muskie School I am in constant contact with individuals and organizations in Portland and across the state on issues related to education, healthcare, mental health, youth services, housing, and the environment. As a former State Senator and a board member of many community groups, I keep an “ear to the ground” and listen closely to what local residents, young people, local mom-n’-pop business owners, and other community members have to say about issues facing our city. More recently, as part of the campaign, I have been meeting with a variety of different community leaders and organizations, as well as going door-to-door, to discuss these local issues.

5. How will you represent the city’s economic interests at both the national and state level?

Portland and the Greater Portland region is the economic engine that drives the state. Unfortunately, the rest of the state, including legislators and policy makers in Augusta, do not fully understand this and often make decisions that harm our City and, by consequence, our state. That’s why it is very important to have a voice in Augusta that can advocate for Portland’s economic interests. I have a long history of representing Portland at both the national and state level. For over a decade, I represented Portland in Augusta, serving in both the House and Senate and becoming the only person from Portland ever to be elected Senate Majority Leader. In that position I negotiated tens of millions of dollars of economic development bond issues that benefited Portland and the entire state of Maine. Three of the key ingredients to economic development are education, healthcare, and energy efficiency. As the House Chair of the Education Committee, I oversaw research and development initiates. These efforts were directly intended to create jobs and spur economic development activities. I also was Chair of the Legislative Committee on Learning Technology that initiated the country’s first computer laptop program for middle school and high school students. This became a national and international model for the use of computers in education settings, but it also prepared students to meet the workplace demands of the 21st century. As the Senate Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Healthcare Reform, I oversaw the creation of DirigoHealth. While it didn’t reach its full potential, it did reduce healthcare costs for businesses in Maine. DirigoHealth served as a model for the national plan for universal healthcare. I sponsored legislation that increased Maine’s development of renewable energy and supported the use of low emission vehicles. While serving in the Senate, I worked with members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation on education, health care and energy issues. I also served as a member on the Joint Standing Committee on Business and Economic Development and was on the Board of the Southern Maine Economic Development Council and the Private Industry Council.

Running the race

6. How do you feel about private vs. publicly funded elections? How are you funding your own campaign?

I have been an outspoken advocate and supporter of publicly financed elections. Once it became available, I used public financing for each of my legislative campaign. In 2006, I addressed the annual meeting of the North Carolina Chapter of Common Cause on the merits of publicly financed campaigns. Maine’s public financing laws had been a national model and I was disappointed by the recent decision to overturn the matching contributions section of Maine’s law. Because public financing is not available for the mayor’s race, I am relying on contributions from friends, family, and supporters.

7. Did you support Portland’s change to an elected mayor system? Why or why not?

I have always supported an elected mayor for Portland. Despite a number of positive developments, Portland has lacked consistent leadership, effective decision making and a common vision. The recent challenges in Augusta regarding school funding and the working waterfront reveal why we need an elected mayor who will be able to advocate for the interests of our city alongside our representatives in the legislature. Equally important, the mayor must be a leader who can introduce new ideas and stay focused on critical issues. An elected mayor will also represent a majority of voters so he/she will be in a position to speak for the entire City—not just narrow interests.

8. Do you support repealing the new state law that ends same day voter registration? Why or why not?

I wholeheartedly support the repeal of the new state law that ends same day voter registration. It is a form of political disenfranchisement, a barrier to the fundamental cornerstone of our democracy. Recently, in discussion I had with residents at the Park Danforth retirement home, several people lamented the loss of same-day registration. Having recently moved from other towns in Maine, they were not registered in Portland. Same day registration has proven to be very effective at enabling everybody to exercise their right to vote. Furthermore, there’s no evidence to support the changing of this law, and I have actively supported the People’s Veto to repeal this law.

9. How will Ranked Choice Voting impact your campaign strategy?

In speaking with voters, I have found a degree of confusion over how Ranked Choice Voting will work. Ranked Choice Voting will certainly affect our campaign strategy. We will need to reach out to all voters and seek their support at different levels. Educating voters about Ranked Choice and its merits will be a key part of the campaign, and the discussions I have will Portland residents.

Social services

10. What role do immigrants and refugees play in shaping Portland, and, conversely, what role do you think the city can play in improving opportunities for immigrants and refugees?

First, I think we should discontinue our use of “immigrants and refugees” to refer to new residents who come to Portland. New residents of Portland are not a monolithic group but, instead, are people who represent a wide variety of interest and have different needs. I have met and spoken with many new residents and I think there are several things we could do to improve their opportunities. First, in order to reduce language barriers, we should expand programs for English Language Learners of all ages with a special emphasis on Adult Education. Next, we need adequate interpretation services for new residents who are seeking health care or other basic necessities. Because of the complexity of Maine’s licensing and regulatory boards, we do not fully recognize the skills and expertise brought by so many of Portland’s new residents. We should develop special compressed learning opportunities to allow new resident to use their skills and expertise more quickly. More recently, I have spoken with experts at USM who believe it is possible to start a language immersion program for students in Portland. This would help make students more prepared to participate in a global economy and it would take advantage of the language resources of new residents. I also support the farming project in Falmouth as a way of allowing young people from Portland to develop agricultural skills. I introduced legislation to make social services in Maine more culturally sensitive. While the legislation did pass and we have trained more workers in different approaches to substance abuse and mental health, we can do more to understand issues related to trauma and its affect on new residents. I supported extending voting rights to legal residents because I think it is the best way to say that we value you as members of our community. Groups that do not have the right to vote are often overlooked or ignored in the political process. As mayor, I would revisit this issue and hope to gain more support. In the short run, there are a number of different ways to actively recruit new residents to be member so boards, advisory groups and neighborhood organizations. Finally, my grandmother came to Portland from Ireland in 1909 as a fourteen (14) year old girl with a sixth grade education. She was a widower at twenty eight (28) with four (4) children. She worked cleaning houses and cooking for more wealthy families in Portland. Yet all four of her children went to college and pursued careers. As mayor, I will work to ensure that all new residents have the opportunity to be successful.

11. Do you think there are sufficient social services provided to Portland residents who are homeless or living in poverty? What would you do as mayor to improve access or availability of those services?

For the last thirty-five years, I have been deeply involved in trying to resolve issues related to emergency shelter and affordable housing. I helped form Portland’s first emergency shelter assessment committee when I worked at the United Way, and later was a founding member in the Cumberland County Affordable Housing Venture, which was the first nonprofit in Maine supported by the United Way of Greater Portland, the Cumberland County Commissioner, the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Portland Council of Governments. As the Executive Director of the Cumberland County Affordable Housing Venture, I helped raise over a million dollars to support the development of affordable housing and end homelessness. I served as a Commissioner on the Portland Housing Authority for a decade and while in the Legislature, I introduced several bills to create affordable housing, provide job opportunities for homeless persons, and set aside bond funds for special needs housing. Portland has made strides in assisting homeless persons. I have worked closely with Preble Street and served on the agency’s first Advisory Board. Several years ago I was awarded the Joe Kreisler Community Action Award by the Preble Street Board. Preble Street has been at the forefront of developing innovative solutions to homelessness with programs such as Logan Place and Florence House. As mayor, I would focus attention on the need for transitional housing and supported living opportunities. I would like to expand the Section 8 program and utilize city resources to promote affordable home ownership programs. Furthermore, we need to focus additional attention on issues of employment, mental health, substance abuse, and services for veterans. More attention should be given to instituting evidence based practices that lead to better outcomes. If a person graduates from high school, he/she immediately reduce their chances of being in poverty by 50%. Continuing to provide education and job training are key elements to reducing poverty and homelessness. I have always supported the concept of making work pay so that when people find jobs, particularly single parents, they do not loose day care, transportation, MaineCare and other support services. Finally, I have supported having a livable wage scale in Maine and increases to the minimum wage.

Cops and Crops

12. How could city police improve public safety and their community relations?

Portland is one of the safest cities in the country but we still have too many incidences of domestic violence and prescription drug abuse. I strongly support community policing efforts that involve citizen input and draw on the resources of a neighborhood to find creative solutions. Time and again it has been shown that collaborative policing and data-informed law enforcement produces the greatest public safety. Clearly we should have more options for persons who have substance abuse issues, specifically related to prescription drug abuse as well as persons who struggle with mental health issues. Over the last two years, I have been involved in efforts to reform Maine’s juvenile justice system. Unfortunately, we are starting to see evidence of youth of color being over-represented in the juvenile justice system. We need to work to reverse this trend.

13. Do you support the ballot initiative to make marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority? Why or why not?

I did support this ballot initiative because we should direct more attention at issues related to assaults, domestic violence, burglary, and prescription drug abuse.

Education

14. What policies can our city adopt to better serve at-risk youth?

The most innovative and positive policy we for at risk youth would be to require Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) for every student in Portland. In 2005, I introduced legislation to require ILPs for all students in Maine. Unfortunately, the law did not pass. However, two years later, the Commissioner of Education and a special committee on education recommended that all communities in Maine adopt ILPs. ILPs would be particularly beneficial for at-risk youth because it would allow parents, teachers, and students themselves to assess education needs, and provide the appropriate support services. ILPs would assist parents and educators to monitor the educational progress of their children and students, and make adjustments as necessary. The plans would also encourage the use of community resources, if necessary, related to substance abuse, mental health, and learning challenges.

15. Are Portland’s schools working well? Would you do anything to improve graduation rates and college readiness?

Last year, I drafted legislation along with State Senator Just Alfond to increase school graduation rates. The bill that passed, calls for all schools in Maine to have an 80% graduation rate by 2013, and a 90% graduation rate by 2016. Not all of Portland’s high schools meet that standard and we will have to work diligently to make sure we achieve the 90% graduation rate by 2016. As noted in the earlier question, by adopting Individual Learning Plans, student development could be monitored and we would do a much better job at ensuring our children are succeeding in school. Currently, only 50% of students at the three Portland high schools test proficient in reading and writing, and only 35% test proficient in math. Given the economic demands of the future, we need to improve in these areas. Between 30-50% of students entering area colleges and universities are required to take developmental courses in order to prepare them for college-level work. Obviously, we need to do a better job at the high school level in preparing students for college. It is also very important for students of have a positive connection and relationship with adults, teachers and school staff. These relationships are often critical in keeping youth in school and graduating.

16. Would you support charter schools in Portland? Why or why not?

As a state representative and state senator on the Education Committee I did not support charter school legislation. There is very little evidence supporting the need for a charter school law in Maine. Instead, I wrote legislation to create more alternative schools and allow for early college options. In fact, current Maine law allows local schools to form schools that can offer the same educational programming as charter schools. I believe public schools should offer an array of educational programs to meet the different learning needs of students. Both my children attended the Many Rivers program in Portland, and this was a positive option to have as a parent. Many Rivers, the Casco Bay High School, and the teacher-led Reiche School, show promising innovations for Portland’s School System.

Development, Infrastructure and Planning

17. What kind of economic development is best for Portland’s economy?

Both my parents were born in Portland and grew up on Munjoy Hill. I was born in Portland, but when I was five-years old, my father lost his job and my family was forced to leave Portland in search of employment. I want to do everything possible to make sure that no person or family has to leave Portland because they can’t find a job or because there’s not a place for them in our community. Portland is at a crossroads. Either we can continue with the policies and procedures that we have had for the last ten years, or we can embrace a future with a clear vision. Instead of being reactive in our economic development, we should be proactive and create an economy that is sustainable, green, and innovative and knowledge-based. Over the last several years, Portland’s job growth has stagnated and incomes have not increased at the same rate as comparable cities. Portland has three competitive advantages. First, close to forty-percent of Portland residents have an undergraduate degree—a rate higher than the New England average. We must continue to capitalize on our educated workforce by forming a structured partnership between the University of Southern Maine, University of New England, Southern Maine Community College, Maine College of Art, Maine Medical Center and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. This partnership would promote research and development and clusters of growth in emerging fields, leading to high-quality, environmentally-friendly jobs and address the issue of underemployment. Moreover, it would be an opportunity to establish more graduate and certificate programs. A promising area for growth is in the production of locally grown food. Maine imports over 80% of its food and we have the second highest rate of hunger in the country. Finding more sustainable ways to produce food should be a priority. Second, Portland has an extraordinary quality of place. People want to live in Portland because of its creative economy, because of its culture and arts, because of its beauty, because of its neighborhoods, and because of its trails and open spaces. It important for us to simultaneously promote and protect our quality of place. Development decisions should reflect these values. Future generations should benefit from the decisions we make today. Third, relative to other parts of Maine, Portland is fortunate to have a diverse community. Already, we have seen the economic and social benefits of supporting diversity in our community. We must continue to promote diversity and equality because it make us stronger as a community. However, in order for us to take advantage of these strengths, Portland needs to create a more responsive City Hall that is committed to customer service. As mayor, I will establish a capacity in City Hall to streamline the permitting process for Portland businesses and residents. I will institute time frames and benchmarks for when and how decisions are made and permits granted.

18. How do you feel about our current transportation system (public and private)?

Portland’s transportation system is in dire need of an overhaul. There is probably no other community in the United States of 100,000 people who have two separate bus systems. The Metro and South Portland’s public transportation options must be combined. We need a transportation system that focuses on moving as many people as possible as efficiently as possible. We have the opportunity to create a transportation hub, drawing on the Amtrak, Concord Coach, Greyhound, the Jetport and a future international ferry service. These modes of travel are currently disconnected, and can be better integrated. Expanding the Zoom bus from Portland to Lewiston would not only provide even more transportation options, it would better connect the two largest communities in the state. Doing so, while encouraging low impact transport options, such as walking, bicycling, and car pooling, will relax the stress on our city’s streets and reduce carbon emissions. We also need to incorporate the needs of special populations, such as the elderly and handicapped, so that they have access to jobs and healthcare.

19. How would you improve the supply of affordable housing in Portland?

We need more affordable housing for the young people, and new residents if we are to continue to grow. The city council has continually made affordable housing a priority, yet it has not provided adequate leadership and the city has not done the work necessary to develop empty/abandoned/ underdeveloped lots throughout the city to provide more housing and bring more property onto the tax rolls. The key to providing affordable housing is developing financing mechanisms to subsidize construction and maintenance of the buildings. As mayor, I would work closely with the Maine State Housing Authority, banks, nonprofits and the Portland Housing Authority to create an array of funding options from tax credits to grants and low-interest loans. This would allow both for-profit and nonprofit developers to create affordable housing. In addition, a successful strategy has been to acquire property during down-cycles in the housing markets, and finance those in a way that locks in affordability for a long period of time. We should encourage mixed-income housing. Creating affordable housing opportunities is critical to ensure a thriving downtown. Any renovation or new construction of housing must stress energy conservation and green standards. For eleven year (11), I served as a Commissioner on the Portland Housing Authority. The authority was involved in a significant portion of the affordable housing developed in the City. I understand the importance of affordable housing as it relates to the economic and social well-being of Portland. I also understand the many elements that are necessary to finance and construct housing units and the importance of building partnerships to ensure high quality and subsidized construction.

20. How can Portland better manage parking as the city’s population grows?

There are two keys to this issue. The first is to better manage the parking that does exist in the city. Information sharing will coordinate the transfer of public and private parking spaces during nonpeak hours. We could also reduce this by working better with the city’s largest employers to encourage them to give incentives to employees that don’t drive alone to work. The second key is a revised transportation system (as discussed above). A significant portion of traffic and parking issues results from the number of people who commute to Portland during working hours. We could reduce this traffic and parking needs by creating more satellite lots and commuter buses in surrounding communities. We should look to publicly owned spaces that could be utilized for residents during weekends or evenings.