Read the Interview
This interview has also been made available in text form for your reading convenience. Software transcription has been used, with thorough hand-editing for accuracy and clarity. Please alert us to any errors in transcription at firstname.lastname@example.org. The host’s questions and comments are below in italics, with Pious Ali’s responses and comments in roman below. Section headers have been included in bold for the convenience of the reader.
Ashley: Hello and thank you for listening to the Portland Townsman Audio. This is our series of policy matters interviews with the five mayoral candidates in 2023. We are here at the Portland Media Center, our lovely partners on Congress Street. My name is Ashley Keenan and I’m joined today by City Councilor Pious Ali. How are you?
Pious Ali: I am okay. How are you?
Just fine. This is good to hear. I hope your campaign’s been going well so far.
And to introduce what we’re doing here, this interview is intended to be a deeper dive into your campaign platform, policy positions, and strategies, as we’re doing for each candidate, for addressing the many issues that Portland is facing today. You’ll get a chance to introduce yourself. Then I’m going to try and ask some pretty specific questions across a broad range of topics. And hopefully, we’ll have some illuminating, productive discussion.
We’re also firmly fixed on local politics, of course, not state or national, except insofar as they intersect with local politics. And we’re focused on reality, which you yourself have also emphasized. Firm stances, concrete policies for Portland. Does that sound good, Councilor?
That sounds good. Thank you. Thank you for doing this. We need it.
Thank you. All right. So before we start digging into the issues, how about you take a minute and introduce yourself in your campaign for the benefit of anyone who may not know that much about you?
Well, my name is Pious Ali. I am an immigrant from Ghana, came to the US in 2000 and moved to Portland in 2002. Since then, I have been a public servant, as I love to call myself. I started by working in Portland Housing Authority’s neighborhoods. Through an organization then called Regional People – Regional Opportunity Programs. Now it is called Opportunity Alliance. I run a program that helps young people who are immigrants or white kids who are coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, getting them to do homework, getting them to understand how they can support their kids.
I move on from then to create an organization called In Between. I work with the homeless in Portland, both adults and teen homeless through Preble Street. I’ve worked with Volunteers of America, working with men who are a suffering from mental health or substance use. I’ve created organizations, many Interfaith Youth Alliance, King Fellows. I have worked for Seeds of Peace on whose board I serve now. In 2011, I created an organization called Portland Empowered, which works specifically with immigrants to get them to understand the way the education system works so that they can support their kids. Whilst running the organization, I ran for school board in 2013. I served on the board for a term which was three years and then ran for city council. Whilst on the council, I have served on housing committee, I have served on legislative committee, I have several health and human service committee. And I think…
I have two kids, both my son and my daughter went through Portland Public Schools. They both live in Boston. My son is 27. He works in Boston and my daughter just turned 18. I currently chair the Housing and Economic Development Committee. I serve on a lot of boards outside my role as a city councilor, GPCOG’s Regional Prosperity, Holocaust and Human Rights Center, I’m Your Neighbor Books, I’m a founding board member on that one, and Common Threads, all of these organizations and groups that I am part, and Seeds of Peace at international level, all of these organizations that I serve align with my personal value of creating a community and making the world better for everyone, including myself.
Thank you. And if you want to know more about me, you can find it on my campaign platform or on my LinkedIn page. You just have to put Pious Ali on Google, and it will bring you to all of this. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.
And thank you so much for being here. We’ll be bringing up these elements of your policy platform as we make our way through these topics. We’ll also be reviewing some of the most notable votes that you’ve made in the council recently. We have six main topics that I’d like to get through this conversation, which are the city charter and elections, the asylum seeker crisis, encampments and law enforcement, recode land use and housing, transportation infrastructure, and business and labor.
City Charter and Elections
So for our first section, I want to talk a bit about the nuts and bolts of city government and how you see yourself fitting in. At risk of redundancy. For those that don’t know, the office of mayor in Portland is a fairly unique hybrid. While it’s directly elected by the people and has a limited number of executive functions, it remains primarily a legislative office. Essentially, the mayor is the permanent chair of the city council. The executive role is still primarily fulfilled by the city manager, Manager West, who could be described as a sort of CEO of the city. Councilor Ali, you’ve been an at-large city councilor for many years, positioned very similar in nature to the mayoral office. and you’re also the chair of the Housing and Economic Development Committee, is that right?
You have a pretty detailed set of proposals laid out on your campaign website, so I have to ask, what will be different if you’re elected mayor? Why will you be able to enact these things then, but not now?
Well, thank you very much. I think every campaign’s platform are all aspirations, to be honest. There are things that I believe in. There are things that I stand for. But none of this will happen if I don’t have a good working relationship with the city manager and a good working relationship with my fellow councilors. We all know for those who are paying close attention to the Portland City Government, and when I say city government, I’m not, I will make a distinction between city council and city government. When I say city government, I include the city manager, the corporation council, those of us who sit at the chamber and make that decision. Those who pay close attention will realize that, or will know that, since when we changed our charter to an elected city mayor, council mayor. We had nothing but challenging situation. We have a Mayor Brennan have challenged with city councilors and to some extent some school board members who didn’t agree with some of the measures that he was doing.
And then we had Mayor Strimling, who was having challenge with the councilors or some councilors and the city manager, still part of the city government. And then we had Mayor Snyder, who by no choice of hers was able to maintain a very cordial, respectful relationship with the council based on her personality and her leadership style, and also have a working, a good working, how do we call it, a relationship with a city manager. She will have been a good, her tenure as the mayor will have been a good, good, good tenure to measure and see if the model that we have now is working or will it work perfectly in the future? Unfortunately, not by any fault of hers, nature threw in a lot of challenges at her, which is different from the two challenges. We had, how do we call it? We had COVID right after she got elected. She got elected, her inauguration was on the first week of December. We went to our first National League of City. We were in DC when we declared emergency and we shut down the city, three months into her tenure. So…
And then we have the George Floyd racial equity riots, which happened not just in our city, but all over the country and all over the world. And then we have an influx of asylum seekers. And she will have to lead and do all of this. So her tenure cannot be used as an experiment for the system that we enacted 12 years ago or 13 years ago. When I faced God on the council, because of the condition on the council, one, and because of the councilors who were on the council and the way they look at things, it was difficult to pass any of this aspiration that I had because there was a lot of contention. Extremely contentious council. But even then, some of the proposals that I brought forward, which is contentious in itself, were able to pass. And throughout this conversation, I will not take personal credit for anything. That is how I am. I believe that the way our government is structured, no individual, no any councilor.
Some councilors will say with or some candidates will say I will do this I will do because I did this I did this. That is the answer. But I don’t believe that there’s any one single councilor. Even the mayor that will do something single handedly. You will bring your aspirations to the table and you will have to work. with your colleagues to get it done. When we were in the middle of the racial equity and the George Floyd distance, there was a situation that I took the lead on and got us to set up the racial equity steering committee and eventually to hire, but I never take credit and I’m not taking credit. Now I’m just giving that as an example.
You can take a little bit of credit.
I play a role. I was joking with somebody when I knock at a door, somebody asked me, you guys, and I said, listen, I’ve been on the council for 7 years. I’m the longest serving councilor. The closest to me is the mayor who had four years and the rest is either three years or two years or one year. There’s nobody on the council currently that have been reelected on the council. Nobody except me have been re-elected twice. Not that they lose an election, but they just haven’t been there enough to be even re-elected, right? So I say to that person that I take credit for everything that the city of Portland have done right for the past seven months. And I also take credit for everything that we didn’t do right. I believe in collective work. That is how I build my leadership, collaboration. I see myself, if I happen to be the mayor, if the people of Portland are gracious enough to make me the leader of the city above what I am now, I will be able to do that. I will lead collaboratively. And every aspiration that is on my, how do we call it, on my platform, I see city government as a three-legged stool. One is the mayor, the other one is the council, and the other one is the city staff. And if you are able to bring these three together…
Let me take a step back. City manager, which is staff, and the city government completely, the city manager, the staff, and then the public. If you are able to work collectively with all these three entities that make up our city, you will be good. And everything that I have on my platform, there are aspirations that I would love to get to, but if I’m able to do that, because there’s nothing that you will bring forward in Portland that will pass. There’s almost always going to be somebody who is against it and somebody who is for it. And I see myself as a convener, as somebody who is able to bring people together to find consensus. So the difference between when I become the mayor and now is that I’m not a mayor now. Right? So I take leadership to some extent up to committee level. I will give you an example. When the issue of minimum wage became an issue in Portland, there were people that want to increase it even before it went to the ballot.
And I want to bring that up a little bit later.
People can, like it was, I chaired a housing and economic development committee. I invited the most progressive organization in the state who look into that. And then I invited the chamber, because I believe that we need everybody’s voice to make any reasonable, how do we call it, a decision or any policy that is reasonable? Of course, based on some of the values that I hold close to my heart, I will look at all of this thing through economic and racial and fiscal equity lens. But I will make sure that everybody’s voice is heard and then everybody is treated fairly.
So it sounds like you want to use your office to have more leverage to bring people together as opposed to just being the mayor.
Our mayor is not created to be as such, honestly.
Would you change that? Would you have any… Would you bring any a new reform to the charter like we saw fail in 2022?
There are a couple of things, in my opinion. There’s an interview that I gave, I think it’s a Phoenix or something. We don’t need to get into too much detail. Yeah. I will not just go and say because I believe in this or I believe in that, I’m gonna change it, right? As I said, it’s not been fully tested yet because of all the situations that I gave you.
Too early to tell?
Yeah, too early to tell. So let’s give it one more shot. It doesn’t matter who gets to be. If we have a mayor that comes along and want to, like, yeah, I’m the mayor, without going by the way the charter is set up, then I believe it will be time to either completely cut it out and say, we’re going to go back to the system that we used to have, or we’re going to go to a different direction. Depending on, I hope that, because as I said, it’s not been fully tested yet.
Give it a few years.
Give it, give it, give it another.
Well, one thing that mayors do or can do both here in Portland and around the country is to reach out and try to take advantage of the sorts of federal grants that are being made available to municipalities, especially under the Biden administration. There has been some criticism that Portland is not doing enough to take advantage of some of the grants that are being offered. Do you have any plans for how to seize that federal money if you become mayor?
I do. I don’t think any of my contestants have any relationship in DC more than I do. I will not say that I’m a DC insider, but I have relationship with people in government.
You’re not an insider, but you know insiders.
I know insiders. And I have relationship with a lot of organizations at national level. The issue of Franklin Arterial, like I said to you, I don’t like taking credit behind the scene. I am the one that set up conversation between the advocates in the city to go after a federal grant because I receive a lot of messages from regular residents who know what I do for work, which is I work in a non-profit. I know how to go after grants. So they said, hey, there’s this federal grants. And I’m also on a lot of emails, National League of Cities always send out emails about possible grants from the federal government. As I said to you, I’m not a mayor. I am a very avid follower of process. There is a line I cannot cross. I cannot tell the mayor what to do, I can suggest, but I set the conversation, I actually set up a meeting with the city manager and staff and then the folks who are advocating for Franklin arterial and asked for us to go after a federal grant. I will spend my time because as the mayor, like I, we all know, Of course, you don’t have a lot of time in your hand, but you also have some time.
Well the mayor is a full-time position, unlike a city council.
Yeah, what I’m saying is that, you are the mayor, you are the one, you are like the entering point for everything that goes to the council, in terms of people who are angry or something, if they send email because councilors are working, you will have to respond to it and talk to them. You should also have some time and look into grants and know what is possible. and then refer them to staff and let staff do their work. Even, I can go to the extent of if we don’t have anybody on our staff list who knows how to write a grant, I will find somebody who knows how to write a grant and contract with them to do that for us because there’s a lot of federal money that can help Portland.
It’s good to hear. Another top subject of debate at every election is the referendum system.
Portland has, again, a pretty unique citizen initiatives ordinance in Chapter 9 of the City Code. Citizen initiatives passed by referendum have been the foundation of some pretty major policy changes over the past several years. In our code, the combination of a relatively low barrier to entry with a period of five whole years before the City Council can amend any initiative which has passed this way is exceedingly rare outside of Maine. Not even other New England cities have comparable systems. The setup puts a lot of power behind citizen initiatives, which advocates say, of course, is good for democracy. But opponents say it disempowers elected officials and it tends to have unintended consequences. In the city council debates over this in recent months, you stood by Mayor Snyder in trying to get reform to the system on the ballot. But reading your website, you claim that you actually want to strengthen citizen initiatives, which would sort of be reform in the opposite way, or that’s what it sounds like. What exactly is your plan for Chapter 9 reform, if you have any?
Well, my plan was what I did on that. I didn’t stand by Mayor Snyder. I stood by what I believe will strengthen democracy. And what is that? That is that every policy, any time I raise my hand, it does or it may have unintended consequences. If you look at the way our Chapter 9 work, you’ve said it all, right? I believe that five years is way too long, but I also believe that 18 months, which is what the mayor was proposing at that time, is way too short. So I made an offer to amend it to three years. I think it doesn’t matter what data you’re collecting. After three years, you may have enough data. So if there’s an issue that has been passed, I don’t want to take the residents’ ability to put something on the ballot. I agree that it strengthens our democracy, which is why I have been proposing, if you look on my platform, there’s a part that, as I said, I will create an office of citizenship citizen engagement.
I want to ask you about that in a moment.
I will talk to you about that. OK. And I believe that citizens need to be engaged. But because of the way our system has worked so many years, people have have become very apathetic to politics or civic engagement. I want to rebuild that. I want to expand this participation to everybody who lives in Portland, which is why I wanted that office. Let’s get back to the chapter nine. The reason why I wanted, as I said, is I wanted, how do we call it? I wanted to be three years. And we have a practical, we have an actual example coming up. There is something on the ballot right now, right? That could possibly, yeah, that could possibly pass.
And if it does, from where I am standing, I don’t think it is good for the city. It would take us five years to be able for the council to even look at it and make any changes or another group will have to do, which is what is driving me crazy. It doesn’t have to be like that. But three years is good enough, right, to sustain whatever it is that is coming. And then if within that three years somebody says, I want to pass it, yeah. So that is where I am on that. So that is what my reform means. It’s not that I’m going to, I think, strengthen it.
So that’s the only thing you would want to change?
Yeah. I don’t want to change the number of signatures because I don’t want to weaken people’s ability or opportunity for people to participate.
What about the fiscal impact statement?
The fiscal impact statement, I think I would look into that and see that what is the purpose behind it? Because it was a suggestion that was made by staff, right?
Yes. And for those that don’t know, a fiscal impact statement would be an attempt by staff to estimate the cost to city budget of any initiative.
Yeah, that have the possibility of how do we call it? Because that is not in that chapter right now. Yeah. So I will not even consider putting that, because in my opinion, when we were having that conversation and I said three years, I did say that I don’t agree with the fiscal, how do we call it? The fiscal impact statement.
It’s not a real thing. You can call it whatever you want.
Yeah, because it has the ability, because if staff put in a figure, it has the ability of swaying how people will vote, right? So I would not, I want this to be a fair vote so that those who are paid attention, and I want people to pay attention to their government and to participate and influence how government is run or how they want their city to be run. So yeah, three years, and that I will work on that. And as I said, somewhere else, it doesn’t matter who wins the mayoral race, I’m still coming back to the council. So it’s something that I will continue to work on.
Yeah, that’d be great. So you brought up the Office of Resident Engagement, and you’ve already sort of talked about it a little bit, but just out of curiosity, like, what would that, what are you imagining it would literally look like?
It will look like an office. It could be with one person, Two or a couple. And what would that office do? If you look around, I don’t know how long you’ve lived in Portland. Portland is a very engaging city. When I was on the school board, right, we did the comprehensive plan. The city of Portland, city staff did their, they sent out survey, people responded, very small number of people. And then they shared. Like I said, I was a very process oriented. So a friend of mine took a screenshot of the last day of the event and posted it on their social media and said this. “The city of Portland always go behind the scene to do this thing. And when they bring whatever decision they made and then we complain, they say, yeah, we took survey.” Then this person was asking people who are following them. Did any of you, have any of you seen this survey? Have you participated?
I saw the direction that the conversation was going, that it’s not good for democracy, it’s not good for our city. So I reached out to the person and I said, is it okay if I bring this to the attention of the mayor and the city manager? And the person said, absolutely. So I went to the city manager. and the mayor, I say, hey, can we talk about this? Long story short, right? They asked us, they asked the individual, are you able to work on this? Because we had a meeting, myself, this individual, and a couple of other people who went to City Hall and met with them, and they gave us a go-ahead. We encouraged them to reopen that. So the survey was reopened, and we created something called Portland Participates. It’s not like an organization, it was just a platform on social media. And Portland Participates shared this broadly on social media, we tripled. Within, they gave us two weeks, within that two weeks, we tripled the number of people. who responded to this from what they have done for a month.
And how many people – ?
So for a whole month or for several months that the city was doing it, there were 700 people that responded. And when we did, when we shared that, we tripled it to 2,100. We got twice more than number within two weeks or so to respond to it. And then we continue to stay engaged with the city throughout the process of the recode-ing. The recode-ing got more citizens to participate than in, than in, for like the history of Portland. This is the most, I’m sorry, that this is the most, this is the recode, not the recode, like this is the comprehensive planning that have more people participating because CDI was open to meeting with a group of people that we put together to look at how can we get more people to participate? What we did was including going to schools and talking to high school students, going to the farmers market to set up a table with some designs on it and asking people, telling people this is what it means. So when I talk about citizenship, Office of Citizenship or Resident Engagement, that is what I mean. An office that will, because a comprehensive plans we know that, and even recode, and all the other things that we do, we know that in 10 years we have to do this. So a year before then, this office will start engaging the residents of the city to say that this thing is coming up, this is how we want you to engage. We do a lot of communications, what we don’t do is engagement.
I gotta ask though, so 700 to 2,100 triple, that’s really impressive. That’s still going from like roughly 1% to like roughly 3% of the city. Do you think that 3% is representative? Because I mean, to me, what I would think is that the most representative sample would be election day. And whereas like I can never keep track of, I think a lot of people can’t keep track of every survey that goes out.
Right. What will be different is that if we had an office then and this office have relationship with the larger community. We’ll have more than that. So that is what my office is. My suggestion for that office, that is the role that it will play.
I like it. And sort of on the same note, you also bring up the idea of participatory budgeting. Is that sort of along the same lines, the idea of trying to get as much input as possible into drafting the budget?
Yes. When you do participatory budgeting, so for those who don’t know, participatory budgeting is a budget system that has been done in some parts of the world and to some extent in some parts of the U.S. Anytime the government and the purpose of it is to get people to have a voice on how their money is used and also to have a to have an ability to participate in the civic and democratic system at local level. Most of the time it is not the whole budget, right? For example, CIP, we are a city with many different challenges. And then during CIP –
That’s capital improvement plan.
Yeah, capital improvement plan. It could be a part. If you like historically, certain neighborhoods don’t get, when certain neighborhood bring something forward, right? It gets like funded quickly. Or there is an assumption of that the city favors certain neighborhoods. When you have a process like participatory budgeting, where everyone participates and decides on what needs to be, which park needs to be fixed, which park needs lights, if this year the people in your neighborhood did not participate, And then the neighborhood A did not participate and neighborhood B did participate. And then there’s beautiful park with a beautiful light. Next time, the people in neighborhood A will say, huh, we need to take part in this. And what that does is that it brings in more people into the fold of decision-making process. We are a city of 67 tops, maybe 70,000 people, right? We should be able to engage out the system that lead and govern us.
All right. I want to move on, but is there anything else on the sort of subject of like city government and the charter and elections that you want to bring up?
Well, as I said earlier, the managers, if I have a magic wand, what would I do? I would tweak it. But because I believe in people participating, I would love to have one more term of another mayor and then see how it rolls out. If there is still confusion and it makes things complicated, then I would look at, because the charter is the most sacred document, right? For a municipal government.
It’s our constitution.
It’s like our constitution. I don’t want to be changing it anytime somebody is not happy about something, right? But I want to make sure that whatever it is that we have that is not working is also fixed. Unfortunately, recently the people of Portland, based on how the questions were framed, I am sure, I am very sure that if the issue of the mayor was put by itself, I’m sure that it would have passed.
So I do want to move on, but thank you so much. For this next section, I’d like to talk a bit about the ongoing influx of asylum seekers into Portland, a pretty big challenge.
The Asylum Seeker Crisis
For those who may not know. An asylum seeker is somebody from outside the United States who enters the country, either using a different pretext or by illicitly crossing a border. And then once in the United States, says that they cannot return to their country of origin for credible fear of being persecuted for their race, religion, nationality, social status, or political affiliation. The Portland Townsman has been conducting a fact-finding effort on this crisis, most agree it to be one of the key issues facing Portland today. And according to the city, heavy majorities of occupants in all city shelters are asylum seekers. And at least as of August 24th, 100% of the residents of the city family shelter are asylum seekers. The city is partnering in opening a new shelter with nearly 200 beds on Riverside explicitly for asylum seekers. Again, according to city and non-profit sources, at least 1,600 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland since January 1st. The number could be as high as 2,000.
Of course, you yourself immigrated to the United States from Ghana around the turn of the millennium and have since become a U.S. citizen. Congratulations.
Most asylum seekers in Portland today are not from Ghana, but they are from Central or West Africa. And to open the topic, how do you think the city has been handling this influx? And would your background and experience be a strength here?
Well, I think the city has done an amazing job by using the limited resources that we have equitably amongst the asylum seekers. I think I would just remind those of us who are listening, or those who are listening or who will be listening to this, is that we should look at it from a positive lens, which means that Maine is one of the grayest states in the country, or in the union, as we say it. We do receive data of who died, not necessarily by name, by numbers. And how many deaths do we have every week or every month from the city manager’s office? And I tell you, there’s more death, than we have more deaths than births.
In the state of Maine and the city of Portland, there are more deaths than births. Yeah.
Yeah, which means that every day we’re having a deficit number of people. The city of Portland have more than 200 vacancies, and we are not able to fill it because there are no people to fill it. So these people are coming, these individuals are coming with a lot of qualifications and the willingness to work. The challenge that we are having is the federal government is not doing its job. Being an immigrant at national level, I am part of a lot of affinity groups. Hardly a month passes without me signing on some letter asking the federal government to work fast. Asking the federal, I understand that government doesn’t work fast enough. I know that because I’m part of the government here.
I think what you’re referring to is the ability to get a work permit.
Work permit. Yeah. So when you arrive as an asylum seeker, and also I would love to differentiate between an asylum seeker and a refugee because I think some people got mixed up with those two. A refugee is someone who is also living in a war-torn country but have been vetted and approved by a US approved agency. It could be a US government agency or a nonprofit, international nonprofit from a refugee camp or a camp. And then they, they get most of their paperwork done, they will apply through the US, how do we call it, through the US embassy in that country or in the third country where they are refugees, where they are taking refuge. And then they apply to be refugees in the US. By the time they get here, they have that work authorization. They have most of the basic documents that you need to leave and work in the U –
Their legal status is already before they get here.
And once they get here, and I know that there’s also this rumor that they get money when refugees come here on paper, they are supposed to pay off all the expenses that the U.S. government have endured on them. Some people do pay. Some may not. I have never looked at the data, but let’s get that out there.
OK, so the city of Portland is doing a good job. We need people here. We just need the federal government to make this application process move fast. It used to be fast. But because of the influx of a lot of asylum seekers from globally coming into the US, it’s becoming, I think there is a lot of, do you say bottleneck or something like that? There is a choke somewhere that is making it, for my daytime job, I work with immigrants. There’s a parent that I work with who I have written letter of support to show that his parent is a good standing member of the community. They have supported a lot of young people and families and they contribute a lot. They are on the board of a few or three nonprofits here in Maine. It took this person 12 years. 12 to get their asylum approved. They have a work authorization. They got their work authorization, I think, two years after they were here or something like that. So every year they have to go and renew it so that they can work here. And once you have your authorization, you have to go to an immigration court. We don’t have immigration courts in Portland. Most of them go to Boston. And the one in Boston is overloaded with a lot of cases. It became worse during the previous administration, the presidency, the previous president’s administration. It even got worse. They requested for more judges. They didn’t get any.
I don’t know if the situation has improved, but it is getting difficult. So, Chellie Pingree and Susanne Collins have sponsored a bill that we hope will pass. If that passes, it reduces the number of months that they have to wait to apply. And it also make it easy. And also here locally –
For work permits.
For work permits, so that they can work because –
– While their asylum claim is still being processed.
While their asylum claim is still being processed. And if your asylum claim is not approved by an immigration law judge, you can, you can, how do we call it, appeal. And after subsequent appeals, the court can place a deportation order on you, and then you can be deported back to where you left. That is one. The governor, which is our governor here have joined 17 other states across the country to create what is called the Office of New Americans. Once that office, I know now they are having exploratory conversation with the immigrant community, both asylum seekers, because it will cover not just asylum seekers, but every immigrant who lives here, whether you arrive today or you’ve been here for 10 years, if you still fall into that, that is an office that will look into your affairs and also they can advocate at national level. But for me, what they will do, in addition to everything that I appreciate, is once that office is up, we’re going to encourage them to take over the support that the City of Portland is giving to the asylum seekers, so that it is more than from state level. And then that will take some of the pressure off the city of Portland.
So it sounds like we’re hoping that the federal and the state government will act to –
Yeah, the state government is already doing their part. They’ve created the office already by an executive order from the governor’s office. What they are doing now is they have an exploratory conversation with immigrant community members, not just leaders, everybody who will attend some of those sessions to say to them, what do you want? or how do you think this office will be helpful to you?
Yeah, and to add on to your point about things taking a long time, new asylum seekers aren’t even getting initial hearing dates until 2027.
So it’s definitely a long process. I do want to bring up as well that, you know, despite a lot of people sort of talking about them as like a big undifferentiated bloc, Portland’s homeless population seems to be two pretty distinct populations with asylum seekers on the one hand and domestic unhoused individuals on the other. Do you have any strategy to reflect this reality at all as compared to how they’re assisted now?
Well, I think yesterday we had a very robust meeting with a proposal that was brought forward by the city, by staff. And I kept saying this and I will continue to say that.
This is being recorded on September 27th, 2023.
And the meeting was on September 26th. I kept saying that first, we need housing, period. Housing and more housing and more housing which is why the housing and economic development committee for the past three years are exploring what other possibilities or housing model can we have? And last week, we did approve a housing model that is coming forward. It is not necessarily, I lack the right word to describe it. It is similar to co-op model where people that go into that housing will get like, will build equity. And so when they leave and they decide to sell their shares, they have equity to go and buy somewhere, which is also why on my platform, I plan to issue a $50 million bond, which I will work-
And I wanna ask you about that later.
Yeah, I will work closely with city staff and my colleagues on the council and the public to figure out what kind of housing do we need once we pass that bond. Right, to build more housing. Let’s come back to our unfortunate neighbors who are sheltering outside in encampments.
Since you brought up the meeting last night, I don’t want to be too “of today,” but we heard a lot of homeless people that are living in these encampments talk about how they feel shelters are primarily aimed at asylum seekers right now. Do you think that’s accurate? Do you think it’s unfair?
No, it’s not unfair. Your reality, your assumptions, a reflection of your reality, right? From where they are, that is what they see. Yes, we, the city did, I don’t think it was intentional. The city, when we opened the new shelter, Like you said earlier, the family shelter is 100% a use by asylum-seeking families. And so, because they are there, when the new shelter was opened, most of them went there, right? Some of them were at the shelter. They outnumbered, because at that time, at that point when we opened it, they outnumbered any other group of homeless groups in the city. So they got in into the new shelter. They are, I think it’s about 35 or 40 percent, I’m not sure the numbers, number of them who are in the shelter. Currently, we are… The homeless services center?
Yeah. As of August 24th, it was just about 60 percent were asylum seekers.
Right. So currently what we are doing is we are opening the shelter specifically to serve them because they are in need. two different unique needs. The asylum seekers are looking for housing. They are looking for a place to stay. I think there’s a small percentage of them that may benefit from the Homeless Service Center based on the way we’ve designed it or staff have designed it to provide wraparound services. But a majority of them don’t need that. they need completely different kind of like support to be oriented into the system that they are going to live in. This is how things are done here. This is what you do to stay within the frames of law.
Legal aid and translation.
That is what they need. So once we create that, we provide them with all the services that they need, and then that will open up a lot of space here for those that actually need this shelter, which is that I always categorize to the best of my knowledge, that we have three groups, primary groups, because I’m sure that within that groups, there’s gonna be other groups, of unhoused people. One is those who have had luck in life and they need a little bit of help so that they can get back into the, they can maintain a regular job, they can maintain a regular apartment. They will live regularly. Like all of us who are lucky enough, to not be unhoused. The second group are the ones who have been chronically on house in our community. That group need what we call housing first, which the state is, we just passed a law that says that let’s build more, how do we call it, more housing first. We just need to put in more money so that more people, because there are a lot of people across the state who will benefit from that, not just in Portland. So I’m looking forward to working on that. The third group, I think, are the ones that may benefit from going to the shelter.
So you think that the asylum seeker shelter, which is opening up on Riverside, you think that people, asylum seekers that are currently staying in the homeless services center will move there and that will open up space?
That is the plan.
That is the plan. And do you have any concern that asylum seekers will take advantage of the… this new shelter, but will still continue to be the majority at the homeless services center?
Oh, no, no, no, no. We are moving because they don’t need the services that we are providing. The way the, the Homeless Service Center is created. It’s like this hub with… I took a tour when it was open and I was there at opening ceremony. The way it is designed, it is designed to give wraparound services.
For mental health, drug addiction.
Mental health, drug addiction, and many other challenges that our on-house neighbors are facing, right? The asylum seekers don’t need that. The asylum seekers only need a place to put their head, which is not outside. And also learn about all of these things, non-profits will come and meet them there. So I’m not saying that we’re gonna put asylum seekers and then we’ll still keep that 60%. No, I’m moving all of them to the new one.
And probably, probably run the risk of saying to city staff that my first priority at this point is to look at those who are outside, who are not asylum seekers, who need the service that we provide here. And I’ve said this publicly, I will say it again, of course, this is public too, that I hope the officers, the governor, the governor’s office will also look at and not just be throwing money at us or at other municipal government, look at opening another office. Just like the way we are opening an office for asylum seekers, open an office that will specifically work on with the unhoused community. We have an office on substance and drug use. We need one for specifically for unhoused, homeless people. They are part of our society. They are a byproduct of a lot of our policies and our laws. So we need to do that and find solutions for them.
Speaking of the state government, the current administration of Portland has requested that Governor Mills call in the National Guard to help deal with just the sheer increase of the homeless population, both asylum seekers and non-asylum seekers. Is this a course of action that you would also pursue?
Well I wouldn’t, I would not because we’ve done that. It didn’t work.
Yeah. And so what I’m seeing that a the state government should create an office that, I don’t care what it is, one person or two people, create an office whose primary task is to look into what solutions, including the mental health support. And yeah, so that office should be able to come up with, after consulting with practitioners and people who are in that situation, um, um, Yeah, because you cannot talk about people without talking to them.
So we’re bleeding into sort of the next subject anyway. They’re inevitably very entwined, which is the encampments and law enforcement around it.
Encampments and Law Enforcement
As most people know, Portland has seen an enormous growth in homeless communities or encampments on public and private land in the city. Despite multiple recent sweeps, Mayor Snyder reports that there are over 250 tents in Portland today, with encampment culture continuing to become pretty entrenched in the city. Portland is undoubtedly facing enormous leaps in cost of living. But there have also been safety and health concerns about these encampments from their neighbors. And this is all on top of the roughly 650 emergency shelter beds in total that the city offers, 150 family shelter beds, hundreds of ad hoc placements, as well as those being sheltered by families, private groups, churches, and so on.
Sounds like you have a strategy in terms of working with the state to establish a office of chronic homelessness or something to that effect. What else would you do to address the status quo with these encampments?
City staff have brought something forward last night, which was September 26th. For those who are listening and who are not at the meeting, I think I will explore that first. Last night I asked about two, one suggestion that I made.
And it was the suggestion specifically was about increasing the capacity of the homeless services center. Right.
Yeah, by creating more bunk beds. I think there’s a lot of pushback from myself and some of my colleagues. And so they are going to go back and come back with some sort of like a review plan. I would love to see what that is left to me alone. As I said, we can group these individuals into three groups, figure out who amongst them, who are the ones that fall within the one group, and then figure out how we can get them housing, not just here, but also across the Greater Portland area or somewhere in the state. right? The second group is housing first. And then the third group are the ones that will need intense support. I did ask if we can use the I’m I am solution-oriented person.
Good to hear.
We can talk all we want. It’s not going to change that. The fact that in two weeks, right –
It’s going to get chilly.
It’s going to get chilly and people are going to be out there. I have never been living a tent and I’ve never been in those tents. I don’t know how warm they are. I don’t know if you have some sort of like a lung infection or you don’t have warm clothes to wear or you don’t have body warmers. How you are going to fare in that? For God’s sake, yesterday I was wearing a mini jacket at a meeting, and it was only 60-something degrees. So I can only imagine, with compassion, how these individuals will fare when the weather dips, the temperatures dip. And so I ask if we can use… the transitional structure that the Cumberland County Jail does have. what I heard back was liabilities, for God’s sake. We have some liability when people are sleeping outside, even much more higher liabilities.
Sorry, the Cumberland County Jail?
Yeah, they do have a transition home where people go through, if they are transitioning from being incarcerated and into, I don’t think they use it anymore. It’s just something that was sitting there. And then the thing that was cited was, how do we call it? Liability responsibility or something and privately I will continue to talk to the city manager and see if we can use that and then I also –
Presumably the county would also have to approve.
Yeah yeah well I think I’m gonna say this at a risk of being a rabble-rouser. I think the county government haven’t left off the hook for so long. Nobody’s telling them or asking them to do something.
You’re not the first to say that.
Yeah, I think it’s about time we start talking to them in a more serious note instead of asking, can we do this? Instead of because we pay in to be part of that government. And so where does that need? And some of these people who we will put in this are not going to be, are coming from some of these towns that are part of the Cumberland County. You know, so yeah, that is another conversation for a conversation for another day. I also asked the staff to look and see if we can put people, into the Barron Center.
Which is a long-term care –
A long-term care. And I think you were there, you heard city staff saying that it will need some sort of licensing and blah, blah, blah, right after the meeting. A resident of Portland called me and said that ask city staff if the wing, apparently there’s a wing, some wing that is not completely attached to the main path, could take 100 people and there’s nobody there. So…
Split it off.
Yeah, so I’m gonna go have a meeting with the city manager and then ask what are the possibilities because we have 200 plus people outside and we don’t have the ability to stop the weather from getting cold. And we have our neighbors who are on business. Yesterday we received an email from a hotel owner here in Portland who is sending us pictures, saying that, look at my property. I pay you, I pay taxes to you guys for having business in Portland. And it’s been over that. Outside of it, the car park has been overtaken by tents. Do something about it. Right. So we owe it to these individuals who are going through this tragic situation. And we also owe it to our resident and businesses to do what is right for everyone. And I also think we had the ACLU saying that taking everybody to the homeless service center, they don’t agree with that, right? Maybe by splitting them into three different groups and giving small groups into small places, maybe that will be helpful. So we will see, I will continue exploring that.
I also want to bring up the Encampment Crisis Response Team, which has been a feature of essentially every city council meeting for the past several months. This interdepartmental effort has been about basically targeting an encampment, setting a resolution date, at which point it will be swept, people will no longer be allowed to encamp there, but until then basically offering as much assistance in trying to get everybody currently staying there in some form of shelter or housing. How do you think this has been going? Do you approve of this strategy? Would you make any changes?
Well, I think what we need yesterday, someone brought that up, that we don’t have a single homeless person on that committee.
Yeah. So I am a firm believer that you cannot talk about me without me. You cannot make a decision that impacts me. Yes, I understand that there’s a lot of tons of experience of people that have worked with unhoused individuals, but they are not unhoused. I will make suggestions. I’m not the type, unless it’s something that I don’t have a choice, that I have to do and put my staff on a blast in public because we are the bosses of all.
I’m not asking you to put anybody on blast.
I’m not saying you should, I’m just giving you an example. So I, I, I, I will talk to staff and see can we add somebody who is a homeless person and have the ability to engage in this process. Can we add them to that committee and see what happens. Where I am is that I want staff to come up based on feedback that we gave them yesterday to come up with as much as we can to support these individuals and make sure that by the time that in the next two or three weeks we find a way to move people. to a safer place, and we do the moving in the most compassionate way possible, that we can.
So I want to touch on something you brought up as well, which is the safety element of this. There’s been reports of violence, theft, and other crimes in and around these encampments, though advocates say that these are often exaggerated by critics. How would you work with law enforcement or other services to improve safety, both for campers that are in these encampments, and also for those who live and work around them?
Well, I think at a previous meeting, or I think a debate, I was given this question that with all necessary support to the encampments, which is police, health, like a mobile emergency health station there, and other amenities, right? Would I support a sanctioned encampment? And I said, yes. And I took a flak for that.
I’m sorry, a sanctioned encampment?
Yeah, which is that you create an encampment because you don’t have immediate solutions. You say, okay, people can put their camp here.
And where would ‘here’ be?
Yeah, I don’t know yet. We are still exploring. City staff have told me that that is not on the table. That is not something that is part of the conversation.
Right. Okay. So safety, the role, one of the many basic roles of a municipal government is for everyone to be safe, that live within the jurisdiction that municipal government leads. It includes residents. It includes businesses. In this situation, I think the individuals who are in the encampments are residents of Portland. Whether we agree on that or not. It doesn’t matter where they are coming from. Now they live in Portland. They are our neighbors. They are residents and they deserve that safety as much as anyone else. But also, I think we have to be careful that by saying that we don’t live, we don’t let Portland be a place where people can just do what they want. We have laws. Right, we have law enforcement that need to be when someone violates the law.
Where I differ from some of my colleagues that law enforcement is strong-handed is that there are some individuals in this group, or there’s a certain number, I don’t know what percentage, in this group. who may not even know when it’s Monday or when it’s Tuesday. Every day is the same to them. We see them on the street when we walk past them. They can start at the same place holding on something for like two hours or three hours. They don’t move anywhere. They have very extreme mental health and substance use challenges. I don’t think that person can steal a bicycle. For God’s sake, they cannot put on a shirt for themselves, let alone steal bicycles. But those that who can. If they get arrested, I’m not going to stop that. I have never, and I will not. Right. But I don’t want to put all of them into one basket and say that people are the encampment are still in there doing this. There are like the general society, there are a few bad nuts. Is that how you say it?
Apples, and a few bad apples who are in there, who dream that. And I do believe that if we have and I did request that, that if we have a, the police, the presence of law enforcement, it minimized that and law enforcement said we are understaffed. So that is where I am.
That was actually something I wanted to ask. There was a pretty highly emotional vote not too long ago on the council. Councilors Phillips, Trevorrow and Pelletier voted against giving the Portland Police Department a raise, or at least delaying it or breaking it down somehow. You voted with the majority that granted them their expected raise. Do you feel that law enforcement officers are compensated fairly in Portland?
There is a process that if you do understand, so I will separate what I think of law enforcement and how I treat my staff, right? A while ago, in the middle of the, how do we call it, in the middle of the race uprising after George Floyd was murdered by law enforcement, right? Some idiot went and shot at Portland police. They drove into the garage and shot a couple of shots there. And then the mayor did issue a, how do we call it, a press release or something with two of my then colleagues who were municipal, they represent the peninsula. And then I reached out and I said that, wow, nobody told me that there’s going to be a press release. And the mayor responded, I said, well, I was just looking at the, because they are the peninsula council, I said, well, I’m an at-large councilor, so I’m also a peninsula and I live there. So I organized a press conference on my own. And then the core of it was that I said, this is not acceptable. Shooting at our law enforcement is completely unacceptable. We’re not gonna accept or allow that here. And I hope that we are going to look for whoever it is and we’re gonna prosecute you.
But I also addressed the police directly that I may not agree with some of the… the things that is done or in the way it is done. But so far as I remain an elected person in this city, I’m looking forward to working with you to change the laws that both you and I work with, with the laws that we all apply. Because the issue of, it comes down to one thing, racial equity, the history of how the enforcement have engaged. I will give resources to those who are in the system now so that they can do their job whilst I’m holding them accountable, right? And then I will work from where I am to make changes to the rules and the regulations and the laws that we have in the book that I believe is biased towards [sic] LGBTQ, towards blacks and other marginalized groups. So that was a statement that I made on that day. And that is why I agreed to give them that, how do we call it, that raise. And also that raise have been discussed in executive session. It’s been discussed. It is not a raise that the manager just got up today and said, I’m giving them. There is a process how police officers, pay and city staff, every group have their unions and they have lawyers that will negotiate on their behalf. And we’ve done that negotiations. And our staff have advice as this is the right thing to do. What else? You know, the way I see it is that…
Well, you brought up the vacancies.
That are in the police department. And the police department have said to us that, look, people are living, it used to be people are living at our departments to join Portland Police. And now people are living for Portland Police to join other departments.
Why is that?
Well, the pay was cited as one of the reasons. And they’ve said it publicly. So I cannot hold someone accountable without giving them the necessary tools for them to do the actual work. I will give you the tools that you need and then I will turn around and hold you accountable. You know, you cannot say that if I hire a painter who doesn’t have a ladder and they need a ladder to paint the top of the building, right? And then I don’t give them the ladder or I don’t give them enough of them to get to the ladder. And then I come back and say, why didn’t you paint there, right? When I haven’t given them the tools that they need. So I will give them the tools that they need and then I hold them accountable to the set of changes that I want to see.
That makes sense. And to touch a bit more on the level of potentially entrenched bias, we all, I think, remember the incident on April 1st in which. Portland police have been criticized a lot because there was a demonstration of a white supremacist group that operates all over New England. And a fight broke out and members of the group assaulted some counter protesters. Portland Police did not make any arrests at that time, and there’s since been a lot of accusations that the Portland Police Department was in some way sympathetic to the group or unsympathetic to those protesting the group. And of course, not long after, the interim police chief left, and now we have a new police chief. Do you think that this is evidence of entrenched bias among the Portland Police Department or has this been all blown out of proportion?
No, it’s not blown out of proportion, but also I don’t think it’s entrenched bias with the Portland Police. It is entrenched bias. In all our systems, right? Police, every aspect of our system have an entrenched bias. We didn’t get here overnight. We got to where we are over hundreds of years, 200 plus years. This country was built based on entrenched bias. It took women several years after men were allowed to vote. Black people were considered as a certain percentage of a human being. Indigenous Americans, right, whose land we all stand on are still being treated differently, even in our own state. So I’m not going to just point at the Portland police and say they have an entrenched bias. We have a lot of work to do. We’ve come far, and that is why you want to have someone like me in the leadership role. It’s not something that I’m talking about. I have a long record of pushing against a system like this and asking for change. Actually, that is on the platform that I ran for office. That is all the work that I’ve done in this state since I came here. is around bringing together people and making sure that the voice of people who are not heard are heard to move towards a better union, whether it is here in Portland or at national level.
All right, well, thank you. I think I’d like to move on to the next section. That was very informative.
ReCode, Land Use, and Housing
I’d like to talk a bit about ReCode, land use and housing. Portland has seen skyrocketing housing costs over the last several years, both in house prices and rents. By most reckonings, we’re in a massive housing shortage with vacancy rates in the city hitting 40-year lows since 2020. MaineHousing suggests Portland is short thousands of affordable housing units. Our own findings suggest it may be even worse. A number of policies have been enacted at the state and the local level, both by electeds and by referendum to try and address this crisis. And you obviously talk about it in your policy platform as well. There’s plenty to talk about in the realm of housing. First, would you agree that there’s a shortage of housing in Portland, or do you think that’s not the best way to characterize it?
I know there is a shortage of housing, and it is for several reasons. I think we’re not building enough. That is one. Our zoning and… housing codes antiquated, we need to update them into the 21st century by looking at best practices from everywhere else and applying it. And I think –
Is there a city or a place that you would look to in particular for that?
There are two cities. And I know that elected officials who led that, Minneapolis. and I think it’s Maryland or Baltimore or something that. The St. George’s County. Yeah, they also have something that if that yeah so I was –
Oh, the investment in public housing. Oh which county was that?
It’s St. George’s County.
Yeah, they have a different, it’s not a county, I mean they call it St. George’s County but it’s a how do we call it. It’s a council. They call it St. George’s County City Council or something.
And Minneapolis, of course, has been leading the pack in terms of Midwestern cities of keeping a control on rent prices. Yeah. And other things.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.
No, no, no. So and literally on both, I know city councilors through some of my national affinity groups who led our conversation. And it’s something that I would love to explore. I like I said to you from the beginning, I’m very process oriented. I know that the city staff are doing their work. I have tried to intervene and connect a group that you are part of and city staff to do some work. I will see how it plays out. As I said, I will let city staff do their job and where my authority comes in is when they bring their whatever recommendation that is going to come to me, then I will say that can you take it back or I can say that I can amend this to make it in this or can we put it together. A citizen group, I am not an expert, I’m only an idealist, who look at things from through what will be good for our city and say that I know group A, group B and group C are all part of this conversation, we need to bring them back.
A while back when I first got on the council, I asked the city manager, that I want the city to have a… That is when this group, YIMBY, started coming to the scene. I said, listen, can we have a summit where the city is not the one that is leading? The city just provide the space and the resources that is needed so that the city can have, the city residents of Portland can have a conversation on what kind of city do we wanna live in? What do we wanna change in terms of housing? I think I’m a firm believer that that type of conversation will yield a good result. A while ago, the city participated in boot camp, something by, I think it’s Columbia University, to look at housing and the challenges and why is it that we invited, and I’m saying we, because whether I like it or not, I’m part of the city government that I referred to earlier.
The invitation went to advocates that we feel comfortable engaging. Right. And in a private conversation, I raised the fact that I had wanted to see everyone who is advocating for housing so that we can have an honest conversation on the type of city that we want to live in. I haven’t read it lately, so I’m going to randomly pick words. Our comprehensive plan says that we want to be a city that meets the need of everyone. We want to be a city where everyone have a place to sleep. We want to be a city that makes sure that there’s not an encampment. What does that mean? We can only define what that means when we have an honest conversation with ourselves. And then elected officials and unelected officials need to take that lead.
Well, as part of the comprehensive plan, Portland set housing goals for itself that it has been meeting, more or less. It’s been building housing. But of course, some people say that the goals were just set are too low. I mean, do you have any, do you think that we should set more challenging goals for ourselves for building housing?
I think if you look at one council meeting I was quoted, I said that I think our situation changed. If we have, I don’t think it’s because anybody said intentionally city staff or the comprehensive plan as I said to you, myself and a group of people pushed for it to be more, they expanded participation and we went to city staff, did an amazing job going to a lot of people and getting feedback. So I think it was based on where we are at that time. And our situation shifted so fast that even though we are meeting the goals, but we are not doing enough. So we need to set new goals. Probably if we did a process where we talk to people and it says that you need to build 10, maybe we need to build 13, because we know that Portland is a desirable location where everybody is coming. And yeah, so yeah.
So what are the biggest obstacles to building housing in Portland right now?
It’s very controversial. We have people that have mentioned Green New Deal, and we have had developers that have said that the process in Portland is more complicated than any other municipality in Maine. I think…
Other towns that are much smaller than us are building more houses.
I’m saying so I think we need to look at that. We need to look and see, is it true that this is caused by our process? What do we need to change? One, you need to implement. Is there a process somewhere that we can borrow and use here by borrowing? I mean. So we can borrow, we can look, that is what, we can look and see what are the best practice elsewhere in terms of the processing of applications. If we think we are the biggest city, which we are, it means we can look at a city our size that is doing a good job.
One thing that we all remiss is we don’t have a lot of people who are carpenters who know how to build on that. And if you look on my platform, I have plans how to create opportunity people to learn how to build, learn the trades because we need more people into that field so that we can build more. We can put more money as we want if we don’t have people that will do the job or take the job and to even make it good. I think a few years ago the council passed a law that any developer who gets money from the city should pay people that work. So it’s going to be good pay once again.
And of course, as you’ve mentioned already, the city has been undergoing a long-term effort to reform its land use code called ReCode. For those that aren’t aware, the land use code is a list of discretionary laws which dictate what property owners can or can’t do or build on their land. To be clear, we’re not talking about safety regulations like fire or accessibility; that’s handled elsewhere. The land use code is what determines what sort of housing can be built where. usually with an eye to limit the size of new construction relative to what already exists in a place.
Councilor Ali, you talk about zoning reform and you’ve talked about how you want to listen to the experts, listen to what city staff say, but do you have any particular policies or any particular burning ideas about ReCode that you would want to see accomplished?
Well, recently a building was put out behind the post office, Federal Street, that is supposed to be Portland’s tallest building in Maine. Maine has been established several years ago. If now we get into where that is the tallest building, we want to keep the look of our city. But there are part of Maine, the corridors, which is Forest Congress, Brighton Avenue, and maybe Washington Avenue, that we can build. We can increase, how do we call it, density, right? And then you have Portland Housing Authority, that is already have an idea on how to increase density. Portland Housing are moving residents from one, a couple of buildings so that they can build high. I would encourage that. On my platform, I said I was going to issue a bond for 50,000, $50 million. It’s not in the larger picture of things. $50 million is a drop in the bucket based on our needs. But it’s a good place to start looking at, OK, we have this $50 million. We all agree that we need housing.
So I will encourage my colleagues to look into changing our, how do we call it, land use to make it more, to build more density. And also you cannot just build increased density without public transportation. I serve on the Metro board. I will look into, we are already doing that. We already have two electric buses. We’ll have to get more. And for the record, Portland Metro is not owned by the city of Portland. It’s a quasi-governmental organization that Portland is a member, we are the largest donors or whatever it is, we are the largest because we have the largest percentage of people who ride in those buses. So we have a leverage because we have more seats than all the other, not leverage in a bad way if someone from some of the towns are listening, I am not planning to take over.
We are stakeholders.
We are the largest stakeholder. So we should look to see what is in the best interest of not just our city, but the whole region.
And we’re back. We had a bit of an interruption there, but we’re still here with Councilor Pious Ali. So one thing I want to ask you about is on your campaign platform on your website, you talk about the need to restrict owner-occupied Airbnbs. Usually I hear people talk about non-owner-occupied Airbnbs. You seem –
Oh, it must be a typo. Oh, okay, okay. I will have to talk to my, wow. Oh, no wonder I receive a message from someone who was saying that, the person was like, that is his insurance, our taxes are high and what is my position? And then I said to him, go back to my website. And then I sent him to the same thing. Yeah. So, okay. All right. And thank you for catching that. It should be non-owner occupied.
Okay. That makes more sense. I assumed it was just a typo, but maybe you had a weird idea.
All on all occupied. Let’s turn the whole city into a hotel. Everybody come in.
Yeah. So as far as non-owner occupied Airbnbs –
Non-owner occupied, yeah. I will make sure that that is, I have my team meeting tomorrow. I will make sure that I will bring that up and then we can clean that up.
Perfect. But what is it about non-owner Airbnbs that you, the City of Portland’s policy towards them that you would want to change? Is it just enforcement or – ?
It’s not so much enforcement because the non-owner occupied, you know, the city of Portland, People will say that the percentage of individuals who are running Airbnb to the housing crisis is very minute, right? Advocates of Airbnb will say that. But what happens is that it doesn’t matter even if it is a small percentage. 10 apartments that has been taken off the market. That is 10 apartments…
Too many, that may have, that is, yeah, that is 10 apartments too many. I understand the owner occupied one. Completely, I agree that if, it’s been a culture of Portland Islands long before Airbnb came into, how do we call it, into existence.
Back when it’s just B&Bs.
Yeah, people would just go come during the winter, during the summer when a lot of people want to come to our islands, the island folks will come and live with friends on the mainland and then they will rent out their spot or they will rent it, being there people get to meet with them, right?
The authentic islander experience.
Yes, it’s to have the island experience, the Portland island experience, right? I don’t want to touch that. I want that to continue. And also, when I live in my apartment, my building, if it’s like a one family, small building with maybe more than one, all my kids have gone to college, there’s nothing that, even if I say that I’m going to ban that, those individuals, nothing that shows that they were rented out. Right? But if there’s an apartment building that an entity from out of state will come and rent it, right? And turn it into an Airbnb – If you want to run a, how do we call this place? A lodge, a lodging place, come through the city system so I’ll tell you this, how much I’m going to tax you. Right?
And where you can put it.
Yeah, where you can put it. Is it, is that a lot, right? Is zoning for you or not? Yes, I will look into that. And just to say that there was a time that I made a public statement before when we were going into city, how do we call it? I said, oh, next year it is gonna be mine. And then I think AirBNB may have allotted the distance and the email councilors and call councilors I didn’t get, there was no appetite to touch that on the council at that time. And I also, as I said that I am not a contentious person. If I know that this issue will not make it, it doesn’t matter how I look at it. frame it. It’s better left so that we, me and my colleagues, we use our energy on something that is productive.
But you want to build consensus.
I want to build consensus. It’s one of the things that as a mayor, I will speak to councilors individually and talk to city staff, and then we will take it from there. And then build support in the community.
Makes sense. Another point you mentioned is you, you mentioned didn’t on your campaign platform, you didn’t mention anything about expanding rent control, but you did talk about enforcing it. Do you think it’s under-enforced right now?
I think what I meant by enforcing it is to make sure that, for example, I receive a text message from a leader in the community saying that, hey, somebody came to them and said they are being affected on these individuals, this thing. City staff is to some extent overstretched. We have a lot of vacancies. Some of what I hope will happen is that we will have an honest conversation and look around and look across board and see which department needs staffing and which department needs to reduce their staffing and move people around. and make sure that this that have been passed, is it twice?
Yeah, it was originally passed in 2020 and then amended and strengthened in 2022. And there was a failed one this past, a failed attempt to amend it this past June. There’s going to be another attempt to amend it in November.
Right. So after November, I will look and see what, what it will look like and what need, what support does the office, which goes to make sure that this is enforceable, that has been the… The department that enforces it have enough staff to enforce it as it is written, as it is voted by the people of Portland.
Makes sense. All right. And then you also discussed property tax relief. There seems like there’s currently a senior tax equity program that applies to people over the age of 65. And you mentioned you wanted to explore expanding it to all ages, so for low income people, to get some property tax relief. Would you like to expand on that at all?
Well, I think some of that, because we are a city that is welcoming and we give a lot of people, we provide a lot of services, right? Our schools and many other things, the only way that we can raise money, or one of the only ways that we can raise more money is by taxing, right? I also want our taxing to be, to make sure that people that work in the service industry who may end up buying a property, I don’t want to tax them out of the, how do we call it, out of the city. So, yeah, because taxes are high, right? If someone have given, during my campaign, when I was conversing, I ran into someone who have worked in our school district for more than 30 years, and she is retired now, and we had that conversation, and she was like, listen, my taxes are, even though the state does, there’s something that I receive from the state.
And she said, it’s been helpful. Because I’m one of the councilors that push for that. And so she said, I know you work on this as well as your colleagues. Thank you. So that get me thinking that she’s been able to tell me how she feels about it. I’m sure that there are other people who are hurting under our taxes. And so I will look into it. Even though I’ve given a broader catchment that I will give you to everyone. Of course, there’s going to be a lot of, after I’ve discussed it with the Corporation Council, there’s going to be a lot of irritations on how long do you have to live in Portland to benefit from that? Will open it for everyone? How is that going to impact our taxes? Yeah, and is there a way to mitigate this so that the impact is not very high, yeah.
And it would only, of course, apply to families that live in their homes as opposed to renters.
Yeah, it’s not gonna go to renters. That is not gonna happen.
All right. So that’s really all I want to ask about the housing question, unless you had anything else to add.
Great, I wanna move on to the next section, which you had some surprisingly interesting ideas about, which was transportation and infrastructure.
Transportation and Infrastructure
You mentioned earlier that you’re on the board of GP Metro. And in your platform, you discuss something that I found really interesting, creating a municipal consumer owned utility for electricity in Portland, like Kennebunk Light and Power. What would this mean for the average resident of Portland? And also, how does this relate to the state level debate about the public utility that’s going on right now?
Well, we are Portland. We do things differently. And if the state one passes, then I would just let it be. If it doesn’t, I will explore the possibilities of putting something like that in Portland, because it would be good for the environment, electricity, and it will also put the control of how much we pay for energy into the hands of Portland residents. What kind of energy we are using into the hands of Portland residents. We already have the water district. I haven’t talked to them, right? But it is something that I plan to, once I got elected, I will discuss with them and staff to figure out because they bill everyone. Even the city have a process of billing people, but only the city, based on utilities, they have the experience. So we will look at, is this something that can house at your department, at your organization, because it’s a quasi-governmental organization. It’s not like a, it’s not part of City of Portland, but it’s a quasi-governmental organization, have a conversation with them. And also probably, maybe, have different community conversations across the city on what does this mean to you and education.
That sounds really interesting. It sounds like still a lot of sort of communication and brainstorming to do, but that’s definitely one of the more interesting ideas I’ve heard. And I got excited. I also want to bring up that in your platform, you talk about enforcing and strengthening the Green New Deal. For anyone who somehow isn’t aware, the Green New Deal here in Portland is a series of regulations which were passed by referendum in 2020, sponsored by the Maine Democratic Socialists of America. Did you have any specific ways that you feel the Green New Deal needs strengthening right now?
Um, I think this is debatable. I the part of it that gives housing…
The inclusionary zoning.
The inclusionary zoning, right. I have a part where a developer can put money in lieu of building affordable units. I think we have in a country that have a history of segregation. Right. There’s a development that is happening recently that is at a planning session and the neighbors have come to the council. And then they pointed out to me and probably other councilors that they met one-on-one, it’s off Ocean Avenue.
Yeah, 900 Ocean Avenue.
Yeah, 900 Ocean Avenue. They said, listen, the developer is gonna develop these fancy ones in front. And then in lieu of the, I want housing, I want a lot of housing, but our society is already segregated. Right? And I’m looking at it through that lens, as well as probably saying that if you are going, can I take away the ability of that money so that they don’t have to put money in, how do we call it, build it, right? Or say that if you are going to build off from not including it in that building, which is great, I love that idea, I think it will still increase to the housing stock that we have in the city, right? But then, I would look on strengthening how and where you build. You cannot build a property, like a developer, if you have a development in somewhere around district, neighborhood A, right? Because you’re high, it’s a high level, a very expensive high end. You’re gonna rent it out or you’re gonna sell it. And then when you are going to build a replacement, then you find a neighborhood, right? That is not so, well, you’re supposed to build this, it’s supposed to be at the same place.
Yeah, all in one place.
All in one place. So I will have to explore all of that and figure out which part of it can I tighten. Because I don’t wanna contribute in building a community that is segregated based on class.
Makes sense. And you sort of touched on something that I want to mention as well. You know, we need housing. We need a lot more housing. We’re in a housing shortage. And I believe you. But with the idea of tightening the Green New Deal and then you also proposed a carbon impact fee similar to what I believe Burlington, Vermont has – That’s where I went to college.
I love Burlington.
Oh, it’s beautiful. – passed on all new construction, which doesn’t use fully renewable energy. Critics say this is raising the financial costs, it’s raising the bureaucratic and political costs of constructing in Portland, and it might make developers say, why would I build here when I could build in Westbrook or Scarborough or wherever? Do you think that’s a concern?
It’s a genuine concern, but I will point out, you said you went to college in Burlington.
Do you know when they implement this?
Not off the top of my head, no.
Right. Are people still building there?
I don’t know.
Okay, so I mean.
I think so?
We’ve heard that through Green New Deal, right? Because of Green New Deal, people are not building. And we’ve also heard from… some developers that have said to some of us privately that as a matter of fact, I don’t have no problem with the Green New Deal. My problem is the process takes long, right? That is why. And in our conversation, I have told you, I will look into how to make the process much more easier if possible so that people can build more, right? So is it a concern? Absolutely. I have, as the chair in my role as the chair of housing committee, I have asked city staff publicly, how is there anything to qualify that, how do we call it, that argument? And they have said that we don’t have enough data to, so if there’s not enough data, that will either qualify or disqualify that claim. How did these individuals came to the conclusion? I’m not saying that, yeah. So I think it’s all assumptions until I see the data in front of me.
And so it sounds like even if the financial cost goes up, you’re going to try and keep the bureaucratic and the financial and the administrative costs down.
Yeah, the bureaucratic costs will go down. Of course, as I’ve said from the beginning, the mayor doesn’t have that much power to make bureaucracy go down. But the mayor, in collaboration with the city council and the city manager’s office which is staff, we can have a look at it and say listen, all three branches, we want the city to be effective. We want the city, we want developers to have a very effective, not just commercial developers, even if it is individuals building their own property. We want them to go through a, how do we call it, a system that is very effective, swift, and very fast. And then we can look and see what is possible.
Do we have to buy a software? Do we have to, I have a conversation, maybe with you or someone, about how can we plan, can we create a like a pre-design model of housing for certain parts, or if you want to build, you don’t have to start from scratch. Will that be helpful? There are so many things that we can look at and lessen that number, how do we call it? I believe in those that have said to me that, oh, well, it’s not so much the green new deal, but the process, because that is an experience that they have had as developers, right? Whereby the green new deal as it is now, there’s no data to support those who are saying that, no, no, no, no, the Green New Deal is not, it’s actually building more, or the Green New Deal is making it difficult to build.
Like we said earlier, it’s too early to tell.
On both sides, you can say whatever you want. My staff are telling me that they don’t have enough data, so that is where I am.
Makes sense. And so the last major point I want to touch on in this section is that, your carbon fee, your proposed carbon impact fee, you said that the proceeds of that should go towards the electrification of our bus fleet, which sounds great. Not everybody in Portland gets around by car. Personally, I walk to work. I know a lot of other people that do live car-light lifestyles, I think is common. So from your perspective as being integrated into the world of transit, do you think that there’s some obvious changes that we could be working on there to encourage people to travel by ways other than personal vehicle?
Yeah. So an example is you’re sitting right down here, you’re doing some work, right? Let’s say you have to work until 10pm and then you get out and it’s snowing and the office that you’re building in has been locked, right? You’re going to stand out in that snow. Your options are very limited. You call everyone who is driving. or you call Uber or Lyft, shared ride, right? Or you, good luck, call one of the taxi companies in Portland, that is what I said, good luck. Or wait for the Metro to show up, right? Once you pass a certain time of the day, the travel, the time that the buses gets there becomes a little bit longer. Right? I serve on the ridership committee of Metro. And the reason why I’m serving on Metro so that it is clear for listeners, it’s not like because I care so much about transportation. I do. Right. But as a city councilor, right, you are the mayor appoints councilors to there are several non-city entities that we put school board members, not school board, city councilors, to, how do we call it, to serve on, representing the interests of city of Portland. And on Metro. There’s a couple of councilors and a couple of city staff and Portland has five seats and it is filled by city councilors and the airport director and other people that have been on the council for a long time and we believe that they have a lot to bring if we take them off even though they are not councilors anymore, they will go with the knowledge. They have the knowledge so they are serving as private residents.
I care about public transportation. I care about building, how do we call it, future passengers. I will tell you a story. When I was on the school board, a group of students reached out to me because I work with young people and they feel comfortable reaching out to me and others. And then myself and former city councilor Ed Suslovic and former school board member Mary Maroni, we met with the kids. And they talked to me about how once. school, once school closes, if they want to stay at school to do some extracurricular activity or to do homework because they don’t have the ability to do homework at home for several reasons, right? It could be poverty, it could be a lot of kids in the house, it could be many things. Maybe they don’t have electricity or they live in –
No internet, so they want to stay at school to do that and if they are in clubs, most of the kids that are in the clubs, their parents have cars. There’s no late bus. The conversation started into looking for the school board to produce, to provide late bus. We look at a cost involved. And then we decided that instead of, and then a conversation was held among the students from all the three high schools. Different conversation was held at different schools to see if there is a buy-in from the kids, if it is not just these few kids that reach out to me, because they know they can. And we agreed that we have to.
So since then, kids in our high schools take the metro bus. And when we started, it was just during school, like during the school year, before I left the school board, we negotiated to extend it too. So if you get to high school from your first year, you can take the metro bus up to when you graduate, your high school card serves as a metro card. You don’t have to go and do a metro card or anything. You can take the bus. It’s not even from when you get to when you graduate from middle school, and you do your ID card during the summer, from the get-go, you can take metro. So if we are able to, oh, my daughter, who is in college, she’s a sophomore, um, uh. said that she doesn’t want to use car. She doesn’t want to buy a car because she knows how to drive, she knows how to ride a Metro.
And it’s expensive.
And it’s expensive. She said, I know how to ride a Metro, I feel comfortable. Being, I’ve rode the Metro for four years of my high school career.
And you said she’s in Boston?
She’s in Boston. So that shows that if done well, we can build ridership. And before the pandemic, I was advocating for late rides for late rides. Right? The last time we had the ridership committee meeting, I think that was last month or so, I did ask, where are we? The pandemic is almost gone. People, life is back to some sort of normalcy. Pretty much. Yeah. So, Metro is going to look into that. The leadership of Metro are going to look into that and look at scheduling and figure out if we can have a late bus, maybe one of those half buses, so that people that stay late. We don’t know how late it will go, but the hope to do that is. And every Friday on first Fridays, metro rides are free. On election day, metro rides are free. We just have to figure out how to market it, right?
Well, is cost the reason people don’t ride the bus?
I don’t think it’s cost. It may be because of the cost of the bus. when you are in your car, you have a control over where you, how you want to drive to work or something like that. I think in some part of Portland, what we were, I think it was a study that was going through having like dedicated lanes because we’ve tried one of those, you know, USM students take metro for free. Yeah. Right. I mean, it’s not free because the university have to pay reimburse us. But when you take the husky line, right? You take it from downtown, it has fewer stops and it will get you to school on time, right? Maybe we have to take that and implement it maybe every day in the morning when commuters are going to work, right?
There might be dedicated buses that drive in different parts of the city to where people work from 8 to 10. You know that if there’s bus three, there might be bus 3A and 3B. 3A is express, it’s going to bring people that go to work in downtown or downtown. You know, all the lines that we have, we shall have like A and B. And the A is morning commute. It’s very, very fast.
Fewer stops so that people maybe that is what we may want to do. But that is an idea. I think knowing how our system works, they need to be study, and see if that is that is going to work and stuff like that. So, yeah,
I believe the bus rapid transit project, as I saw they were. saying it would, even if everything went through, it would still take like 10 years. Like this stuff takes a long time apparently.
Great. Well, the last section I want to talk about is a little bit about business and labor in Portland.
Business and Labor
First, I want to ask just what do you feel the biggest challenges facing businesses in Portland are?
I think workforce, that is one. And then, you know, in some, our economic development corporation, which is one of the city’s enterprises, we do provide some sort of like, support to businesses. I don’t know if that study has ever been done. We may want to, of course, any time we provide loans, soft loans and other things, we hear from the business and say, thank you very much, you helped out. But we need to look and see how impactful that is. Does that increase productivity? Does that increase, excuse me, does that get our businesses to grow? Right? We can have honest conversation with each other and talk with the Chamber of Commerce because I said this earlier that the responsibilities or one of the major roles of any municipal government is to create an environment where people and the business that is in there all thrive. And when I say business I not just private businesses, including non-profits and any other business that is within.
And what does that mean to create a thriving environment for everyone who lives or works here? Part of it will be, how do you support businesses for them to grow? How do you create an environment where the municipal government provides some sort of support to the biggest entity that brings money to the, I know it’s a very controversial issue, but the… we just passed…
A tourism development district.
Tourism development. So things like that, that will help the businesses because it’s a cycle. They will also hire people. But I hope that if we do that, they will also be open. Just like the way we work, which I play a role in it, in making sure that any developer that gets money from the city pays prevailing wage. We’re talking about people affordability in Portland.
What does prevailing wage mean?
Right. I think it means that this is a wage that or livable wage for something that is enough for you to live on. We know that research have shown that if for you to be able to rent one bedroom in Portland and have a meaningful life, a life where you don’t have like three or four roommates, right? Where you live in your own small corner, you have to be making like $25 or $30 an hour or so. You know what I’m saying? So because of that, some people would delay life, right? Somebody wants to get married, or somebody wants to have a partner. Somebody wants to have kids. Somebody wants to, but the job that they have is not making it possible. And I hear it. The Housing and Economic Development Committee started having this conversation with one of the most progressive organizations that look for equity in everything, and the chamber, we invited both of them, because that is how I do my things. And we’re in the middle of that when there was a ballot initiative. And I was like, well, there’s no need for us to talk about something that is going to go to the larger community for everyone to chip in. So we back off. But I wanna pick up from where I left.
And you’re talking about the minimum wage there.
Okay, yeah, sorry, go back to where you were.
No, go ahead. I will wanna pick it out, bring all stakeholders to the table, and then work on to see what is actual amount of money that people need to be paid in Portland. And also, what does that mean to our businesses? Is there a role for the municipal government in this?
So to touch on that minimum wage issue again, you’re right, there was a citizens initiative, a referendum on it most recently here in 2022, which failed. But notably, it wasn’t just a minimum wage increase. It was kind of a lot of things. It raised the minimum wage, of course, but it also abolished the tip wage. So waitstaff and other tipped workers all had to be paid minimum wage as well. And then it would also establish a city department of labor. So there was a lot in that referendum and it failed. So a lot of people have said like, well, maybe if it was just the raising the minimum wage part it would have done better. Do you think that, so it sounds like you would want to reopen the conversation towards. raising the minimum wage from where it is now?
Yes, I will. And typical of me, as I said, I think I want to hear from everyone. Because there was a joke that I did in some meeting. And I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to answer it. Some people took it and start using it on social media that I want to be a dictator. I joke that sometimes I think I feel like I want to be a dictator. But because of my background, I’m African immigrant. Some people took it online and said, yeah, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You want to be a dictator, right? So I, sometimes I just based on my values and what I believe, I just want to say that let’s just do this, right?
For what it’s worth, you seem like the least dictatorial candidate I’ve spoken with so far, you’ve done nothing but say, ‘as long as we gather consensus’ and everything.
Yeah, I’m going to be a consensus leader because I know that the position that we are all vying to take, have very extremely limited room to strongly say I’m going to do this. I understand that what we say, tell people the type of leaders that we will be, are we leaders that will stand for something? Well, I believe that in my personal life, I’ve shown over and over that I do stand for something and I can stand for something. I have the courage to step up when needed, but I’m not going to be a dictator.
Thank God. Yeah. Last thing of your policies that you that I saw on your website, which interested me, was enhanced workforce retraining. Did you want to expand on that a little bit at all? I’m not super familiar with the concept.
Right. So we have Adult Ed.
Right. And earlier I did mention that when we, you know, the city is not like a state that develops like a when they call federal government. You see that? I will create a job, I will get a thousand jobs. The city of Portland has not created, apart from the employers that we have, who do the day-to-day, thank goodness, who do the day-to-day running of the city, we don’t create, we don’t have any room to create jobs, but we have the ability, right, to create opportunities for people. to learn new skills so that they can go into the job market. On my platform, I did talk about, how do we call it, child care and Head Start, right? There are a lot of people that can’t afford to do that. So if we expand the one that, of course, I’m not on the school side, but the city can work with them to provide. It’s a workforce thing, because then parents can go back to work because they have somewhere to bring their kids for the kids to learn. Give the kids like a head start. But on Adult Ed, we have the ability to retrain people.
So let’s say that I went to college to be an accountant and I got tired of being an accountant. It doesn’t matter what I am. I’m just using accountant.
Nothing against accountants.
Nothing against accountants. Yeah, I am, let’s say I’m 30 years old. I’ve been doing accounting since I left college at the age of 22, that’s eight years. And I said, I need something else, right? I should be able to look and see, is there a fun career that I can take? Do I wanna be a carpenter? Because I actually adore people who build something with their hands. Do I wanna be an electrician? Do I wanna be a-
Do you wanna be, yeah, whatever it is, I should be able to go to a, a city and a program that a city finds to, how do we call it? And not just that, it could be, I will tell you a story. One of the young people that I work with came out of school and did have a lot of a stints with radio. He was in one of the States and one of his friends encouraged him to come to New York. He went to New York. Once in New York, he realized that the city of New York is funding for people to learn how to produce podcasts. Literally. So he went back to school. It’s not like a school, school is a training. Did a training, get a job with a company that does podcasts. The way they produce their podcasts was like a movie. right, they take off the, I don’t want to promote anybody, but I will tell you.
You can promote.
I think it’s called Campfire Production or something like that.
Everybody go to Campfire Productions and check them out.
Check them out. Yeah. When you go to the, you listen to the, it’s just like a movie. They tell stories. It’s like a, it’s like a movie. like an audio documentary, drama, things. And they tackle real stories, weird stories that you never heard. I’m just using this, this is just a joke. Like somebody got lost for 10 years and then they suddenly show up. So they would investigate and see, is it true that they got lost? Or did they just went to the next town, change their name and then came back 10 years and say, I got lost, right? If there was no program like that, that would give people the opportunity to rebrand themselves. to follow a dream that they didn’t know they had. My young friend would not have had that opportunity. That is what I want to be available to residents of Portland.
Makes sense. I mean, sometimes you realize you’re on the wrong path or, you know, a new start.
And you are a taxpayer in the resident of Portland. So can we just give you an opportunity? I brought immigrant parents to Portland Technology High School just for them to see what is available to their kids, thinking about before the pandemic. When they saw the equipments, and whatever is available, they say, Pious, this is not for our kids, this is for us. You know what I’m saying? So I think all of that will be part of the conversation and we’ve done it before with giving adult ed some money. It was something that I moved, I brought to the council and when I got on the council and I got on the economic development committee, then it was separate and thanks to the council, a collaborative nature of some of my colleagues on that council and seeing what I was seeing. And we gave them money and they did it. And so that program continues.
That sounds really cool. Alright, so that’s everything I had prepared to ask you.
Thank you so much. I wanna give you an opportunity to mention anything that we haven’t gone over or otherwise just to give your last pitch for people. Why should the voters of Portland put Pious Ali as number one on their ballot in November?
Thank you very much, Ashley. Portland is a city with robust community values, tremendous heart and unlimited opportunity. We are also a city that is changing, in many ways for the better, but also in ways that have made life harder for too many. As economic growth squeezes out middle class families and workers earn wages below what is livable, and climate change threatens our working waterfront, and as our housing crisis pushes more families to the streets and young families to surrounding communities, we need a mayor who will take bold collaboration, collaborative action to address these challenges. I am committed to that collaboration, and that is my plan to move Portland forward. But ideas I have laid out on my website can only be achieved by working together through active engagement, community involvement, and collective efforts.
We can make our city a vibrant, safe, and inclusive place that serves and protects us all without prejudice. Together as your mayor, we will forge pathways to a brighter future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. And that is why I ask for your vote on November 7th so that we can get all the things that I am aspiring to make it happen and happen with all our efforts, not just one person. Nobody, there’s no individual that can make anything happen in this city, whether they are city councilors or they are the mayor. And I’m looking forward to working with you. You have supported me for more than 10 years, and I hope you continue to support me. You’ve helped me grow in my leadership roles, and I hope you will continue to support me. And make me the leader, that you give me the position that I’m aspiring for, which is to be the mayor of Portland. Thank you.