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 Dylan Pugh’s responses and comments in roman below. Section headers have been included in bold for the convenience of the reader.
Ashley Keenan: Hello and thank you for listening to the Portland Townsman Audio. This is our series of Policy Matters interviews with the mayoral candidates of 2023. We’re here at the Portland Media Center, our lovely partners on Congress Street. My name is Ashley Keenan and I’m joined today by mayoral candidate Dylan Pugh. How are you?
Dylan Pugh: I’m doing well, Ashley. How are you doing?
I’m doing great. These interviews are intended to be a deeper dive into the campaign platforms, policy positions, and strategies of each candidate for addressing the many issues that Portland is facing today. After some introduction, I’m going to try and ask some pretty specific questions across a large sweep of topics, and hopefully we’ll have some clear, productive discussion. Furthermore, as you and I both know, local politics is local. A lot of issues are hashed out at the state and federal level, and, except when they intertwine, we’re not going to be focused on any of those. We’re really focused on firm stances, concrete policies for the city at the city level. So what do you think?
I think that sounds great. I won’t get into foreign policy.
Exactly. Well, before we start digging into these issues, how about you take a minute and introduce yourself, your campaign for the benefit of anyone who may not know that much about you?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m happy to. Well, thank you everyone for listening. I’m Dylan Pugh. I’ve lived in Portland about 10 years and I went to college out at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. So Maine has been my adopted home for most of my adult life. And Portland has become a really special place for me. It’s a place that has supported me through a lot of ups and downs and tumultuous times. So I feel like this mayoral campaign is really personal for me. And my goal is to try to preserve the special character of Portland that embraced me and helped me become the person I am today. help people that feel like that’s out of reach for them today. So I’m a first time candidate and I’m excited to talk about the issues here.
Yep. And that’s what it’s all about. We’re going to be talking about the issues and we’ll also be bringing up primary elements of your platform as we go along, which of course you can find online at his campaign website. We have six main topics that I’d like to get through during this conversation, which are the city charter and elections; the asylum seeker crisis; encampments and law enforcement; ReCode, land use, and housing; transportation and infrastructure; and business and labor.
The City Charter and Elections
So for our first section, I wanna talk a bit about the nuts and bolts of city government and how you see yourself fitting into it. For those who may not be aware, the office of mayor in Portland is a fairly unique hybrid while it is directly elected by the people and has a limited number of executive functions, it primarily remains 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, who could be described as a sort of CEO of the city. So Mr. Pugh, you have some lofty ambitions, which we love to see, but you aren’t in government now, and you’re really the only outsider candidate whose name is on the ballot. The mayoral position is not all powerful. So how do you plan to make your agenda a reality when you become elected, which I’m sure you will be.
Which yea, I mean, I appreciate the support and the certainty. No, it’s a great question. And I think the sort of hybrid nature of the mayor in Portland is kind of, it feels really special to me. And it’s why I was drawn to the position because I think a large role up for the mayor as I see it, is being this liaison between the legislative side and the community side and understanding the community’s hopes, dreams, fears, concerns, whatever that is and helping to translate that into policy positions that one can work with the city council to pass. So I think my larger approach to this is how do you sort of establish a set of shared values with people, in the city. I think because I am the outsider, because I’m new to this, my approach is going to be slightly different than the one that’s been taken in the past. And a lot of what I do, what I’ve been focusing my campaign on is how do you really hear people? And how do you hear people sort of below the bullet points they might bring to you? Like, what is the concern behind somebody who wants to have more bike lanes? Is that really a safety concern? So I think that’s the first step for me is like continual, you know, involvement in the community and soliciting that feedback.
Sort of translating that to the government level.
Exactly, right. Sort of distilling that down, like what is the shared vision? What are the shared concerns here? And then using that really as the guiding principle in all of the legislative duties of the mayor. So setting the agenda or working to appoint department heads or excuse me, committee heads in the council. So yeah, exactly. It’s that translation between what are the on-the-ground concerns of people into the policy world.
All right. Now one thing that many mayors across America, including here in Maine, have distinguished themselves with is taking advantage of the numerous federal grants that are available to municipalities for civic improvements and other purposes, especially those that have been introduced under the Biden administration. There has been some criticism, in fact, of Portland’s government for not taking greater advantage of these grants that are available. Do you have any plans for applying for or seeking new federal grants?
Absolutely. I think that’s a really valuable resource that we have to take advantage of. It’s interesting, my position right now at Gulf of Maine Research is funded through those funds from the Biden administration. So I’ve been involved with the mechanisms of securing those grants, the process of what it takes. And I think that we’re in a really unique moment with these funds coming in that we really should take advantage of. And I would like to think of it in a long-term sense, like how can we get matching funds to really build some resiliency in the communities in Portland. I think about climate change because that’s what my work is and I think that that is something that is really widely understood by the Biden administration is we have to be ahead of this. We have to think about resiliency and mitigation at this point because we’re already seeing the effects. So I absolutely think that’s a great resource we should pursue.
Especially as a coastal city.
Speaking of Portland’s geography, Portland is also geographically a small city when you compare to cities in other states. Do you think that Portland should try to strengthen its coordination with neighboring towns and how would we do that if so?
I think it’s absolutely essential that we coordinate and strengthen those bonds with other towns because I think a lot of what we’re seeing in Portland is the result of sort of a national and international environment that is pressurizing Portland and the issues are really outsized compared to the size of the city. And many of them don’t originate here, thinking of issues like homelessness, climate migration. Even affordable housing is a national issue. So I think in order to build resiliency in the face of these huge forces that are pressurizing the city, we have to work with local communities. And I think that really the way to do that is sort of the same approach that I’d take interacting with constituents or the public, which is, what is the shared vision here? What are the values that Westbrook has in common with Portland, Scarborough has in common with Portland? And I really think there’s a lot of commonality there.
We, I think, are going to end up being a strange sort of northern outpost that is experiencing an enormous amount of migration with climate, for instance. And I think that we have a lot of similar concerns that we share with Westbrook. And what I would work to do is build the trust there to say, we also need to have a shared approach to this, because there’s going to be effort to divide us on certain things and drive these wedges so that we can be you know, taken advantage of by larger market actors. So I think that getting to them and being like, we’re actually in this together. How do we have that formalized in some way would be a great step.
And not to be too pessimistic, but you, I mean, you’re quite confident that Portland’s surrounding towns share a vision with Portland. I think some people may contest that assertion. How can Portland bring some of these towns to the table, those that aren’t maybe as willing to cooperate?
No, it’s a great question. And I think you’re absolutely right. People that look at Portland and then look at the relations thus far would probably be like, oh yeah, I don’t think that we do have the same interests as Westbrook or Biddeford or something like that. And I think the key to that is you have to really go at, you have to go sort of beneath the policy level. I know this is a policy interview, but when it comes to this idea of building consensus, my approach is always, I don’t wanna talk about the policy just yet. We will definitely get there because that’s important, but what is the impetus behind these policies? And I really do think that there is a commonality when it comes to really basic things like safety, economic security. And once you establish those shared values, going forward I think becomes a lot easier.
I feel, this is sort of an aside, but I feel I was kind of fortunate I grew up in what was a very conservative part of the country, eastern Washington. I was like the only liberal kid at my school doing a mock election. I was the only vote for John Kerry. So I feel like I have a little bit of insight into. what people that grow up conservative, people that might have more conservative views than I hold, they’re a thought process. And I think because I grew up in that environment, I really identify like, we’re kind of, we want the same things, we divide at a certain point, but we have the same core needs here.
All right, I like it. I like the optimism. There was a charter amendment proposed in 2022, which would have transformed the mayor in Portland into a true executive, similar to what exists in large cities like Boston or New York. It failed in 2022, leaving the current hybrid status quo. Now, many people have pointed out that this leaves the mayor with a lot of responsibility and accountability, but sometimes not with all the tools to actually carry out those actions which would assist the mayor with his or her accountability and responsibility. So do you think it would be worth revisiting the charter, either for this issue or for any other, amending it via a charter commission?
I really feel that people have had their fill of charter revisions recently. I feel like the issue of the strong mayor was sort of paradoxical in the sense that I personally, I voted for it. I generally support things I think that will change the status quo. But also sort of paradoxically, I would not have run had it passed because I don’t think that that’s my skill set. I would not want to be the executive of the city. I think someone like Danielle West has a much better background than I do, quite frankly.
I don’t think that’s paradoxical. I mean, you’re running for the position that’s available.
That’s right, yeah, exactly. And so, no, I do think that there was something that was behind that, which I think is this feeling of accountability, right? Where people in Portland who brought the referendum and supported it didn’t feel like they had a direct line the real movers and shakers in the government, the people who hold the real power, was sort of this indirect thing. So I tend to think it’s not something that I would pursue, any charter revisions, and if people did want to bring another revision, I would want to meet with them and I would want to say, you know, why are you bringing this? Do you think that there’s another way that we can achieve what you’re looking for here?
All right, and I definitely think people may have their fill of Charter Amendment questions.
How many were there?
Well, there were eight questions and there were five Citizens’ Initiatives, so 13 total. Speaking of, another major subject of debate at every election season is the referendum system, Citizen Initiatives. Portland has a pretty unique Citizens’ Initiatives Ordinance in Chapter 9 of the City Code. Citizens’ Initiatives pass by referendum. 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 actually exceedingly rare outside of Maine. Not even other New England cities have comparable systems. This setup puts a lot of power behind citizen initiatives, which advocates say is good for democracy, but Critics say it disempowers elected officials and it has unintended consequences. Any ability to change Chapter 9 has to originate in the City Council. It actually cannot be changed by referendum itself. Ironically. Do you think that the current Chapter 9 system is working or would you try to instigate any change?
I think that it, every time we have a referendum comes up, I do feel that it is, you know, failure of our representative democracy to do what it’s designed to do. So I don’t, I would not advocate for anything that would curtail the power of referendum. I think that there are some changes that would be very helpful for instance moving referendum elections to general elections so that more people are involved in voting for them.
So would that just be every November or like only every other November?
I mean that’s a good question I think every other November would be reasonable to start. And then if we have a lot of appetite for it, we could just think about moving it to every November. I think the goal there would be, how do you get more visibility on these things? So you have a larger number of the electorate voting for something that does end up becoming law. But to that same point, I do think that it would be reasonable to allow the city, the councilors to modify things earlier than that five-year period. I think that you can have a tradeoff there, where like, let’s get more people to vote on it, but also let’s give the people who are really in the weeds with it, the ability to change things. if they are feeling like it’s not working.
So, I guess my general feeling about that is that I don’t think it is good for democracy to curtail people’s ability to bring these questions. However, I don’t think it is the most effective way to get things done and I do think that is a situation that builds a lot of division in our community because you don’t have people that are working things out directly. You have people that are going into camps and then raising, you know, millions and millions of dollars, and then fighting out at the ballot box. That I don’t think is a good model going forward. So I think that what are the issues that are not being addressed by the city council and that form of government would be the thing that I would ask.
And not suppress you too hard if you don’t have a solid policy, which is not a requirement, but you said potentially allowing city councillors to amend ordinances passed by citizens initiatives before the five years, were you thinking just a straight up shortening of the system or maybe by supermajority or something like that?
Yeah, I was, I mean, initially I was thinking just a shortening, you know, maybe two years or something like that to see, let’s give this thing some legs to establish itself. And then if it’s a bad idea, then let’s not have to wait five years. But I would be, you know, I mean, I’m very open to the idea of, of changing the rules to work with a supermajority, too, if I hear that from counselors.
Yeah. Any attempts would have to be communal, right?
Collegial. All right.
So before moving on, do you have any other thoughts about the sort of nuts and bolts of. city government?
No, I just I think I appreciate you highlighting the fact that we have a really unique system in Portland here. I think you said you were at the library debate, is that right?
I did attend the library debate, yes.
I don’t know if you were there when Kate Snyder gave her introduction.
And she pulled out the city charter with the description of the mayor’s actually and I actually to honor Kate Snyder, I brought her along with me as well. So I really appreciate that because even as a candidate, I have people being like, “you should seize land from these people to build housing” and all this stuff. And I really love their urgency, but I really do appreciate, like, let’s actually understand what the role of the mayor is so that we get to a point where we can work within that.
It’s essentially just an extra special at-large counselor.
Which is really unique.
But it has symbolic…
Well, exactly. Yeah. Which I think is important.
All right. Thank you. So that’s enough about the charter and elections. I want to talk about the ongoing influx of asylum seekers into Portland, which I think you alluded to earlier with the climate refugee. comment.
Asylum Seeker Crisis
For those who may not know, an asylum seeker, legally speaking, is someone outside of the United States who enters the country either using a different pretext or by illegally crossing a border, and then once in the United States, claims 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 an extended fact-finding effort on this crisis, and it’s a significant challenge for the city right now, and it’s a difficult phenomenon to measure. It’s been difficult to get firm figures. Nevertheless, a significant majority of shelter space in Portland, including 100% of the family shelter, is currently occupied by asylum seekers who have arrived this calendar year, since January 1st, 2023. According to reliable sources, at least 1,600 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland since January 1st. The figure could be as high as 2,000. It’s hard to nail down. So to open the topic, do you approve of the strategy that the city has taken so far with regards to the asylum seeker crisis?
My impression is that the city has found itself on the back foot because no one was anticipating the level of migration that we’ve seen. I think that given the resources that we have, I think people are working really hard on this. And I don’t have anything negative to say about the effort that’s being made about it. I do think that we have to be really candid with ourselves about the fact that this is not going to go away and this is going to be an ongoing issue. So I think to call it a… crisis, you know, how long does it have to go on before it’s no longer a crisis and just part of our everyday life in Portland. And that’s sort of what I am thinking about going forward. And I think that If you have other questions on this, I didn’t want to…
Yeah, but feel free to preempt me if you had a train of thought.
Sure, yeah. I guess the way that I think about this is, the first is that this is another reason it’s critical to build these regional partnerships. Because the issue is there’s a large aging population in Maine. There’s many communities in Maine that would be really revitalized by having this influx of skilled, younger people. I think that’s really great. But I think we have to really address what’s at the core of this, which is powerlessness and lack of agency with people when they come here. And I think at the core of that is the federal work requirement for folks. And I think we have to start leading the conversation in Portland about in an emergency situation, how do we get around that? How do we allow people to become financially self-sufficient to at least some degree without having to wait and wade through all this red tape at a federal level? So I think that’s a conversation we need to have with our local partners, state partners, federal, all that.
But I think we really need to be pushing on it and not taking no for an answer, quite frankly, because the effects are then disproportionately amplified at the city level. You have people that literally cannot work and then require a large amount of assistance. And then you get in this conversation about a scarcity of assistance. And that’s why you have this division between people who say, you know, people who aren’t even from this country come here and get all of this help. Why can’t Americans get this? That’s not a like kind of rhetoric that I would like to see. agree with. I think it’s a false division. But I think it’s important to understand that the more that that goes on, the greater those divisions become. And this is an antecedent to white supremacist thinking as well. When you see conditions like this in Portland, it makes it easier for someone to fall prey to this really toxic ideology. So this is something I think we have to handle carefully and get away from that sort of false scarcity narrative with it.
And first I want to say that the questions are just to provide scaffolding. If you want to keep talking, by all means, do so.
You brought up the work requirement, which is once they’ve begun their asylum… I’m not an attorney. This is not legal advice. Once they have begun their application for asylum, if it’s an affirmative case, if it’s a defensive case, they probably would have already begun it at the border. They generally have to wait six months at least while they’re in the United States before even beginning the application. And of course, completing the application, making sure it’s done correctly, and then waiting for a response from USCIS, this all takes time. Another candidate, Andrew Zarro, brought up the idea of allowing asylum seekers to work without federal authorization. And I’m sorry, when I interviewed him, I didn’t get a chance to talk to him about that idea much. But it sounds like you might be gesturing towards a similar idea.
Yeah, I think Andrew is right about that. And this came up with the last debate as well, where he mentioned using a W-4 as potentially a workaround to get people some level of paperwork so that it would be allowed to earn some income. So I think I agree with him there. And I think that that’s something that we need to create. I mean, the important thing to understand here is that… And the pushback that I get on this issue is people that are actually concerned about asylum seekers. And I think they rightfully say to me, you’ll be careful in how you’re talking about this issue because what you don’t want to have happen is someone who has just come to this country, gone through an incredible ordeal, and has come to a place with a reasonable expectation of safety and security, which we do owe these people, absolutely. And then having a person that has gone through that then become vulnerable to deportation or legal action because you were being flippant and telling them that they can work.
So I think the really important thing is, if we were to go forward with this, and the only way I think it would be ethical to go forward with this, is if we established a robust legal framework where we had a reasonable assumption that we could, as a city, shield asylum seekers from federal repercussions for allowing them to work. And I sort of think of the city of Portland as establishing this shield around. And I think of this, this is sort of a larger part of my… maybe philosophy of governance, but I think that how can the city stand against these outside forces, whether it’s the federal government, whether it’s global capital, whatever it is, that have negative effects on people that live in Portland? I really want us to have an expansive idea of how can we take care of people who live in Portland, even if they’re new Mainers?
How can we create a sanctuary?
Not to use a potentially overly used word in the topic, but I think it’s appropriate. I think you’re right. The last thing I’ll ask about is that thus far, corporation counsel for the city of Portland seems to have strongly indicated – I don’t have any insider knowledge on this – but seems to have strongly indicated that that’s a legal dead end. If the city’s attorneys continue to say this, is that the end of the road for this proposal?
I think that is the city attorney doing a great job, honestly, because I think you need a lot of stability. certain levels in the city government. City manager, legal counsel, city clerk. You need a lot of stability on that. I think it’s the council’s job and the mayor’s job to be a little bit out on the edges to say, hey, can we do this? There is a moral or an ethical or an economic need to do this. How can we do it? So I would push a little farther, but developing that relationship would be one of trust. And if I hear back, no Dylan, we just really can’t do this. We’re wasting our time. I’m absolutely going to defer and say, okay, well, the need remains, but let’s switch tactics here because I don’t want to waste our time.
Yeah. So to get creative.
I like that. Now we’ll be talking more about the homelessness crisis in our next section, but it’s common to hear people talk about homeless people in the aggregate when in fact, asylum seekers and non-asylum seekers represent two very different populations with two very different needs. How would you address this in terms of the resources that the city provides, which currently are quite undifferentiated?
Right. This is a sort of monolithic approach. I think it’s a really great point. I’d even take it one step further, which is to say that even within populations of unhoused Mainers or people from America, there’s a wide spectrum of reasons that these people are unhoused or the difficulties that they’re dealing with, whether they’re chronically unhoused people, unsheltered, unhoused.
Not to cut you off, but I do want to talk about that a little bit later.
Gotcha, okay, yeah, I’ll focus up here. So the question is, would I want there to be a different approach when it comes to aid granted to asylum seekers versus the general unhoused?
To give an example, and I don’t want to get involved with pitting one group against another, as you said, but the Homeless Services Center was designed with the idea in mind that it would be a place with wraparound services that would provide mental health assistance, that it would provide resources for people addicted to drugs, that it would help people find jobs. It would help people that are out of prison, it would help people who got kicked out of their homes, this sort of thing. But of course now it’s strong majority asylum seekers who frankly don’t need any of these services. They might need translation, they might need legal aid, they have needs, but it’s not the needs that the system was designed around. So a lot of people look at that and say, what a mismatch. And there’s two angles to look at this from, from the sort of domestic homeless versus the asylum seeker homeless. Since I’m asking it now, would you want to see any differentiation there?
Yeah, no, I think you’re exactly right. And that’s a good point. I think one thing that I have been involved with personally and that I’ve seen is that there are a lot of resources in the community to help asylum seekers. People are really, really passionate. And I mean, that’s one of the reasons I love Portland is people are so involved with this. So I’m a member of Portland Friends Meeting, the Quaker meeting here, and we sheltered some asylum seekers in our basement for a while and were involved in working with other area churches and faith groups to facilitate that. And you’re exactly right, when they were there, they didn’t need mental health support. They didn’t need a police presence. They needed some food. They needed people who spoke Portuguese or Lingala. And I think that there’s a lot of people in the community that would really find that this would enrich their lives to help this population. So I think you’re right that when we have these services, let’s make sure that we’re looking in the right places for them. And I would like to see. a difference in the services offered to both groups.
You’re a Quaker?
Like Richard Nixon.
Like, no, right? He’s the one, I know. As long as I can be a slightly better mayor than Richard Nixon was a president.
That’s great. You indicated that Portland and the rest of America perhaps just sort of has to accept this as a new normal. Would you say that’s, would you say I’m characterizing you correctly?
Do you have a strategy for how, because I feel like our resources are being stretched quite thin here, and you brought up the idea of allowing for early work permits potentially, getting creative, but the concentration in Portland seems like it’s very, very hard to deal with. So do you have a strategy for how we can make this a more sustainable response?
Absolutely. No, I think you’re absolutely right. I do think that it’s a global problem that’s not going away. And I think leaning back on our regional partners, it’s super essential that we bring them into this conversation in the same way. But really the answer to this, I think, is the same as the answer to our own issues with income inequality, our own issues with housing, and our own issues with transportation and things like that. We need to be focusing on how do we build a better and sustainable city for everyone. So I think the answer to this for me is really housing policy. Like how do we have more affordable housing so we have an abundance of affordable housing so that people don’t have to sleep in the church basement or out on the streets?
If we solve that problem, we’ll solve more problems.
I also want to bring up the fact that according to city and non-profits, as well as several individuals that we’ve spoken to, a major attraction of Portland is Maine’s statewide general assistance law, which Governor Mills’ administration found asylum seekers as being eligible for. here. Here, legally as an asylum seeker, you get to qualify for this pretty broad assistance program, general assistance. The state legislature has said that they are going to be revising the state’s general assistance law. Is there anything that you as mayor would be trying to get them to change?
I would just want them to expand it more and to speed the process up. I think having it apply to asylum seekers is excellent and it’s essential, but how do we push it even farther? How do we get more for them and how do we speed the process up? That would be my two priorities.
An element that, you know, I’m just going to bring this up, is that as it stands with general assistance, the municipality directly pays for it, and then most of it gets reimbursed, by the city, it ends up being a bit of a or rather, most of it gets reimbursed by the state ends up being a bit of a split cost. Would you try to shift more of that cost onto the state so as not to put the burden on Portland alone? Or do you think that’s not necessary?
You know, I think it’s a good question. Because I guess there’s two ways of approaching it, right? You could try to increase the total amount that you get, keeping the percentage the same, so we have more resources, but we are still paying the same amount. And I guess what I would first do is try to assess what level of financial need there is. Like, to what extent is general assistance meeting the needs of the institutions and the people in Portland that are supporting these populations and these populations themselves? And that I think would direct my goal there. If we say, you know, it’s fine, we can get by, it’s okay. Then I’ll say, okay, let’s take more of the burden off Portland. But if they say it’s not even close to enough, then I would push for just a… higher total amount.
Okay, and the current government of Portland, under our beloved mayor, Kate Snyder, which I love that you printed that out by the way, the current government of Portland has requested that Governor Mills call in the National Guard to help deal with the rapidity and scale that asylum seekers have been arriving. It doesn’t seem like the state is going to comply, but is that something that you would want to pursue as well as mayor?
I think like we were saying before, like I would up to the extent that we find out it’s a total dead end. I sort of have an all hands on deck approach to both this and the issue of homelessness. Whereas if there’s a resource out here, let’s ask. We can absolutely always use more help on this. So I would continue that.
Right. Well, speaking of homelessness, I kind of want to move on to that topic, unless you had any burning thoughts on this. specifically.
I think I’m all set.
Okay. So yeah, like I said, this leads us directly into our next section, encampments and law enforcement.
Encampments and Law Enforcement
As most know, Portland has seen an enormous growth in homeless communities or encampments on public and private land in the city. The city recently cleared the Fore River encampment with many dozens of tents there. The state cleared the I-295 encampment. The Marginal Way encampment is currently being sort of under the telescope, under the microscope, I suppose. Yeah. And the state has indicated that they essentially will need to have that cleared by November. If the city doesn’t do it, they will. Portland is undoubtedly facing enormous leaps in cost of living, nobody denies that, but there have been many concerns about these encampments in terms of safety, in terms of health and hygiene, in terms of other disturbances. You state on your website that you want to eliminate homelessness by quote, “putting people in homes now.” So could you maybe elaborate a little bit on how you plan on doing that?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that, I mean, homelessness is… one of the main reasons I got into the race, and this proliferation of encampments, which is beyond what you know what is almost incomprehensible how we’re dealing with this level of destitution in the city. And so I do think it’s very important that we think of it as a solvable problem because it’s not a natural law. There’s no reason people need to be unhoused, it’s policy choices and it’s economic decisions. So anything that’s a policy choice or an economic choice can be reversed or it can be amended. So I think… When I say put people in homes now, what I’m talking about is further expanding housing first as an approach to this, which many people probably know about it. It’s been implemented in Portland to some extent. I would like to see that extended. It is widely regarded as the most effective way to disrupt chronic homelessness, and it’s also much more cost effective than other approaches, including the approach that we’re taking right now. So, when I talk about putting people in homes, that’s what I mean is that, you know, we’re… The goal doesn’t need to be more shelters or more mega shelters. It needs to be how do we build permanent non-market housing for people? Because getting them into those houses immediately is the best way that we can get rid of encampments.
You indicated that you would discourage further shelter expansion, preferring permanent housing, maybe transitional housing. There was a recent vote about expanding capacity at the homeless services shelter. Would it be safe to assume you opposed that?
That is such a tough one. And I watched that vote and it…
Specifically the vote was about instituting a state of emergency, a limited state of emergency around the shelter, which would allow them to expand the capacity, but continue.
Yeah, no, I think it was really, really… I mean, that was not an easy decision for anyone, I imagine. I think ultimately, I would have come out against it because of the testimony that I heard from people who work directly with these populations. But at the same time, it’s going to be cold soon. Winter is going to be here. So the thing that bothers me is not having a viable alternative in place. And I do think that I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to governance. I think that you have to really aim big and you have to be really clear about what the right thing to do is. But if this vote came up in a month and it’s colder, I might say yes if there’s nothing else in place.
Well, going back to the idea of preferring permanent housing to shelter expansion, I don’t think it takes a PhD in economics to realize that building a shelter, you can create more space for more bodies with less space and with less money. Would you be worried about losing that sort of economy of scale? Would you be worried about the fact that building individual homes or even group homes that that would just be a slower, more expensive process, ultimately leaving more people unhoused in the meantime.
Right. I think the issue I think why you see that is because shelters don’t solve homelessness. It’s a cyclical nature where you have a finite number of beds and you have a growing population of people who are unhoused because it’s not a system that allows them to successfully transition out of that system. So I think by focusing on how do we permanently reduce the number of unhoused people, ideally get that to zero would be the goal. then you don’t have a situation where you have a lot of people that are unsheltered because the space that you have right now is enough. And I think that what we have right now, I would not advocate for demolishing anything.
That would be… That would be a little much.
I can’t imagine you could run in Portland and be like, let’s tear down Homeless Shelter.
You could run… You could run for some neighborhood. You could bet. Honestly.
It’s true. Yeah. We’re going to find out. So to be clear, I think that I’m not in favor, I’m absolutely in favor of building greater capacity to house unsheltered people, but I really want to be careful that that kind of capacity that we’re building is facilitating this transition out of the housing. Because I think what we have right now is this revolving door where we’re never able to quite catch up to the number of people. The beds are never able to catch up to the number of people that need them.
And just to be clear, I’m not arguing with you. I’m just asking questions. I want to ask you the tough questions so that way, if people are wondering what your response would be, people can get that.
You also talk about spreading out the problem as opposed to the homeless services center, which is a very large shelter, which brings a lot of homeless people to one place. You talk about the idea that it should be more evenly spread around the city. Sort of getting it the same. question, it’s harder to build in certain places. I mean, part of why the Homeless Services Center was built where it was built is that it’s kind of easy to build out in that industrial land in District 5. How would you go about trying to spread this out evenly across Deering, the Peninsula? Do you have any strategy for that?
Yeah, I mean, this is a tough sell to folks, 100%. And I think it’s interesting the dynamic you saw with this shelter being built in housing, and excuse me, in District 5, and Mark Dion voting against it because of the promise he made to his constituents in that district to say, this is not going to be a place where we expand capacity over and over again. And I think that was a really interesting dynamic and one that we would be really well to observe because… Right now, I think it’s critically important to demonstrate to the public that we don’t have to build shelters that look like the ones we have. We don’t have to have the same associations with shelters that we have right now. So what we need to do is we need to say, we’re going to build a new type of housing that is going to be clean and affordable and fit with the character of the neighborhood. And we’re going to allow people to come and do it with no barriers and then become rehabilitated and transition in.
So I think the broad goal is have these transitional and housing first spaces well integrated in the city. But it’s absolutely a longer-term plan because you do have to get feedback and you have to get buy-in from people in these neighborhoods. And even people, you know, everyone I’ve talked to in Portland, even people that live next to the encampments and are really upset about them, rightfully so, they are still compassionate people. That is the number one thing that has stood out to me. Even when they are pushed to an extreme situation like they are, they still want to say, you know, I’m sorry. I know that these people need help and I want to see them get that. So that core of compassion is central to Portland. But it’s time for our approach to homelessness to honor that and say, we’re not going to plop down a shelter in your neighborhood that doesn’t get people out of homelessness. We’re going to build some nice new units and these people are going to become valued members of your community.
And I want to talk about this a bit more in the housing section, so we don’t need to get too deep into it. But I noticed that you’re saying, we’re going to build. Where, who exactly is “we” here?
Yeah, I think that’s another good question, because I think that one thing that we run into is this issue of, yeah, exactly. Who is going to build and why… Why does everyone need to make profit off of what they’re building?
Yeah, well, I mean, to bring up maybe some examples, obviously the city constructed the Homeless Services Center. Well, the city paid for it. The mayor wasn’t out there with a hammer. But that’s a direct city project. The new asylum seeker shelter, a shelter being built explicitly to serve asylum seekers, originally single male asylum seekers, but now I think it’s focusing on families. That is actually going to be managed by a nonprofit. It’s not going to be a city… but city staff are going to be there, boots on the ground, training people and helping it get set up. And then of course there is profit, for profit development. Just to provide you some examples. So when you’re talking about we’re going to build. Yeah. units for people that are currently unhoused around Portland? Who’s “we”? What are we doing here?
Yeah, I mean, I think it has to be a mix of city. It has to be a mix of nonprofit developers who have experience doing that. And there are, you know, there are funds for this. The amount that we spend on addressing the issue of homelessness right now, I forget what Danielle West was saying at this, at that meeting, but 30 million or something to that effect. I don’t quote me on that, but it’s a huge number obviously. So there are funds there, but. The issue is how do we reallocate them? And there are people that are experts in doing this, and we want to bring those people in. But I think that, so when I say we, I sort of tend to refer to Portland as the corporation, and I think of it that way, all of us together. But it would be a mix of city and private partners and figuring out the best way of distributing that in a way that feels fair.
Okay. I think you sort of indicated that you were not happy about the strategy currently being taken by the encampment crisis response team, which is an interdepartmental unit cooperating with non-profits that are involved to essentially target an encampment that’s deemed to have gotten too big or too out of control, set a resolution date, try to get everybody sheltered or housed that’s currently there, like have boots on the ground trying to assist people and get them to voluntarily leave, but then at that resolution date, wrap it up, sweep the camp. Do you approve of this strategy? How would you change it? Would you just roll the whole thing up?
I think I want to be careful with this because I know that people are working really, really hard on this. And my intention, if I’m calling attention to something, is never to demonize the people who are doing the work. These are really smart, passionate people or they wouldn’t be doing this work. The thing that I take issue with is the sweeping because I think that… sweeping actually becomes counterproductive to all of the work that people are doing on the ground in the encampments to make the kind of person-to-person connections that are necessary to rebuild trust so that people are able and willing to go into the shelters where people would obviously be better served rather than out in a marginal way. So I agree with the work that people are doing in the encampments.
The two things I would like to see changed are don’t put an end date for sweeps because different people are going to take different amounts of time to become comfortable. Every time you sweep, you reset the clock and you start over again. It’s just not effective in my mind. The second thing I would like to see is a much more robust data collection protocol. One of the issues that we’re facing is that we don’t have sufficient data to understand the scale and to get services to the individuals that need it. My feeling is that we don’t necessarily want to count the number of people that are homeless in terms of number of tents that are in an area. I would like to have, this is a list, an updated database of every person in Portland who’s experiencing homelessness, where they’re sleeping, what kind of support they need, what their challenges are. And that also plays into the issue of how do you get people to feel enough trust to transition into the shelters. Because to work off of anecdote and say, I hear that this, because what I hear is that people don’t feel safe or that they can’t bring their partner or their pet with them, for instance. But I wanna know, like, what does this one individual need and be able to keep track of that? Because ultimately this is person to person work, like every single person out there is a person who deserves respect and deserves to feel safe at night. And they don’t obviously right now. So I would like to see an end to finite sweep dates. And I would like to see more robust data collection.
I do sort of have to ask that if there is adequate shelter or transitional housing space for a person experiencing homelessness, so they have the ability within what is reasonable to move into a shelter or somewhere, some form of housing. But they would prefer to continue camping on public land. Should that be allowed or would they be obligated to move along?
To move into the sheltered space.
I think up to a limit. I think there’s absolutely a limit on this. If you stop clearing the encampments and you bring in the necessary resources to stabilize them to keep them safe and sanitary, and then you address these issues of trust and you get people into the kind of shelter that they need, and there are still people that for whatever reason don’t want to go in. I think at a certain point it would be okay to mandate. We can’t allow camping in public land. You do have to go to a housing first place or to the shelter or to this other place. But I really don’t want to see that applied except as a last resort. Because I think you have to think about how to reach these people as just individuals who are undergoing probably one of the most stressful things that an individual can undergo.
And I think we have to understand that to have the expectation on people that they’re going to get better or confront addiction or confront mental health without having a place to sleep, that I think is not reasonable. So I think I’m open to that conversation, but I really would only think of it as like a last resort. And really the key is like, is how… Are we, and I think we would have to have the requisite conversation of, have we actually established safe spaces for people? Because in my heart of hearts, I really don’t think anyone wants to sleep on the streets. I don’t think anyone grows up and decides that they want to become addicted to drugs and living on the streets or in a tent under the bridge. I really don’t think at a core level anyone wants that. I think that they’ve had their trust broken over years or over a lifetime by the system that they’ve been told to rely on. And I think that builds up in somebody and they become very, very skeptical of help and rightfully so sometimes. So that’s the approach that I come to it. But I am open to saying, you know, maybe some people need a more intensive kind of support that we can help them get not on the streets.
So you wouldn’t take the idea of forcing somebody to move completely off the table. You just think it’s being applied too readily now?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, the fact is that I have my own viewpoint on this. But if I continually hear from people, business owners, or people that are living near the really, really severe levels of homelessness that are occurring, and they tell me, “Dylan, we have done everything and it’s been months and there’s this group of people that are causing issues and they are not willing,” that’s going to change my approach. You know, because even if I have a personal belief that everybody is- wants stability and wants to be in society. I’m not going to allow sort of my personal belief at a certain point to know, as an elected rep, as an elected official, as the mayor, you have a responsibility, I think, to say, I might think this way about something. But this is the reality for my constituents. I have to respect that.
It’s the Quaker in you. Because, you know, you bring up that nobody really wants to be in these sorts of situations. And while I’m inclined to agree, I do think that for many people… The hard line is drugs, right? Like we don’t have to dance around it. Because that is… For potentially living with a partner, you know, people are trying to figure out how to make that work with shelters. For pets, people are trying to figure out how to make that work with shelters. For belongings and for curfews, to a large extent a lot of progress has already been made.
Nobody wants to allow drug use in shelters.
And so long as somebody is, wants to continue using drugs, does not want to accept resources for trying to quit, then a lot of them don’t want to go into shelters, at least from my experience with the subject. You ultimately think that that hardcore group does not represent, let alone a majority, of the people that are currently in these encampments.
No, I really think that that number could be zero. I really do. And I think that when we talk about people who don’t want to stop using drugs, for many people it’s not about a want. If you’re dealing with an addiction of that scale that has been untreated, and you’re dealing with the shame and the stigma and a lifetime of broken promises, it’s far beyond a want. It’s far beyond somebody wanting not to live with rules. It’s someone who has been deeply wounded by the rules that have been inflicted on them. And that’s something that is in my background, and I think I understand that at a really deep level. And I’ve lost friends to drug abuse and to drug addiction. And even at their darkest moments, they weren’t beyond saving. So I think that, you know, saving is the wrong word because that sort of implies like a power differential, you know, power over, which is something that I don’t agree with. But I do think that even if someone appears to somebody on the outside that they want to be doing these things, there is something really, really deep within them that is indestructible and can be reached with the proper amount of compassion and empathy.
I think you can save someone more powerful than yourself.
Not to, not to, not the point.
But I guess the thing about that is like you don’t want, in my opinion, you don’t want to show up and say, I’m here to save you. Because that takes away their agency. And that’s what has happened to these people over a lifetime. They’ve had their power taken away and they’ve had people who have had power over them in whatever capacity abuse that power. And so I guess I just, I like to be careful with the language, personally. This is how I approach.
For sure, for sure, for sure. And that wasn’t, it wasn’t a criticism.
No, totally, I appreciate it.
When you said it, it’s like, I started thinking like, hmm, is that, like, all right. Last thing I sort of want to bring up on this immediate subject is that in your platform, you talk about the idea of expanding the main crisis line. Tell me more about that if you have anything to elaborate on.
You absolutely. I think that as someone who has experienced really severe depression and mental health challenges in my life, the last thing I would have needed at that moment was an intervention from a police officer. Because at that point you have this power over dynamic being set up again, where it’s I am now going to have my power taken away. I’m going to be institutionalized. I’m going to be locked up, whatever it is. And I think for someone who is experiencing an acute mental health crisis, you need an absolutely different approach to that, which is, I think, something that the crisis line represents. And frankly, it’s not fair to the responding police officer either. That’s not their training, and I really don’t think that it should be.
So I think that how many calls could we divert from 911, from the police, if we had a robust system of peer counselors and trained social workers that could respond to people that are going through a severe state. And I think, you know, that initial compassionate stabilization has enormous benefits to the city, but also for reestablishing that trust. Because if somebody has just been arrested or had summons issued to them for behavior at an encampment, for instance, and then I come to them the next day and say, hey, you have to go to the shelter because we have space. They’re going to say, well, I’m just going to see more cops there. I’m just going to get in more trouble there. But if they had had this crisis and they had had a group of people that showed up without expectation, without handcuffs and help them stabilize, that’s going to soften that next conversation I have with them. And maybe they’re going to see the shelter in a different light. So I think it has huge benefits for the whole community.
All right. And the other sort of half of this, which we’ve sort of been addressing obliquely, is law enforcement. In a recent, pretty emotional vote on the city council, councilors Phillips, Trevorrow and Pelletier voted against giving the Portland Police Department what had been an expected raise. Now you obviously are not on the city council, you didn’t have any say in that, but do you feel as though law enforcement is adequately compensated in Portland right now?
No, I think that if I have issues with policing, it’s structural issues. It’s not about the individual officers who are absolutely overworked and being asked to do things that are not their job. And I think if we want to attract really, really good people I think a raise should definitely be on the table. Because I think that in my mind, this kind of sets up this, this can become an issue where people start to feel that there’s this false scarcity where it’s like, oh, we can’t pay police officers more because we need to. do this and paying a police officer more represents some kind of tacit endorsement of the structural problems in policing, which is something that I don’t agree with. I acknowledge that there are structural problems in policing, but I don’t think that giving an individual officer a raise contributes to those structural problems.
Yeah. And your platform, I don’t think I saw anything to do with law enforcement, but you did just mention potentially addressing structural issues. Did you have anything to say on that?
Yeah, I think the way that I think about that is what laws are sort of selectively enforced. And again, this doesn’t come down to a specific officer very often, but we’ve obviously seen on a national level there are issues of systemic racism in police departments. And maybe again, maybe this is the Quaker in me, but I don’t like to think of that as an individually racist police officer acting out because they hate someone. I tend to think about which laws are being enforced, who wrote these laws, what are the basis of these laws, and going back farther and farther, and generally these laws are designed to promote and protect the interests of capital rather than people, generally, is my perspective on it. So I think that acknowledging that there are structural issues of racism and structural issues of classism in the police structure is something that we would do really well to start to have a conversation on. And I think that we have been blessed in Portland so far by a very good police response. And we haven’t had a lot of issues of structural racism in Portland, specifically. But I do think that we can really take it even farther and say, how do we lean more into community policing? How do we build trust between the police and communities and look away from policing as a punitive thing and more of a preventative thing?
Thank you. Do you have any other thoughts on homelessness or law enforcement before we move on?
I think we covered it mostly.
ReCode, Land Use, and Housing
Okay. Moving on to section 4, which is one of the most obvious and direct things that cities do, one of the most common ways people interact with cities, which is about land use. So, ReCode, land use and housing. Portland has seen skyrocketing housing costs over the last several years, both in house prices and in rent. By most reckonings, we’re in a massive housing shortage, with vacancy rates in the city hitting 40-year lows. A recent study showed that to get costs under control, Maine needs 84,000 new homes by 2030. A number of policies have been enacted at the state and at the local level, both by electeds and by referendum, to try and address this crisis. You’ve made it a major part of your policy platform. You’ve brought it up a couple times already. There’s plenty to talk about here. But first, I want to ask, do you agree that there’s a shortage of housing in Portland, or is that the wrong way to characterize it?
No, I think there’s absolutely a shortage of housing in Portland and the state writ large. I saw that study, I mean, that’s staggering. Eighty four thousand units. I mean, it’s unbelievable. So, yes, we are absolutely in a shortage. And I think we’ll talk about in the future. One thing that I often bring up with the idea of a shortage is that. It’s also a shortage, but we also have to look at the underlying power dynamics that we would be at risk of replicating in our housing stock if we don’t diversify the ownership structure of new units. So yes, we’re in a shortage. And also, let’s think about who is going to own and control the new units we build.
And who’s going to build them?
And who’s going to build them.
So with that in mind, talking about ownership and who’s going to build, who’s going to be a stakeholder here, in your mind is the best way to ameliorate the shortage, both here in Portland, where it would be safe to say the shortage is probably most acute and in the state as a whole?
I think a few ways that I’m thinking about the first is that we’ve heard this at the debates a few times, but the permitting process can absolutely be reformed to make it much, much speedier. I’ve heard that from a lot of people out on the campaign trail, and I think that’s a pretty low hanging fruit that we can go for. So I think broadly speaking, I think of this in two categories. What are the quick or quicker regulatory things that we can do to boost supply and bring down costs? And then what are the long-term sort of structural things we can do? So I think that changing the permitting process goes in that first bucket, like what is a quick low-hanging thing that we can do.
I think in that same bucket is looking at the inclusionary zoning, and specifically what are we requiring of developers that are building here in Portland? I think one thing that really stands out to me in the inclusionary zoning is the fee in lieu of structure and also the percentage of new units that we require to be affordable when it comes to building new residential or new hotels, for instance. And I think we have to be clear that we’re really not getting enough from either of those structures. I would really like to see those changed. And I think the other thing that we need to think about here is how do we actually innovate in terms of building technology? How can we look at new, novel ways of building that get around some of the logjams that we’ve had in the construction industry recently. So for instance, the University of Maine has something called the Advanced Composites Lab, where they’re working on 3D printing houses with cellulose material. We should be partnered with them. Absolutely. We should partner with the Roux Institute on things like this. We should say, what are the blockers? And like, what is the fastest way that we can build up quality housing? So I think that we have to be clear to think about how do we get ahead of these market forces that slow everything down. So I think that looking at alternative building technologies is a good way of doing that.
And you brought up a few things that I want to explore a bit in more detail. So you brought up inclusionary zoning, IZ, which is a policy…
“IZ,” I like it.
A policy which mandates a certain percentage of units in new construction be made permanently available below market prices while not affecting already existing buildings. IZ was instituted in Portland several years ago. At first, it required 10% of units to be made quote unquote affordable for someone earning 100% of average median income for the area. In 2020, the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, I’ll be calling them the DSA going forward, sponsored a referendum which strengthened that very strongly, making 25% of units be available at just 80% AMI, average median income. This is already one of the strongest IZ policies in the country. St. Paul was competing for a while, but they got undercut by the city council because they there, city councils can amend referendums. So this is definitely one of the strongest IC policies in the country, and it’s been blamed by some for a slowdown in construction, mostly by industry voices. Others say that it’s too early to tell. There’s a lot going on. The data, we don’t have enough data yet. You want to take it even further and require 50% of the units to be made available. From reading your platform, it seems like at some number, even less than 80% of AMI, I don’t think you specify an exact number. Do you think that this will produce many units for people to actually purchase or rent?
Absolutely. I absolutely do. And I think that I’m really proud that we have one of the strongest in the nation. We have to take it farther. Because we look at what’s happening. I have absolutely seen those sort of industry voices. And that sets up a dynamic that I think is really harmful to the discourse in general on this topic, which is how do we create the conditions in which someone who wants to make a profit will be incentivized to produce an outcome that we want as a community. It’s a very, very long-winded way of saying that. I’m fairly skeptical of indirect solutions when I think that there are direct solutions to things. So I think that we should absolutely aim for 50. And I think, yeah, I haven’t specified a specific number because I think we should have a process to figure out what is actually affordable for folks. And in general, when we think about housing policy, I think we should be aiming. with someone who has less resources in mind. How do we make this affordable for somebody who is just getting by versus somebody who might have a good job but… still qualifies for some of these things. So yes, I do think that this is going to produce more housing and more housing that we need that’s at the right level. And I think this comes back to the idea of, are we as a city, as a community, getting enough for the concessions that we’re making in terms of what we are allowing to be built in our city? So if you look at 385 Congress Street, which is that huge hotel that’s going up next to City Hall across from the other huge hotel, right?
You brought up the new hotel going up on Congress Street. Now, hotels actually aren’t affected by IZ right now. Excuse me, and the condo element of it was actually reduced to just nine units for the first stage in order to avoid triggering IZ, which of course starts at 10 units. Would you try to expand this to include hotels as well?
Absolutely. Anytime a hotel is being built, you’re displacing potential housing. And especially when we have a situation where we’re building more luxury hotels. The entire reason I got in the race was because I would see luxury hotels being built next to people sleeping on the streets. And there was something very, very wrong with that at a fundamental level. And I think that we should absolutely expand that to hotels. And we need to be really clear that Portland is a wonderful place. People want to come here. There are always going to be tourists that come to Portland. But it’s time that we start looking at these resources as resources for the whole community. Not just a tiny group of stakeholders who are benefiting from them. And I think that to this point, I think to a confident… And so let me be clear here.
I’m not naive to the fact that some developer might hear 50% and be like, “this guy is nuts. He has no idea what he’s talking about.” But there’s a few things going on here. The first is that, and I say this on my website, I want to be just really clear that when I’m articulating policy positions at this stage, I’m articulating what I think should happen from a practical and often a moral standpoint.
It’s absolutely aspirational. And my idea is that I really don’t believe that you should prematurely negotiate yourself down from a position. Especially when the stakes are so high. You know, if the difference between 50% and 45% is 100 people that now have a place to live, those are huge stakes. And I have an obligation to those people to really stand on the line of what I think is necessary. However, I’m not dogmatic about a number in that sense. I wanna be clear about what I think is reasonable and push it forward, but I’m not gonna say, oh, well, you offered 45, well, No, sorry, we’re only going to take…
So the numbers are more like laying down that you are going into this with a hard bargain. That’s exactly right.
And because I feel that Portland so far has been on the other end of a hard bargain. I think if you think about the idea, I mean, I don’t know that it would be an unreasonable moral position to have to say 100% of units must be designated affordable until we’re out of this shortage. That’s not my position, but I wouldn’t fault someone for having that position. And I think the real issue here that I see is that Portland has been on the wrong side of this hard negotiating. And we’ve allowed business interests, often not even from Maine, not even from the US to some extent, to really use Portland as a piggy bank and to extract an enormous amount of wealth out of our community. And then what we’re left dealing with is we’re left dealing with these global and national issues that coalesce in Portland and then we have other forces at the national and global level extracting the resources out of Portland that we should be using to deal with these enormous problems. And I think that, you know, inclusionary zoning is one way that we can start to tip that balance the other direction.
And to be clear, to make this work, there’s two things. I think you absolutely have to have a regional front on this. So there’s a lot of requisite work to bring this vision to the people of greater Southern Maine. Because you don’t want to have people say, well, I’m never going to build in Portland. I’ll just go to Westbrook. I’ll go to Scarborough, whatever. You don’t want to have this. competition between municipalities to see who can be the most obsequious to the financial interests of some banks in New York or something. So you have to have a regional approach to this. And the second thing is, you know, we had talked about earlier, you know, who’s…
Well, I actually want to pick that apart a little bit because due to the way that New England, since the days of Puritans have settled here in this part of the country, Maine and all of New England has these relatively small, coherent towns that, as you stated, under the current system of things, they do sort of compete with one another. And if Portland is asking too much, they don’t have to go very far. They cross the million-dollar bridge to South Portland. They go two miles north to Falmouth. They go a little bit inland to Westbrook. So it’s a huge ask for businesses and developers and other actors to go somewhere else. So I appreciate that you acknowledge that problem, but how would you stop Westbrook or Scarborough or any of these other towns from just under bidding in terms of policy here?
I think it’s exactly what we talked about at the very beginning, which is helping arrive at a shared vision of the problem, or I guess a shared accounting of the problem and the stakes, and then articulating a shared vision. I really think that if we as a community, as a state, have any chance of getting ahead of these things that we’ve talked about before, we cannot compete with each other in terms of trying to undercut the policy positions of other towns that are right next to us. These are our neighbors.
And here’s the issue. These things are concentrated largely in Portland right now, talking about asylum seekers, talking about the unhoused people. There’s a certain point at which that will no longer be the case, just geographically. So the thing is, you’re seen in Portland first, is not gonna stay in Portland. I think that people in these communities absolutely understand that. And they have the shared interests with everyone in Portland. And I think they have a shared value system at a deep level. You know, they wanna preserve what is so special about Maine. And that’s really what is at stake here if we don’t get ahead of these things.
So to use maybe an appropriate analogy, it almost sounds like you want to engage in some collective bargaining with other towns.
Absolutely. And that’s a good analogy, actually.
Okay. Interesting. We’ll see how it goes. I want to bring up a couple different elements of your platform together here because they resonate together when I was reading through it. You bring up, quote, critically examining the ownership structure of existing housing stock, unquote. Your platform includes information about encouraging property owners to convert rental units into co-op condos, which is actually somewhat against some of the left-wing referendums that have been coming up recently. You also say that the city ought to discourage out-of-state ownership or ownership of multiple properties. All of these sort of weave together a theme of pretty radically rethinking, at least a major shift, of how people can own property in Portland. Would you say that’s right?
I think ideally that’s what I’m going for.
Okay. I mean, is there a, I guess I just, I’m trying to tease us apart. I mean, I could, I could just ask you very specific questions about these proposals and maybe I plan to, but is there in brief a sort of underlying… like, I’m looking for a key. I’m looking for a key to decode this because beyond just the idea of addressing the shortage, addressing affordability issues, it seems like you almost may have a particular vision or ownership that I’m trying to unpack here.
Yeah, no, it’s a great question. I will do my best to give that key out as best as I understand it. For me, the real key to what’s happening in Portland, my general philosophy of governance and myself as an individual, has to do with powerlessness. And my general philosophy here, and what I am trying to articulate is that I don’t think that anyone should have power over anyone else. And I think a critical issue is that many are economic and political systems do the opposite. They take power and they concentrate it in the hands of a few people. So whenever I’m trying to articulate an issue on anything, whether it’s homelessness, asylum seekers, housing. that’s really the core of it is how do I help foster personal agency and power versus a situation in which people are lacking control over their lives. So is that helpful in terms of key?
Yeah, I think it is actually. Now I’m going to pick you apart.
Please bring it.
Not pick you apart, but in the sense of like I want to tackle this more directly. So first of all, I mentioned this when you bring up the idea of encouraging or facilitating the idea of apartment, like an apartment building, being transformed into permanent ownership, a condo owned cooperatively by its residents. When I was reading that, the first thing I thought of is that. This is an interesting conversion to a condo, but it’s ultimately a conversion to a condo. It’s taking a building and converting it into permanent housing away from rental units.
And the DSA’s recent referendums instituted a very punishing fee for converting rental units into condos. And I think that’s done with the motivation that they want to preserve as many rental units as possible because to them, being a renter, they care about renters. They want to, in their own way, try to protect renters. Whereas it sounds like you’re more interested in trying to help people no longer be renters. Would that be an accurate characterization?
Absolutely. As long as that’s what they want.
So would you try to carve out an exemption there in the condo conversion fee if it’s cooperatively owned?
Absolutely. Yeah. I view that as sort of an extension of what a tenant’s union might accomplish. My sort of thought on this is that I think that there are many more people who would like to buy but are not able to due to market conditions in Portland. So what I’m trying to get at with this is how do we empower any individual who wants to buy to access this? And realistically, this is, you know, as far as mechanisms to build lasting wealth and financial security that are available to the working class. Home ownership is one of the few, and I think that there’s a large push to convert, to make permanent renting something that is widely applicable. And if somebody wants that for themselves, that’s great. But I do think that if we allow that to happen, we deprive an entire generation of what has previously been the core wealth building mechanism that was available to their parents. So I think that’s something that I think about too.
Yeah, that was interesting reading your platform because I got the sense that, okay, you’re approaching this somewhat differently than the dominant left-wing anti-capitalist movement in Portland has done. Interesting. And actually on that note, you also brought up in your platform a proposed homebuyer assistance program. What would that look like?
I think it would be on top of the federal programs that are available. So like on top of the federal programs. first time home buyer or something like that. And essentially, it would be locally administered and it would be available to people that are buying homes in Portland to help streamline some of the fees or to help them reduce a down payment. It’s really along that same theme of like, how do I take somebody who has barriers to home ownership, whether it’s not having money saved up or whether it’s not being able to afford the fees or whatever it is, and how does the city help with those things to get them into that position?
Interesting. And as for discouraging out-of-state ownership. Things get real constitutional here real fast due to a little thing called the Commerce Clause. But, short of that, what sort of policies do you have in mind here? Or would it just be purely a cultural thing?
No, yeah, it’s a good question. I think that… one thing that will definitely happen if I’m elected as mayor is I will become very close with the corporate council because I will probably be in his office asking, can we do this? Is there a legal mechanism by which we can accomplish this? Because I’m very comfortable being right up against that edge if I think that there is a moral imperative to do so. And so I think… To run into this from a cultural perspective feels a little scary to me, because I don’t want to encourage xenophobia or something like that. But I would want to explore how can we implement something similar to what they’ve done in Vancouver, BC and Canada, for instance, to outlaw or essentially to put a moratorium on foreign ownership of residential property or certainly residential property that contains a lot of units. And the goal here is…
And foreign ownership, excluding… to be using a legal term, aliens that are actually in the United States. So that’s not what you mean.
Can you clarify that?
So, for example, while asylum seekers are in the United States lawfully, in the sense that they are allowed to stay, they are under a legal term still, aliens, in the fact that they are foreigners in the eyes of the law. I assume that’s not what you mean.
That’s correct. Yeah, no, that’s not. The real goal is I don’t want to get into a situation in which real estate assets in Maine become part of a financial portfolio for a company in China or somewhere else because that sets up a very dangerous power dynamic in my mind. So that’s the goal, something like that.
So you’ll be going and asking them to get creative again down in the Corporation counsel department.
This might be a constant refrain when I’m there.
Okay, I mean, that’s… that’s allowed. Moving on. As you know, the city has been undergoing a very long term effort to reform its land use code called ReCode. For those who aren’t aware, the land use code is the list of discretionary laws which dictate what property owners can and can’t do what they can and can’t build on their land. To be clear, we’re not talking about safety regulations. That’s different. Fire and accessibility are listed somewhere else. The land use code is what determines what sorts of housing can be built where, usually with an eye to limiting the size of new construction so as to preserve the character or the predictability of neighborhoods, essentially. One element of your platform which interested me is the elimination of mandatory parking minimums so people can still build parking spots if they want to, but they would no longer have to under the law if you’re building, you have to build parking spots. What other proposals do you have for the ReCode process?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that… For me, the North Star is how do you allow people to build more housing? So this idea of like, how can we get density that works for people? So ADUs, things like that, incentivizing that makes a lot of sense. You know, frankly, I think a lot of what was proposed on the Urbanist Coalition website makes a lot of sense. And I think that that would be, you know, you guys would be… Sorry, I don’t know mean to call you as a member.
I am a member of the Urbanist Coalition of Portland. This is not related to that in any way, of course, but I did see you actually at a meeting there. It was good to have you as a visitor. Check out Urbanist Coalition of Portland on the web.
Well, it was honestly a great resource, and I was so happy to attend. Somebody handed me a flyer on the street, and I was like, this is awesome. To see people that are that passionate about zoning and have broken it down in a way that is super user-friendly, it was super, super helpful. At the risk of just repeating the Urbanist Coalition’s website, I think a lot of the ideas on there are really good. And they have at their core the same idea of gentle density. How do we create the opportunities for people to build more in a way that’s more accessible? And really the proposals are quite modest in my mind. Nobody is talking about, let’s throw a 60 unit next to grandma’s house. In terms of parking minimums was sort of, it was the first thing that I went to. And then from there, I think I really, I do think that many of the proposals that the Urbanist Coalition has put forward are good in terms of reducing setbacks or allowing neighborhoods to do that, to allow a fourth unit on top of a three unit, to raise the ceiling. I mean, all these things I think are good.
Yeah, excellent. So, I mean, it sounds like you’d be open to some pretty creative, again, creative ideas.
And the current ReCode priority, you know, something that has been brought up in various neighborhood forums, at these ReCode meetings, and the Urbanist Coalition, among the planning staff, the current ReCode priority, seems to be primarily built around further densifying the peninsula, further building up the peninsula, which is already relatively the most dense part of the city, while preserving as much as possible the suburban character of the rest of the city. I live on the peninsula and it’s been suggested by some of my neighbors that the peninsula is well built up enough and that frankly we should be expecting more of the off-peninsula neighborhoods to reach parity. Do you have any opinion on this dichotomy? It’s not exclusive, of course. Do you think that it makes sense to move the focus off-peninsula, or should we keep it where it’s at in order to potentially get the most growth possible?
I mean, I think that makes a lot of sense what people on the peninsula are saying. And I’m very open to the idea of, let’s look at off-peninsula. And I think that’s actually a huge opportunity for growth in a way that is really positive. I see this as a resident of… I guess North Back Cove is what the realtors call it. I’m not that close to Back Cove, but I’m up there. And I have been going to a neighborhood group called Friends of Allen’s Corner, which wants to take a look at Allen’s Corner, which is one of the worst intersections in Portland. It’s the one, there’s two dollar stores there. People fly by 40 miles an hour or whatever. And it’s interesting because if you go right around the corner, there is this huge office complex with an enormous parking lot, and then there’s Shaw’s with an equally enormous parking lot, neither of which are ever close to full. They’re just these huge heat sinks that displace housing and they displace trees.
So I think that just looking at areas like that off peninsula or areas that are used for industrial light at this point, and it can maybe be repurposed into someplace where we can build housing. So yes, I think that- Off-peninsula is a huge opportunity to look at density, but I think it’s also a huge benefit for those communities off-peninsula because when you build this stuff, if we do it right, you’re also going to get nicer streets. You’re going to get green spaces and you’re going to get trails and stuff. So I think that I would love to see some more density in my neighborhood.
Cute little coffee shops.
Exactly, because that’s the thing, we don’t have a coffee shop up there.
Yeah, I always think of it as the Taco Bell corner.
It’s exactly that, the Taco Bell corner. And then there’s a marijuana dispensary on the corner.
But it’s the Taco Bell corner, because that’s the only Taco Bell. There’s a marijuana dispensary on every GD corner of the city.
I don’t know how we can support more. When I saw that go up, I was like, really? And this is no offense to the business owner, let me be clear, but what? There’s one around the corner. They’re putting a funeral home up there too. So you go Taco Bell, you get your weed, and then you go to the funeral home. One-stop shop.
Oh my God. I mean, there’s probably a market for a drive-thru dispensary.
They converted an old gas station into the dispensary. So I have no idea if it’s going to be drive-thru.
You pull up to the pump, attendant comes out.
Right. It’s full service as they say, you know.
Okay, we’re not a comedy podcast.
This is serious.
This is serious.
All right. You talk about invigorating the Portland Housing Development Corporation.
How would you go about doing that? Do you have any relationships there already or would this be coming in with a jackhammer and telling people to get to work?
You know, maybe I would call it the empathetic jackhammer. Just to be clear, my approach to any establishing any new relationships is 100% to honor and acknowledge the work that people are already doing. My thesis in this campaign has never been that people aren’t doing enough or aren’t working hard enough. It has purely been there are structural blockers in our system that are preventing people from accomplishing what they want to despite working so hard. And that’s what the same thing I think about with this issue is that we really want to empower the work that’s already being done. And the name of the game with that is, how do we get more resources for them? And one thing I’d like to talk about with them and with the community as a whole is, what if we built some municipally controlled construction capacity? What if we had the ability, so when we ask the question, who’s gonna build it?
We could build it ourselves. We could have this as a pipeline for folks that are getting back into the workforce or new asylum seekers. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. And just not to backtrack too much, but I also think that’s in another sort of plank. When you talk about increasing what we’re asking in terms of inclusionary zoning, we have to have a backstop there, which is to say, we have our own corporation that is going to build affordable housing, and we would love to have you as part of the process, but these are our requirements. And if you’re not able to do that with your financing partners, we’re going to be able to do it. So I would want to talk about how do we expand what they’re able to do in this sense. And that would be one thing that I would bring to them and see what their thoughts about it were.
Kind of a public option for housing.
Absolutely. I think that’s essential.
You mentioned earlier about there being funding for this. I feel as though this would cost a lot, not to dismiss the idea, but do we actually have the funds already or would we be trying to… have a municipal bond on the matter or a revenue bond even? How are we going to pay for that?
Yeah, and so it’s a great question. I think that, and this is often what comes up, I think that if I were to sit out here and say, oh, we have the money, we’re just not using it. Anyone who’s doing the work would be like, “What are you talking about, Dylan? We are so cash strapped. We are squeezing every ounce of productivity out of the very limited funds we have.” I work in a nonprofit. I understand that mentality totally. So what I want to do is I want to think about how can we introduce new revenue streams to the city of Portland? And it comes back to me to this issue of who are the players in Portland that are benefiting enormously, but are not paying in their fair share?
And so one thing I want to look at is how do we implement a local corporate wealth tax, essentially, look at the players that are here that are making enormous amounts of money. I don’t want to say off the backs of Portlanders, but these are the people that… They are staffed by people who work in Portland and live in Portland. They take advantage of our municipal services, roads, all of the amazing things about Portland. I want to say, how do we implement that to introduce an entirely new revenue stream? I think the issue that there’s so much that we need to do and we need more resources to do it. I’m not naive about that. That’s the first thing I would look at is how do we get these people to pay in more so that we can do the things we know we need to do?
Okay. And I will have some follow-up questions about that a little bit later. Airbnb, short-term rentals. They’ve been a hot topic of discussion in Portland. There have been many attempts to regulate it by referendum, so far all unsuccessful. New York City just recently implemented what amounts to a total ban on Airbnb in city limits. Critics claim that it takes away long-term housing stock and it worsens the housing shortage. Others doubt that it makes much of a difference either way. Some people say, “makes me money, back off.” Would you do anything as mayor to change about how Airbnb is regulated by the city?
This is something that I would approach. It’s not my major priority. I don’t think it is the thing that is causing the housing crisis.
That’s another thing as well, not to distract you from your point, but I feel as though I think it would be fair to say you’re the most left-wing candidate in the mayoral race, but you’ve been a different flavor than I think a lot of people are used to in terms of what your priorities are, but continue.
Sure. No, and I’d be happy to come back to that. So I think that banning short-term rentals that are not owner-occupied makes sense. I don’t have any issue with somebody who is renting out a room or getting some extra income that way. But I do support… I mean, I think the first thing on this is enforcement, which has come up several times, which is how many of these unlisted situations are taking place that we don’t know about. So let’s get the enforcement under control, even if that’s working directly with Airbnb to say, hey, We need to have some kind of authentication mechanism here so that we can be sure that we know who’s renting. And then I would be open to banning all non-owner occupied short-term rentals until we have this under control.
But it hasn’t been a major priority for you in terms of devising policy.
No, I don’t tend to think of it as a structural driver of the housing crisis. I think it is something that is adding to it to some extent, but it’s not-
That’s my assessment of it.
You wouldn’t be alone in that assessment. Well, that’s really all I have. Did you have any other thoughts about housing policy in Portland and what you would try to do as mayor?
I think we covered everything as far as housing that I would like to talk about.
Great, then let’s move into our last couple sections.
Transportation and Infrastructure
Connected to housing is transportation and infrastructure. I don’t have too many things here and it doesn’t seem to be a major part of your campaign. Do you have any strong ideas on transportation or infrastructure that have been consuming some of your thought space since designing your platform?
Yeah, it’s a great question because I think as you accurately identified, that wasn’t one of the core reasons I got into the race. It was these other big drivers. And this is really the power of local politics maybe is that as I’ve been out talking to people and asking them not just what they want to see but why it’s important to them, I’ve sort of been swayed to understand that transportation, multimodal transportation, bicycle safety, are really core issues for a lot of people that are really, you know, very important to them. And that has really made me consider it, you know, as something that I would be much more open to prioritizing. And so I think that largely so far, I’ve thought about it in terms of zoning and how can we build in protected bike lanes and better crosswalks and slower streets and street trees and things like that into our zoning and land use policies to create these conditions. So it’s actually been kind of a… a change in me personally to see how important it’s been to people and then just start to think about it more.
I appreciate you sort of talking about what you’ve learned throughout this whole process because every candidate has learned things throughout this process. But some people want to act like they haven’t. So I appreciate that.
To ask you just a couple more specific questions, parking. Portland has a lot of street parking. In a recent city council vote, there was a bit of a painful discussion about whether or not to expand the free island parking for island residents. You know, in the very desirable area of downtown Portland, there’s always talk about putting meters up in new spots or taking meters away or expanding the area where people with permits can park. Do you think that Portland underutilizes its resources in terms of raising revenue based on parking?
I would say that not in general. My fear in… raising revenue or raising the rates for parking meters –
Or expanding enforcement hours.
Right, exactly. Is that that would be an undue burden on working class people, which is something that I’m probably clearly concerned about. One thing that I would like to see in this regard is asking the question of why do we have and why do we allow private parking lots to take up enormous amounts of space and gouge people for huge prices. So I think that one alternative way that we could raise more money from a city level is to take over these private parking lots and maybe redevelop some of them into something that’s much more useful. But if we’ve left a few of them that would give us additional spaces for revenue without having to raise the rates.
So, disallow private parking and potentially offer some sort of buyout?
I think so. I think that if we want to be really honest, does this add to the character of our community? Who’s benefiting from having a really expensive parking lot in Portland?
Well, the people that get paid.
Yeah, no, I feel like everybody has at least one bad experience with the private parking lot, and you’re not the first one to bring these up.
I’m glad. I’m glad. Yeah, it’s wild.
Because I think a lot of people think. that they’re somehow connected to the government.
And so people will sometimes, you know, complain to the city, being like, hey, you scammed me out of $50 or whatever. But no, nothing to do with that. What about any other city owned assets, which you may feel are… That the city could be taking better advantage of, whether it’s the park and rides, or whether it’s the parks and the public spaces that the city owns…
Yeah, I mean, I really think we’re really blessed to have really nice parks here, and I would love to see an expansion of them. One thing that’s sort of, in the course of me, sort of learning more about transportation that’s become kind of a pocket issue for me is I would love to see more interconnected greenways between parks. So where I live right now in Portland is a really nice area. I think like, I like it. It’s a little, it’s funny. I was like, I don’t know if other people would think it’s nice. It’s eclectic, I’ll say. And it’s like, both of my neighbors have been there in their same houses for 35 years. So I feel really privileged to live there, but it’s really difficult to walk to a park.
You have to go out and walk along Washington Ave and it’s really loud. And I wouldn’t want to take a baby or a dog or something, you know, that way. So I would love to see, obviously, an expansion of parks. I think what we just did in North Deering is great. Working with the Trust for Public Land is a fantastic organization. One of my best friends works there. So expanding the number of parks, but also expanding the ways that people get to the parks. I think I would love to see that.
Kind of reminds me of the Bayside Trail.
That does involve going by the sewer plant though.
That’s, you know, sadly, it’s true.
What would you do to encourage the use and expansion of the greater Portland metro system, the buses, if that’s even something you care about?
No, I think it’s a great asset for Portland. And I think that increasing the frequency is the number one thing so that people are able to get to rely on it to get to a job, essentially, or that they can not worry that they miss their bus. They’re going to be stranded. or have to take an Uber or something like that.
Now, Metro isn’t purely a city thing. It’s a bit of a regional thing, but would you want to see a greater frequency even at the expense of longer routes that reach more places?
I see, so like if there’s a trade-off between…
Yeah, I mean, usually there is.
I would say my position on that is I would want to get it right in a potentially smaller area first. And that would mean having more frequent trips to demonstrate to people that Metro is great and it’s a great alternative to car transportation. And I think once you establish that reputation for Metro and expand on it, because the people I know that love the Metro, but once you expand on that and it has this reputation, it’s going to be easier to expand that because people are going to want it. They’re going to say, I know how great Metro is and on the peninsula, for instance, how do we get that out to North Deering? So I think let’s show that we can do it really, really well first and then expand it if we can.
Makes a lot of sense. Really, that’s kind of all I had. Did you have any other thoughts on transportation or infrastructure that you wanted to add? You talked a little bit about the idea of infrastructure in terms of climate change earlier.
Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. And that’s something that I work with every day. It’s very close to my mind and my work. And then this is unfortunately another thing that is not originating in Maine, but is being felt very acutely. I mean, I don’t know if most people know that the Gulf of Maine is warming 95% faster than the rest of the ocean. So this is really-
I did not know that.
It’s really, yeah, it’s really severe. My friend Adam is about to put out another warming report. Thanks, Adam. To be clear, what I’m saying is not the position of GMRI, which is my employer. It’s my own personal and probably my prepper instincts where I’m like, we need to be prepared. But no, I really do think that we should do a… municipal vulnerability assessment really, really soon to see what is going to be underwater, what are the critical things and what are the businesses that are going to be impacted by this and who are already being impacted by this. So I think of climate in terms of mitigation and prevention. When it comes to zoning, I think you actually have to have both depending on what you’re talking about. If you’re talking about Back Cove or Commercial Street, you have to take into account that the water level is going to be much different. in a couple of years, 20 years down the line. So I think that focus on the immediate things that need to be done, but how do we reduce carbon in general from a zoning perspective, I think is a really good question to ask and encouraging multimodal transportation and Metro is a great way of doing that.
Now this final section you do have a lot more to talk about, which is business and labor.
Business and Labor
Certainly this is the area in which you’re most forceful I think looking at your platform, especially compared to other candidates. “Worker power,” that’s a quote, that’s it’s a key refrain in your platform. Let me open with this. You suggest raising the minimum wage to a living wage. What would this be in dollar figures?
I think that I don’t have a dollar figure for it yet. I would want to get feedback from the community first and understand. And that’s why I’m sometimes a little hesitant to say this is my like hard line number, you know –
Except for 50%.
Except for 50%. Yeah, that’s right. I was pretty clear on that. That’s a good point. Um. But basically, I would want to see what is the gap? And this part of this goes back to the type of housing we’re building. Because if we’re not able to affect the affordability of housing, the minimum wage question is going to be different. It’s going to need to be higher if we’re not able to bring down the cost of housing. So it’s tied into these other things. And I would want to solicit feedback from people that are right on that edge and say, what do you need to live comfortably? And then figure out what it is with that.
To go back to something that you were bringing up earlier, you also proposed that large corporations actually pay into and subsidize small businesses’ payrolls to help them afford this potential bump in pay as well as in general, you know, paying in your words, sort of their fair share. How is a distinction being made here between large corporations, out of state corporations, as opposed to local businesses? Like what yardstick are we using here?
Yeah, I mean, there are two, there’s revenue, and then there’s number of employees. And so I think that this is probably, you know, it’s important to get right, but I don’t think it’s a particularly hard line to draw. I think you can look at somebody who owns a small coffee shop or something that has 10 employees, and then you can look at somebody who owns Whole Foods, owns Trader Joe’s, whatever it is, and then say, okay, like, how do we use the revenue that is being generated in Portland by these larger corporations and use that to the advantage of these smaller corporations. Because what my goal in establishing this was to try to get away from this dichotomy that occurs when the minimum wage question comes up and people are often saying, “Well we can’t do that because how could local businesses afford to do that?” And they’re right, they’re not wrong about that. I was a former, I am a former small business owner.
So you’re trying to put them on different playing fields.
Well, absolutely. And I think, you know, the thing is, I think at the end of the day, if you live and work in Portland, you benefit from having an empowered workforce in Portland. Like you don’t want to have a situation where your workers can’t afford to live in Portland or can’t afford to be secure in Portland. So what I was looking for in this was a mechanism that we could say, how do we have both? How do we both bump the minimum wage so that people have more financial security and also have that not come at the expense of local business owners? And when I was doing that process, I was identifying, well, here are the folks that do have extra and could be useful in this conversation about it. So I think that… to cap it at revenue or number of employees would be the two metrics I would look at to say where do we draw that line.
So if you fall on the lower end of wherever this line would be, then you’d potentially even be open to having your payroll partially subsidized, whereas if you fall on the other side, then you’d be paying into that system.
Alright. Back to the creativity, I like it. Along similar lines, you bring up the idea of “pay transparency.” You don’t really elaborate that much on your website. Please elaborate now. What does that mean?
Yeah, just making sure that any job that’s posted in Maine has its salary publicly available as part of that.
Well, in Portland.
Sorry, excuse me. Yeah. I was at a steady pace and then… no. Yeah, so in Portland, yeah. So basically trying to understand, like.. And this, this question is to get at the dynamic. Do we have people that are coming into Portland and keeping remote jobs that have totally outsized salaries and are disrupting or sort of skewing this question of affordability in one direction, even when it’s not reflective of people that are working for businesses that exist in Portland?
So in terms of pay transparency, any job, any employment position in Portland would need to in some way publicly declare how much that person or that position is getting compensated?
Yeah at least the level of hiring, which is something that we’ve already started to do. At my organization, for instance, is making the pay bans publicly available to everyone so you know what you’re applying for and you can understand what your contemporaries are making. And this is essential for collective bargaining as well to make sure everybody is on the same playing field so you can understand, oh, am I coming in and being paid much less? is there a discrimination issue at play here? So I think that that’s the goal with that is to say, make this transparent so that people can understand where they’re at and understand if there’s any injustice happening there.
We also talk about facilitating worker co-ops. That seems important to your vision, kind of ties back into that key earlier about people being on the same level with one another. How would a Pugh administration go about this facilitation?
Absolutely. And it is really important to me. I think that the planks of my economic positions are unions and worker co-ops because they get at that question of power. I think that the way to do it is for the city to act as a facilitator here to establish a clear program of progression and say, if you’re a business owner, here are the clear benefits of cooperative ownership. If you’re an employee and you want to go toward that… Here’s the legal framework of how to do that. I would think the city should act as a facilitator in that role. Design the process, and there are really good national organizations that have worked on this already. Democracy at Work is a great one. Work with them to define the parameters there.
And then offer that and hold public workshops to say, here are the benefits of employee ownership, here are the benefits of cooperative ownership. And also, what I would want to do is reach out to what are called legacy businesses. So like a sole proprietorship or a small mom and pop shop, right, that the proprietor is retiring or wanting to move the business into a different phase in whatever way. And most of these people are going to want to transition into their employees who they know and trust. So giving them a framework to do that and potentially putting down like matching grant funds to make it happen as well. I think, or maybe not putting down, but facilitating the funding of that through working with local funding partners like credit unions and non-profits. So I think that’s the city’s role as the facilitator and sort of the convener in that sense.
Yeah, there are definitely businesses in Portland that are evidently owned by sort of an aging out class of people.
Exactly. I wouldn’t want to lose these businesses because they’re great.
No, and you wouldn’t want to see them become some faceless corporate…
Another Taco Bell.
Another Taco Bell. Well, actually…
I guess, maybe we could have one more of those.
You also bring up businesses having some sort of quote “housing requirement” for employees. What does that mean?
In the same sense that I am looking at inclusionary zoning. So if you are going to come here and build your headquarters as a company, that’s great. I really like that idea and I respect that, but you also need to be sure that you’re building some level of housing to contribute to the local community when you’re doing that. So I think about the land that was just sold down on the waterfront. I guess it wasn’t just, but a while back, it was sold to Wex or whoever it was. When a company of that size is coming in and building a facility of that scale, which is great, there needs to be a housing component to it. And I think there’s a real efficiency there because you’re already in the process of figuring out buying and zoning and permitting and all that stuff. So while you’re there, build some housing. It’s really my goal is to bring everybody in to the housing issue and say, we would love if you came to Portland. We have a great workforce. We have an incredible city. We’re going to do a great job. We also have a housing issue, so build some units here and then you’ll be more than welcome to come.
And you can make some money off of the units, potentially.
There you go.
Interesting. You emphasize your support for unions, naturally, but you also say that the city should “scrutinize” businesses that are deemed to be anti-union. How would this scrutiny actually look in practice?
Yeah, to be totally honest with you, this is my campaign advisor walking me back a little bit from my more aggressive language and make it illegal to, you know –
I won’t tell your campaign advisor.
I appreciate that. Sorry, Alan, you’re a great guy, great influence on me. But yeah, I mean, the scrutiny would basically be, let’s look at large organizations that are not allowing their employees their employees to unionize, which they have the legal right to do. Let’s identify what those behaviors are. I wouldn’t go so far as to take it to a legal perspective, but I think if we have that threat, we can lean on these businesses and say, we’ve had reports. If the National Labor Board of Relations is moving a little slowly, let’s have a department in Portland or a point person in Portland that you can make complaints to. Then they say, hey, if you want to continue to do business in Portland, Starbucks or whoever you are, Trader Joe’s, not to name names. You can’t be engaging in this anti-union activity.
And I think one thing I’d like to see is how do we expand what we define as anti-union activity because I have had friends who have tried to unionize their workplaces and have been met with things that aren’t strictly illegal mostly but are very, very troubling from a power dynamics situation.
Sort of soft power.
Exactly. And that has real ramifications because they were not able to go and form their union, which would have improved everybody’s lives. So I think that I’d like to have a broader viewpoint on a local level of what we define as anti-union and then have somebody in the city that that can be reported to.
And then go around and say it’d be a shame if anything were to happen to your store here…
Exactly, got a great storefront here, but one with broken windows. Exactly, no.
Okay, no, no. We will not be breaking any kneecaps here.
Certainly not. It’s not a very Quaker thing to do.
No, it would not be. All right. So that sort of brings me to the end of this section. Do you have any other thoughts on labor or business that we didn’t get a chance to talk about?
No, I think that was everything that I had for labor. I think that was good.
Well, that brings me to the end of my questions. If we didn’t cover anything, you’re welcome to bring it up. Otherwise, I’ve been asking, what is your elevator pitch? What is your… why should people rank Dillon Pugh number one on their ballots?
I do think that we covered, I think, I appreciate the questions, I think they were great. And I haven’t had a chance in the public to get into the nuts and bolts of this, to this level. So I think that’s been great. And I think, What I would say to people is a lot of what has come out over the course of this conversation. I think if you listen to this and you look at my platform and my background, obviously I’m not a traditional candidate and I’m not gonna approach the role in a traditional way. I have an enormous amount of respect for the people that are doing the work and I will never be disruptive to the way that the city is run. But I’m also gonna try to be out on the edge of what we think is possible as a city. for the benefit of the people. Because I think that the stakes that we’re facing are that high and our response needs to be equally ambitious, equally creative, because that’s what people in Portland deserve. This is a really special place. And so I’d say, rank me first if you want to see that kind of leadership. If you really want to see what’s possible, and if we can really make a model for how to build a really equitable and just city at a structural level, and I would say I would really appreciate your vote, and I hope I can honor that.
All right, thank you so much. And you’re definitely the candidate that will be asking people to get creative.
That’s, I think so.
That would be a theme of a Pugh mayorship. Well, thank you so much. Be sure to check out Dylan’s campaign website where you can see more of this. And everybody remember to get out there and vote! Thank you so much.