Only three of Portland’s 17 legislative candidates have signed an open government pledge

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Very few would-be legislators appear to care about promising to follow transparency laws; Washington Avenue is booming; and the city is looking at new rules for Airbnb.

What we’re talking about

Jake Bleiberg today reports:

Of the 17 candidates seeking to represent Portland in the Maine Legislature, only three have signed a pledge to support open government if elected.

Maine House of Representatives candidates Rachel Talbot-Ross, a Democrat; Republican James Azzola; and Green party Senate candidate Seth Baker are the only would-be Portland legislators to put their names on a pledge that the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition sent to every candidate in the state — although it entails little more than promising to obey existing law.

The pledge says candidates will follow Maine’s public-records law and “will actively oppose — and not participate in — any meetings to discuss legislative matters where the public is excluded contrary to the letter and spirit of the law.”

It has gotten a lackluster response statewide: 86 of the 365 candidates on the November ballot signed on, according to the public list of signatories.

Asking candidates to take pledges is common during campaigns, but transparency has been a hot issue recently in the state.

In the last few months, Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has been fined for holding a public meeting in private, dissolved 27 decade-old public health groups with little public explanation or notice, and rejected $3 million in federal funding to help young adults at risk for mental illness, without saying why.

But doing the people’s business behind closed doors is not confined to the executive branch. Last year, both Democrats and Republicans crafted the $6.7 billion state budget largely in secret and legislators openly disregarded Maine open-meetings law.

When asked about the pledge, many Portland candidates who did not sign on suggested they’d overlooked the matter among the many initiatives they are asked to support.  

Read his full story here.

In other news

As Airbnb rentals rise, Portland eyes stricter rules — Jake reports:

The number of units in Portland up for rent on Airbnb has doubled in the past year to 439, according to a memo from the city’s planning department to the City Council’s Housing Committee, which was first reported by the Portland Press Herald. And with less than 3 percent vacancy in the city and sharply rising rents putting pressure on middle- and low-income Portlanders, city planners suggest that regulating Airbnb and other short-term rentals could contribute to “stabilizing or improving trends in the local housing market.”

Washington Avenue is about to get a lot busier — Kathleen Pierce breaks some news about a bunch of real estate moves on Washington:

On Tuesday, commercial real estate developer Jed Harris, who has had the Creighton & Sons Inc. building at 123 Washington Ave. under contract since August, announced two tenants have signed a letter of intent to move in: Maine Craft Distilling and Island Creek Oysters. There is a third space that is being eyed by a local restaurateur.

As rents rise in established neighborhoods on the peninsula, like the Old Port, interest is growing in the more affordable Washington Avenue. In the last two years, stores and restaurants offering biodynamic wine, barbecue, gourmet brunch and a brewery tasting room have opened along the arterial dividing East Bayside and Munjoy Hill.

Meanwhile:

One block away, at 65 Washington Ave., a new furniture and home goods store called Venn and Maker plans to open in late October. On the corner, pho restaurant CÔNG TỬ BỘT will open in early 2017 as a Swiss software company called SpotMe settles into an adjacent office space.

A teenage soldier lies in a mass grave on Portland’s Eastern Prom — Troy Bennett writes:

There once was a hospital on the Eastern Promenade. The only remaining evidence is a little-noticed mass grave. It contains the bones of Pvt. Sylvanus Sloan, of the 23 Infantry, and 20 other American soldiers.

Help the BDN test how ranked-choice voting might have worked in 2010 and 2014 — MIke Shepherd lays out the idea:

The Bangor Daily News is running simulations of Maine’s last two gubernatorial races in 2010 and 2014 as ranked-choice elections, and we’d like readers to participate. To sign up, please enter your email address below by no later than 5 p.m. Oct. 17.

Voting will take place Oct. 17 through Oct. 20. We’ll run your votes through the proposed ranked-choice algorithm, report the results to participants and interview those who agree to be contacted for an article on their experiences.

We also will simulate the races based on the actual results and the number of votes cast.

Enter your email here to sign up.

The Big Idea

Did the CIA imprison the right man? — When Suleiman Abdullah Salim was first delivered to the secret CIA prison, his American captors were confused by the dark skinned African. They’d been expecting a light skinned Arab. “They said, ‘You changed your face,’” Salim recalled.

After five years of being drugged, beaten, hung in chains, waterboarded and held in the dark Salim was released — with no charges and no explanations.

Chart of the day

Here’s every spell from the Harry Potter books — in one visualization.


Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

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Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the editor of BDN Portland. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.