The fate of a $61 million school bond could come down to one vote

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What we’re talking about

Student Quinn Coon works with a staff member, who asked not to be named, in a makeshift teaching space at Harrison Lyseth Elementary School in Portland in September. The city is considering funding renovations to Lyseth and three other elementary schools. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

Student Quinn Coon works with a staff member, who asked not to be named, in a makeshift teaching space at Harrison Lyseth Elementary School in Portland in September. The city is considering funding renovations to Lyseth and three other elementary schools. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

Votes appear stacked in favor of $61 million school bond — Proponents of borrowing $61 million to renovate four of Portland’s aging elementary schools appear to have mustered enough support on the City Council to get the measure to within one vote of being put to Portlanders as a ballot question.

Whether to borrow the money has been one of the most carefully studied and long debated questions in recent Portland politics. It was a vital issue in the November election that saw two sitting councilors unseated, and the mayor recently made it a key issue in his State of the City address.

On Thursday night, the special committee of city councilors and school board members that have been studying the issue will vote whether to move ahead with the $61 million bond. If they vote the measure up — and it looks like they will — the proposal will be sent off through a convoluted set of reviews and votes that could all come down to one city councilor’s vote: Jill Duson.

Of the council members on the special committee, only Nicholas Mavodones might vote no Thursday; Mayor Ethan Strimling is publicly committed to supporting the measure; David Brenerman recently voiced public support online; and Justin Costa confirmed to BDN Portland that he intends to vote yes.

From there, the issue would be sent back to the school board and to the City Council’s finance committee, where it’s also likely to win support. Mavodones chairs the committee, but the other members are Costa and Pious Ali, former school board members who campaigned in support of the measure.

The last hurdle before Portlanders would decide the question at the ballot box would be the vote of the full City Council. The measure would need a supermajority of seven of nine votes to be approved, and our count suggests it’s tight. In addition to the three councilors already mentioned and the mayor, Spencer Thibodeau and Brian Batson have publicly supported putting the question to Portland voters. On the other hand, Mavodones has expressed skepticism and Belinda Ray said she can’t support the measure.

So it might come down to Duson, who makes a habit of not telegraphing her votes before she casts them. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. — Jake Bleiberg

Correction: Due to a rounding error, a previous version of this post had the wrong dollar amount of the bond. It is $61 million.

Portland Jewish community center evacuated after bomb threat — Jake reports that a Jewish preschool and community center in Portland was evacuated Wednesday morning after someone called in a bomb threat — part of a wave of at least 20 similar cases across the country.

Obama pardons Maine woman for 1996 drug crime — Jennifer Lynn Smith, formerly known as Jennifer Hanscom, was apparently the only Maine resident pardoned. “Hanscom, now Smith, was sentenced on Jan. 24, 1997, at the federal courthouse in Portland to five years in federal prison for possessing with the intent to distribute and aiding and abetting the possession with the intent to distribute a Schedule II controlled substance, cocaine,” Judy Harrison reported.

No parking ban tonight in Portland — Despite the new snow blanketing the city, no parking ban has been declared for tonight. If you want to be notified of future bans by email or text, you can sign up for them at the city’s website. — Troy R. Bennett

Speaking of snow — Go on a visual tour of the snowy city today in three pictures — including a stop at Portland City Hall where one of the “finest snow fighters” was doing battle, and the East End Beach where a dog wearing a coat frolicked in the snow. — Troy R. Bennett

Just for fun: Take a trip down memory lane with the Onion’s compilation of Vice President Joe Biden headlines. My favorites: “Biden To Cool His Heels In Mexico For A While” and “Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am In White House Driveway.” Classics.

Tweet of the day

From Andy Campbell:

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The Big Idea

‘Trump Entering White House Unbent and Unpopular’ — Peter Baker of the New York Times reports:

In one way at least, President-elect Donald J. Trump has already surpassed all of his recent predecessors. It took Barack Obama 18 months in the White House for his approval rating to slip to 44 percent in Gallup polling, and it took George W. Bush 4½ years to fall that far. Mr. Trump got there before even being sworn in. …

Where other presidents used the weeks before their inauguration to put the animosities of the campaign behind them and to try to knit the country together again, Mr. Trump has approached the interregnum as if he were a television wrestling star. He has taken on a civil rights icon, a Hollywood actress, intelligence agencies, defense contractors, European leaders and President Obama. The healing theme common at this stage in the four-year presidential cycle is absent.

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

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Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. 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.