The Portland restaurants donating thousands to fight a statewide minimum wage increase

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What we’re talking about

Restaurants got a pass when Portland raised its local minimum wage to $10.10. They’ve made it clear they don’t want the issue to rear its head again.

At least 19 Portland restaurants have donated to the ballot question committee Restaurateurs for a Strong Maine Economy, which opposes the minimum wage question and spent the bulk of its contributions over the past two years on fighting local and statewide minimum wage efforts.

In August and September 2016, the group transferred $20,900 to the affiliated Maine People for Maine Jobs, which was formed this summer specifically to oppose Question 4. Greg Dugal, the former head of the Maine Restaurant Association and the Maine Innkeepers Association, is the officer of the restaurateurs’ PAC and treasurer of Maine People for Maine Jobs.

Mike Wiley, an owner at Hugo’s, later told BDN Portland that his company has not donated any money meant to oppose minimum wage increases, but he did find a record of a $200 charge to the MRA from October 2015. The Fore Street restaurant already pays at levels that would meet the 2020 standard if Question 4 passes, he said.

If it passes, the question would raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020. For restaurants, the proposal would totally change how tipped staff gets paid, putting them on track to get the full minimum by 2024, at the earliest. Currently in Portland, the base wage for tipped employees is $3.25.


From 2015 through September, Portland restaurants by far made up the bulk of commercial contributions to the opposition campaign, putting in $17,800. Many restaurants contributed in October 2015, a time when the group passed almost all of its money to opponents of a local Portland effort to raise the minimum to $15 an hour.

DiMillo’s topped the list of donors to the political action group, with other restaurant owners with a less established history of political activity contributing as well.

That includes relative newcomer Central Provisions, Empire, Brian Boru, Bayside American Cafe (/Bintliff’s), The Great Lost Bear and Jay Villani’s restaurants — Salvage, Sonny’s and Local 188.

In total, the opposing groups had raised relatively little. Groups supporting the question had raised almost $1.4 million through September, compared with $116,710 from opponents. —Darren Fishell

UPDATE: This story has been updated to clarify the purpose of the Maine Restaurant Association’s political action committee, Restaurateurs for a Strong Maine Economy, and provide more detail on the group’s fundraising and spending in 2015 and 2016. It also includes a reaction from one restaurant owner.

In other news

Why a Portland recluse gave a fortune to Falmouth schoolkids — In his “permanent Portlanders” series, where he profiles people buried in town, Troy Bennett writes:

Crispus Graves of East Deering was a bit of a recluse. He lived with his older brother, Eben, in one cluttered room in their otherwise neat farmhouse. Their walls were papered with news accounts going back decades. They kept mostly to themselves. Neighbors said they only changed their clothes when absolutely necessary.

Legend has it, the neighborhood kids were not kind to Crispus Graves and they would throw rocks at his horse when he passed by.

That may have something to do with the fact that when Graves died, in his early 60s, he left over $15,000 to School District No. 5 — in the neighboring town of Falmouth.

The would-be developer of the controversial Sheridan Street condo complex offered to sell the property to the city — In this newsletter last week, Jake Bleiberg broke the news that a city councilor is planning to block — at least temporarily — a proposed condo development that would obscure the view of Back Cove from Fort Sumner Park on North Street. 

Today, Randy Billings follows up with a story that includes this detail:

[Developer Bernie] Saulnier has offered to sell the roughly half-acre development site to the city. Consultant Patrick Venne said the developer offered the land for $1.5 million, or just aerial rights for the upper floors for an undisclosed price.

City Manager Jon Jennings said Monday evening that he has had several discussions with the developer about acquiring the land, but he offered neither support nor opposition. It would be up to the council to make the final decision, Jennings said.

Gabrielle Giffords will campaign for the background check referendum tomorrow in Portland — From a news release: The former congresswoman will stump for the state referendum question that would expand background checks to most private sales. She’ll be joined by Portland police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

The Big Idea

United by pot, divided by policy: How Maine’s pro-marijuana forces disagreeMike Shepherd writes:

That divide is emblematic of one of the biggest hurdles for marijuana advocates in Maine — finding common ground among the enthusiasts who philosophically agree with legalization, which for two generations was a white whale for starry-eyed counterculture activists and a third rail for politicians.

Now it’s neither. Maine is among the 25 states with medical marijuana laws. Four states — Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska — have legalized recreational marijuana, and Maine is one of five more voting to legalize it in November.


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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.