I think it’s safe to say that Portland’s second electoral district is the only district in Maine where voters will have an opportunity to elect a burlesque dancer to the school board and a drag queen to the city council. That’s not just celebrating diversity. That’s throwing diversity a raging keg party.
The strip-tease artist is Holly Seeliger, who’s seeking to represent the West End, Parkside and Libbytown neighborhoods on the Portland Board of Public Education. Seeliger has a shot at winning, though it’s a long one; she’s running against a well-organized and more experienced opponent, but there’s no incumbent in this race, and Seeliger has some traction, including a recent endorsement by the League of Young Voters.
The drag queen is Taffy Pulls, who’ll appear on the ballot as Shane Boyington. Boyington, 34, is even more of a long shot. For one thing, he’s facing incumbent City Councilor Dave Marshall, who has his detractors but remains popular in the neighborhoods he’s served for the past six years. For another, Boyington isn’t doing much campaigning.
“I’m not a vacuum salesman; I don’t sell Avon; and I don’t like it when politicians knock on my door when it’s time to elect them, and then I don’t hear from them until the next time,” Boyington said, explaining his refusal to canvas for votes. He won’t put up yard signs, either — Boyington considers them “wasteful and trashy.”
So Boyington’s campaign is limited to a blog, a Facebook page (where supporters are encouraged to download and print campaign pictures) and the day-to-day interactions he has with neighbors on the sidewalks.
Boyington said his drag persona is less about performing in bars, though he’s done some of that, and more about presenting drag as a normal way of life. It’s “a drag that’s in the community, that helps people learn that drag queens take their dog to the park; drag queens go grocery shopping; drag queens take the bus,” he said.
And drag queens run for municipal office.
Boyington, a lifelong Democrat who’s lived in Portland for 10 years, works in a group home, makes quilts and is finishing a degree in political science at the University of Southern Maine. He’s running on quality-of-life issues like trash, street lighting and bus schedules.
For example, Boyington would like there to be at least a few places in town where people can buy single city trash bags, rather than having to purchase an entire roll. “I know a lot of people who have a dollar but don’t have 10,” he said.
The city should ask bus riders for specific suggestions to improve service, said Boyington, and he expects one suggestion would be to have some buses run later at night. “We live in a city that’s really progressive,” he said, “but we’re all supposed to go to bed at 11 o’clock.”
Boyington said his candidacy is motivated by the opportunity to implement new policies and by his frustration with the current system. The “drumbeat to elect the mayor” during the past two years (an effort led in no small part by Marshall) aggravated Boyington. “What [city officials] should have said is, ‘Look, you hired us, and none of us can do our jobs. Maybe you should fire us rather than have us try to fix what we have shown we cannot fix.’” And when Boyington saw how much money the top mayoral candidates were raising, his reaction was, “Oh, that’s really gross.”
Boyington doesn’t think his drag wardrobe will be a drag on his campaign. Asked if people have been tolerant of his appearance, he replied, “Portland’s been tolerant of people in polyester suits, so I think they’d be tolerant of everybody. Polyester kind of went out in the early 70s.”
He has a point there. And though Boyington has little chance of winning this race, the fact he’s on the ballot is a point in and of itself.
Portland citizens are open-minded enough to at least consider electing a drag queen to the City Council. There are certainly other city officials whose extracurricular activities would offend voters’ sense of propriety (the former mayor of South Portland comes to mind).
And there’s no good reason why a drag queen with workable ideas and an effective campaign should not earn the right to represent his neighbors in city government someday. But it looks like Nov. 6 will not be that day for Taffy Pulls.