‘Criminal’ council candidate deserves the job

I really want to believe Portland is the kind of place where Chris Shorr can serve on the City Council. The 30-year-old lobsterman is honest, hard-working and compassionate. He’s made a few mistakes in his young life — for the most part, nothing serious — but in all these respects he’s just like the Portlanders he’s seeking to represent.

Shorr is in a three-way race for the at-large council seat occupied, for too long, by Jill Duson, who is seeking a fifth term. The other candidate, Greg Smaha, acts at the behest of local Republican activists and wants to cut a city budget he hasn’t bothered to read.

This is really a two-way race between a listless, complacent incumbent and an earnest, open-minded opponent willing to challenge the status quo.

To be blunt, Duson does not deserve another term on the council. The flicker of courageous independence she displayed in 2005, when she refused to support the city manager’s promotion of a deputy police chief to the top job over a promising black candidate, has hardly been seen since. Duson goes along to get along with the other moderate, milquetoast Democrats who’ve dominated the council since I started covering it 15 years ago.

The most egregious consequence of Duson’s lack of initiative was her recent vote to sell most of Congress Square Park to a hotel developer. Duson betrayed her constituents by allowing their park to deteriorate, then ignored the city’s own efforts to improve it and agreed to sell it in a no-bid land grab for a price she herself believes to be unfair to the people she serves.

A few years ago, Duson was pushing to sell another valuable piece of public property, the Maine State Pier, to a hotel developer with political ties to her party. Like the park, the pier was left to rot on Duson’s watch, and rather than invest in this important piece of public infrastructure, she sought to sell it to private investors hoping to cash in on the tourist trade. Today, the pier supports two seafood processors who pay the city to rent space there.

Shorr has been a vocal opponent of the sale of Congress Square. While local pols like Duson give lip service to the “working waterfront,” Shorr is actually working on the waterfront. He understands the challenges faced by working-class people in Portland because he is one of them. (Duson’s professional experience includes 14 years as a lobbyist for power companies in Augusta and a couple state government jobs.)

Shorr understands the problems of the homeless (mental illness and addiction, in particular) because several members of his own family are struggling with homelessness today. He deeply appreciates the challenges immigrants face because he’s punched the same clock at Barber Foods and seen how incredibly hard they work to support their families.

Unlike Duson, Shorr will not be a rubber stamp for wealthy developers trying to squeeze the city for tens of millions of precious property tax dollars. He has the innocence to dream about what the city could do with even $1 million of the $30-plus-million-dollar tax break Duson and her cohorts blithely granted to the would-be developers of Thompson’s Point. Put another way, money is real to Shorr in a sense that it long since ceased to be to Duson.

Shorr supports the referendum question to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Portland. Duson does not, because rather than support Portland’s effort to lead on this common-sense reform, she prefers to defer to the unjust state law.

In its coverage of this race, the Portland Press Herald made a big deal of what it called Shorr’s “criminal history dating back to 2003.” What Shorr described as a mix-up involving a young woman’s misplaced backpack led to a charge of theft by unauthorized taking 10 years ago, when Shorr, a Deering High grad, was in college. His OUI in 2005 is more serious, but Shorr never attempted to cover it up and sincerely regrets the lapse in judgment he made eight years ago, which he has not repeated. This sensational “criminal history” ended five years ago when Shorr was cited for disorderly conduct — making too much noise.

Portland sorely needs somebody to make more noise in City Hall. Shorr is a thoughtful, down-to-earth, dedicated young man who deserves the opportunity to serve the city he grew up in. Lacking the name recognition and money of the incumbent, he needs people in the media like me to stand up and endorse him. I am proud to do so, and I urge Portland voters to do the same next Tuesday.

Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.