Mayors, media, masses

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By JEFF INGLIS  |  October 19, 2011

Portland's 15 mayoral candidates are missing an opportunity to connect with the people, both directly and through the media, by failing to publicize their support for OccupyMaine. Perhaps their reasoning is that the underlying demand of the Occupy movement — supporting the removal of money from politics — might upset their donors.

Why else would they avoid a chance to publicly join the largest and most popular reform movement the US has seen in decades? As Ralph Carmona told us, the Occupiers are "basically saying to people in this country, 'We feel your pain.'" Remember how that used to win elections?

Maybe it's that positions on the issues of "the 99 percent" are not something that differentiates the candidates from each other — of the baker's dozen the Phoenix was able to reach, not one objected to the group's efforts (and the other two seem pretty unlikely to dissent, from what we can tell of their campaign messages).

But part of winning an election — especially in an instant-runoff ballot situation like this — is attracting people who will support you. While some of the candidates — Michael Brennan, David Marshall, Richard Dodge, John Eder, Charles Bragdon, and Ethan Strimling — have been down to Monument Square and/or the tent village in Lincoln Park to hold signs and/or speak directly with members of the Occupation, others say they are sending their support virtually.

Perhaps it's confusion about the message. Activists like Carmona, Eder, Marshall, Peter Bryant, Hamza Haadoow, and even the conservative Bragdon grok the breadth of the movement (with Carmona saying, "Major change in America has always come from outside the mainstream political process" and Eder proclaiming "The only thing that politics responds to is direct action").

But others, including Brennan, Jed Rathband, Chris Vail, and Dodge, say they see a lack of focus in the movement (Rathband says "we're all wanting to see what life form it's going to take") and would like the purpose to be clearer. Similarly, Jill Duson finds "a lot of messages I agree with," but hesitates to offer stronger support because "I'm not sure what all the messages are."

Nevertheless, economic justice is on the candidates' minds. Jodie Lapchick says she thinks the city should pull its money "out of Wall Street" — Portland's money is presently held at TD Bank — and put it into a state-coordinated "public bank" along the lines of the Bank of North Dakota. (Portland Democratic state rep Diane Russell proposed such an idea, but it died in the last legislative session.)

Dodge, who says he recalls protesting in the 1960s and '70s, defends the concept of profit, but in the same breath condemns laissez-faire attitudes of government regulators: "Capitalism isn't a bad thing. It's the government and its regulations that allows what's going on."

And Bragdon agrees the issues raised by the Occupy movement are pressing: "I anticipate whoever gets elected having to deal with it very soon."

Given the increasing comfort of the Lincoln Park camp, and with OccupyAugusta settling into fancy-ish digs (fire pit!) basically on the steps of the State House, it's coming time for candidates and lawmakers to declare themselves — and for the media to ask them about it if they don't.

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