District 2 City Council Questionnaire: Spencer Thibodeau

The Voter Education Brigade sent the following questions to each of the candidates for city council and mayor. Here are the answers we received from Spencer Thibodeau. You can also read the questionnaires from both of Spencer’s opponents for District 2 City Council: Here is Wells Lyons’ questionnaire and here is Rob Korobkin’s questionnaire.

  1. What’s most at stake in this election?

While it may sound cliché, the one thing most at stake in this election is the vision for how Portland will grow over the next five years. I have knocked on more than 3,000 doors since I began my campaign in the spring and nearly all the questions center around our City’s plan for growth. How will we continue our commitment to assisting the most vulnerable while we grow? What is our plan to make sure that families are able to stay in the City? What is our plan to make Portland more affordable for young people? We are at a crossroads for so many of these issues, and the most important thing is that District 2 has a representative on the Council for the next five years who is diligent and communicative.

Spencer

I am running because I have a track record of diligence and responsiveness and will approach these complicated issues surrounding growth with an open mind to solutions and a commitment to core principles. These principles, which I elaborate upon below, revolve around the core notion that we must maintain our City as one that is welcoming and accessible for all people, regardless of any other factors. I pride myself in pragmatism, but I am fully dedicated to ensuring that every Portlander has the same opportunities that I had when I grew up here — and if we are not guided by that principle as our City grows, I worry about the results.

2. Portland is growing and changing quickly. What are the potential negative outcomes from that growth that the city council should work to avoid? What should the council do to guide growth in a positive direction?

As I discussed above, Portland is experiencing a period of significant growth. We must be proactive about addressing issues that larger cities face. Some potential negative outcomes from this growth include, but are not limited to: (i) affordability; (ii) development that does not respect the character of historic neighborhoods; (iii) issues with crime and addiction; (iv) a brain drain of families moving to places like Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth for educational opportunities; and (vi) being asked, as a City, to do more with less.

These are all issues that the Council must address proactively and be mindful of when deciding policy that will influence growth. In order to guide growth in a positive direction, it is incumbent upon the Council to seek as collaborative an approach as possible where the voices of all residents are heard. We must address major opportunities for growth on a case-by-case basis rather than assuming orthodox anti-development or pro-development postures. Most importantly, we must ensure that the process by which voices of residents are heard is open and inclusive, and that the decision-making process for key changes is one that is deliberative and thorough. I have additional thoughts about some of these issues outlined below.

3. People without wealth are finding it more and more difficult to get by in Portland and live comfortably. What should the city council do to ensure that Portland continues to be a livable city for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds?

Affordability in Portland is becoming more difficult, as rents continue to rise. I believe the City needs to look at ways to assist the greatest affordability challenges for our residents: (i) affordability of housing and (ii) affordability of childcare/education. I believe we can address affordability of housing by providing tax incentives to homeowners to update Portland’s ageing housing stock, called the “People’s TIF,” while at the same time encouraging additional supply to the market — not just on the peninsula, but throughout the City. Further, I have begun a listening campaign to find out what it would take to get developers to build quality housing without all the bells and whistles.

With respect to affordability of childcare / early childhood education, I believe strongly in universal early childhood education. As someone who was reading at a 5th grade level in 8th grade, I know what it means to be “left behind.” The evidence is clear on this issue: a child who has an extra year or more to prepare for kindergarten is in a far better position than those who do not have the opportunity, and this affects the rest of her or his life in a myriad of ways — from increasing their likelihood of staying in school, to successfully getting into college and finding a job. In the end, it is a smart fiscal investment in our future leaders and members of the workforce. In addition, universal early childhood education will alleviate some of the costs for families who cannot afford private daycare, thus leveling the playing field and providing an equal opportunity of success for all children.

4. What are two of your favorite local businesses?

Being allowed to name just two makes this the toughest question on here, but I’d have to go with Tandem Bakery and Little Tap House!

5. What should the city council do to sustain a local economy that supports the growth and creation of businesses like the ones you mentioned in the last question?

The Council must continue to balance the needs and wants of employees and the people that employ them. Communication with businesses is key. This means improving the permitting process to be more efficient and providing applicants with real time updates on their applications. This also means working with “buy local” campaigns to provide spotlights on our local businesses. On the employee side, this means working on the issue of affordability so that our workers can afford to live in the community they serve. In addition, we must encourage technical skills programs in the city (such as computer science for all public school students) to ensure that we have a workforce that is equipped to deal with a quickly changing economy and contribute to the City. As a Councilor, I would continue my conversations with business owners and employees alike to find common ground and move our City’s economic engine forward.

6. How often do you use forms of transportation other than driving (bicycles, bus, train, uber etc.)?

I normally walk most places and use Uber 4–6 times per. I also take the bus and cabs occasionally. (And it’s long overdue that I start biking more often, too!)

7. Does our local/regional public transportation system need any improvements or changes?

It is easy to say that our public transportation system needs improvements, as this sentiment has existed since I was very young. However, the Portland I see in the next 5–10 years is going to need to rely heavily on public transportation. The Council has made great strides in the last couple years in supporting the Metro, but we must do more as a community to invest in public transit that is frequent, reliable and affordable. We also need to focus on a public advertisement campaign to encourage folks to use the bus. And, finally, we need the bus to have more direct routes to places people want to go. This is especially important when looking at the Oakdale/Libbytown/Rosemont/Back Cove neighborhoods. These areas will likely rely more on public transportation as it gets more and more expensive to develop on the peninsula. I want to see us be proactive about the future of the public transportation system in Portland instead of being reactive. We have a prime opportunity given that our students are now using the bus, and we must train those living and working in the City to do the same.

8. Which grocery store(s) do you shop at most?

Rosemont, Hannaford, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods, depending upon what I need.

9. What should the city council do to support the local food economy?

I think that the City Council has a huge role in setting policies to support the local food economy. First, I think the Council should work more diligently to encourage healthful and locally grown food to be provided in City-run institutions and schools, and we could perhaps look into public-private partnerships that would stimulate and help subsidize local farming to accomplish this purpose. Additionally, as a city that employs many in the service sector, Portland can continue to implement policies that make our City attractive to new restaurants, especially those boasting farm-to-table policies. The Council should also continue to project Portland’s working waterfront as an essential tool to provide fresh food to our City. Lastly, the Council must continue to work on key outstanding recommendations for the Mayor’s Initiative for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System, which provides a good framework. The key priorities from these recommendations that the Council must prioritize are: adopting zoning and development regulations that provide more flexibility for food production and are responsive to those doing the valuable work of producing and providing locally grown food (whether this means community gardens, farmers’ markets, urban agriculture, beekeeping, etc.); working with the City to develop additional public outreach materials about nutrition and food assistance programs; and exploring the option of providing incentives for healthful retail food outlets to locate their business in underserved areas. This is not an exhaustive list, to be sure, but these are the top priorities in my opinion.

10. Which local arts or entertainment institution do you visit most often?

The State Theater and the Portland Museum of Art are my favorites.

11. What can the city council do to strengthen the local arts community?

I feel fortunate everyday to live in a City where the local arts community is so valued and supported. First Friday Art Walks are one of my favorite summer (and late spring and early fall!) activities, and I visit our local museums and galleries regularly. There are three specific areas that I would focus on to further strengthen the local arts community if elected. First, I would work proactively with the Maine College of Art to find ways to integrate their students better with the City. Whether it is deliberating public art projects, thinking creatively about how to better advertise and promote local artists, or benefiting from the myriad skills that students learn at art schools, the student body has a lot to offer (and we have a lot to offer them) and has largely been untapped by the City. Secondly, I would think creatively about how to use public art to solve city issues. For instance, the other Portland began painting murals at busy traffic intersections in the 1990s, and various other cities have followed their example since. Research has shown that public art slows down traffic, and it also beautifies neighborhoods. It is creative ideas like these that I believe the Council should work with the local arts community to develop. Finally, I would take to the streets and listen to the concerns and needs of local artists and work with them to find solutions. I am not an artist myself and cannot speak on behalf of the community, but there are many great galleries in District 2 and as a Councilor, I would do my best to ensure that these voices are being heard.

12. Would you have voted to continue General Assistance for asylum-seekers earlier this year (following cuts to state funding)? What do you think the city should have done to deal with that crisis?

Yes. This is one of the most important issues facing Portland right now, and I could not be more supportive. I have worked side by side with these folks in the classroom since I was young, during my time at Nathan Clifford and King Middle School. From my experience, the work ethic of immigrant individuals in Portland is infectious and I believe the City greatly benefits from individuals who can speak up to seven different languages and possess diverse skill sets and experiences from previous professional work. It is good for the economy to ensure that these individuals have what they need in order to be productive members of our society. I think the City did what it should have done to address the issue at the time. As for the future, the City has to look for additional funding for this group and I believe local businesses have a huge role to play. I would work diligently to create a public/private relationship with the community in order to ensure funding for the future. I also think that working with our congressional delegation to remove barriers to work is crucial.

13. Are you voting for or against a $15 minimum wage?

I am voting against the $15 minimum wage. I strongly believe that before we jump to $15 per hour, we must first assess the impact of the Council’s action this fall. I have talked to many small business owners across Portland who are concerned that the $15 minimum wage would require them to lay off workers or go out of business altogether. While I do believe that $15 is an appropriate minimum wage for larger cities with higher cost of living, I have not yet seen a persuasive case that Portland falls into this category. This is, again, a case where the Council must proceed diligently and cautiously. I also believe the Council needs the flexibility to assess the impact of any such ordinance and the referendum as drafted does not allow the Council to take any action for five years.

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