The City of Portland has elected City Councilor Mark Dion to be their new mayor.
After no candidate crossed the 50 percent threshold on election night, the race went into a ranked-choice tabulation Wednesday morning at City Hall.
Mark Dion won the Wednesday morning rank choice runoff, after having received 39 percent of the election day vote, leading second place City Councilor Andrew Zarro by over 10 points.
Dion, former Cumberland County Sheriff, differentiated himself from the rest of the field with his strong stance on ending the city’s homelessness crisis.
While the other candidates emphasized the need for expanded emergency and transitional housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, Dion spoke to the safety concerns of Portland residents and business owners affected by the homeless encampments.
In a mayoral candidate debate in late September, Dion said “the encampments have to cease,” and criticized the inefficacy of the city’s current “social worker approach.”
“There is a value to that [approach] if people want to accept the services,” Dion said in the debate. “I cannot tolerate the idea that we provide them with a menu of options and they come up with conditions.”
“If you want conditions, I want rules. I want the police involved. I want to curtail open and notorious criminal conduct. I want to recover stolen property,” he said. “I want the same level of normalcy in those camps that I would expect from anybody else that was camping in a public space.”
“I want to make our public spaces, our parks and our trails, safe again,” he added. “People don’t want to talk about it because they don’t think it’s politically correct — so I will advocate on their behalf.”
Dion promised during the debate that, if elected, the city would be “safer in four years than we feel it is today.”
The newly elected mayor is expected to run into opposition to his firm stance on homelessness from both the City Council and local nonprofit organizations.
At their next meeting on Nov. 13, the Portland City Council is slated to consider amending city ordinances to allow homeless to loiter and camp in public parks, putting a pause on the city’s continuing efforts to sweep one homeless encampment at a time.
The proposed ordinance changes are being brought by Councilors Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodriguez.
“The size and concentration of the encampments is a grave concern,” Rodriguez said in a statement regarding the proposal. “Forcing together masses of people who are impoverished and facing desperate circumstances can only lead to increased problems.”
The ACLU of Maine has criticized the city’s sweeps of homeless encampments as “inherently racist,” and recently warned in a letter Portland City Manager Danielle West that the sweeps may be unconstitutional.