By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,649)
Just after noon today two new city councilors were sworn in for three-year terms on the City Council; Brian Batson and Pious Ali took the oath of office from the city clerk Kathy Jones as many of their supporters looked on and applauded when the swearing-in-ceremony was completed. Batson, 25, representing District 3, replaces incumbent Ed Suslovic and Ali replaces at-large councilor Jon Hinck.
The inclusion of these two newcomers to the City Council was a shock that caught many by surprise – especially the election by a narrow margin of Batson. A stroke nurse at Maine Medical Center, Portland, he has lived in Portland for about a year. He is from Ellsworth where he was a high school sate champion swimmer. His mother, father and sister were present at the reception following the ceremony today and said they were very proud of their son. His father is a lobsterman in Ellsworth. Batson works 2 12-hour days but his mother said the hospital was aware of his new commitment and approved of it. Both are considered to be more progressive on issues than the incumbents they defeated.
Ali beat incumbent Hinck in a landslide all of which was did not come as much of a surprise as did the Batson victory. Ali, a native of Ghana, served on the Portland School Board previously. Ali has been working hard to secure this seat and many believed it could be just a matter of the size of his margin over Hinck.
Tributes were paid to the two outgoing councilors by both Mayor Ethan Strimling as well as Council Justin Costa.
Costa commended Ed Suslovic for his tireless advocacy and said he was a full-time councilor who sat on a long list of boards and was often seen at city hall interacting with city staff. Jon Hinck was commended for speaking his voice, taking a lead on environmental issues and increasing energy efficiency in the city.
Mayor Strimling gave a wide-ranging and longish speech – praising the two out-going councilors and advising the incoming councilors to: ask a lot of questions, stay connected to constituents and remember why you ran for office. Strimling acknowledged his first year as Mayor had been full of tension. “It’s a very stressful privilege to work here,” he said. His style of leadership was harshly criticized for its “rogue” approach and related issues at the last City Council meeting on November 21st.
In his remarks to the Council, Strimling acknowledged that Councilor Nick Mavadones had met with him numerous times to tell the Figurehead where he’d erred in his ways as Mayor. It was Mavadones who gave his unforgettable “Chicken Little – The Sky Is Falling Down” endorsement of Strimling in a dramatic press conference on the steps of city hall during his run against former Mayor Michael Brennan. It suggested that Portland was ‘going over the cliff- and it was all Mayor Brennan’s doing. Councilor Jill Duson stood by in agreement having clashed with Mayor Brennan as well.
“I hope to avoid tension in the future,” the Figurehead said hoping for a second chance as Mayor of Portland in his conciliatory remarks to the City Council.
The benediction was given by Rev. Christina Sillari of the Congress Street Unitarian Universalist Church.
Changes to the functioning of city council meetings were adopted. They included a new start time for city council meetings at 5:30 pm rather than 5:00 pm; unagended public comment will be taken at 6:00 pm rather than 7:00 pm as previously; no signs will be allowed at city council meetings and lastly, all committees will be composed of three (3) members only in contrast to the five (5) members of the pathetic Housing Committee.
A reception was impressively catered by the Barron Center in the State of Maine Room following a business meeting.