A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pier politics

A news article in today's Press Herald describes the political advantage that has just tipped in the Olympia Companies' favor, since only Ocean Properties partisans are up for reelection next month.

While we can all take comfort in the expensive failure of big-money sleazebag politicos in their efforts to snatch up and Palm Beach-ify our Pier, we're now faced with the prospect of slightly more legitimate local developers who want to snatch up and Palm Beach-ify the same place.

As I see it, the fundamental cause of this whole mess was Councilor Cloutier's failure to define a clear and open public process from day one. Well-defined redevelopment bids are supposed to attract many firms with excellent track records and experience. The Maine State Pier redevelopment bid, burdened with Cloutier's rotten leadership and the heavy baggage of political risk, attracted only two firms whose political influence clearly outweighed their ability and willingness to create a great place on our waterfront.

Council candidate Bill Linnell wrote an excellent comment to the PPH article online. Because the Press Herald's online comments section is such a miserable swamp of trolls and shills, I'm going to cite fair use and reprint his comments in a much more dignified setting:

Captain Linnell of Portland, ME
Oct 17, 2007 5:58 AM

Can we talk?

If we don't re-start the bidding process, we may find ourselves simply substituting our headaches with Ocean Properties(OP), with problems with the Olympia Companies. OP and friends have been pushing for a quick decision because until yesterday, they had the upper hand. Similarly, now Olympia doesn't want to restart the bidding process, because at this point, they have the upper hand. It should be noted that all work thus far is saved on everyone's computers, and is not wasted. Either company would have the upper hand over any newcomers to the process.

But I'd like to make sure that it's Portland taxpayers who have the upper hand, and the only way to do that is to keep the competitive bid process alive. Healthy competition is what makes this country strong, from the free market to the NFL to the democratic process. That's why our economy leads the world. Just as the Patriots compete, so do candidates, parties, ideas and businesses. If you want the best price on plowing your driveway, only several different bidders will do.

A lack of healthy competition is a root cause of the Council's dysfunction: Nothing wrong with Democrats, but Portland has been a one-party town for too long. A less homogeneous gene pool within the Council would have avoided the too-cozy relationship with Ocean Properties. Third or fourth bidders were likely discouraged when they saw that the deck was heavily stacked with face cards George Mitchell, Bob Baldacci, Dennis Bailey, and Peter O'Donnell, all of the same suit as the Council leadership: Democrat. More competition, meaning stronger alternative party representation-- whether Green, Independent, or Republican--would encourage healthy debate and better decision-making. Likewise, more competition among the bidders would undoubtedly yield a better result. That would be good news for taxpayers and the waterfront.

Captain Bill Linnell
Third District Candidate for City Council

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