By Tony Zeli
His friends call him a townie and even the “Mayor.” An old nickname Travis Curran picked up when he worked counter at Otto pizza downtown. Because he seems to know everyone on the street. That’ll happen after 14 years working in Portland’s restaurant industry, living downtown, and walking up and down Congress Street twice a day to and from work.
But, why, with no political experience and even a bit of an aversion to politics, would Travis Curran run for mayor?
“My father passed about five years ago, and I promised him I’d do something with my life…” he says. Travis Curran refers to his father’s blue collar, hardworking, union background twice during our interview. And what concerns him, is that the Portland of tomorrow won’t have room for someone like his father.
“Just watching Portland change, I was like I don’t see why I can’t make a difference and stick up for my friends in the service industry. So, I see a lot people getting priced out, moving out, complaining about the rising rent prices… and I don’t see City Hall doing a lot about it.”
HOUSING (& PARKING)
Curran is a renter, doesn’t own a car, and is quick to say he is “not rich at all.” He doesn’t even want to raise money for his campaign—though he admits he might need to get some lawn signs.
Curran is fortunate to live downtown near where he works. But he is worried about his friends who are being priced out.
“If you want to Airbnb your house, it better be your house and no more shell apartments. My very best friend just got kicked out of his last apartment,” Curran relates. “His landlord evicted everybody, or raised the rent until they left, and then he’s going to Airbnb the whole thing… and that sounded criminal to me. I know he’s just a businessman in America doing what’s right, looking out for his own, but he put my friend out.”
In addition to limiting Airbnb to owner occupied units, Curran wants to look at parking. He talks of his coworkers using their breaks to move cars or watching their tips go to pay for parking tickets.
Curran wants to see more public parking lots, including lots off peninsula where commuters can shuttle bus to downtown jobs—admitting he got that idea from opponent Kate Snyder.
He also wants to improve the METRO bus system with “tighter” lines that run more frequently to make it easier for commuters to get downtown. And he supports creating a night line for second and third shift workers.
“If we’re going to keep the service industry alive, we’ve got to help them get to work,” says Curran.
We need more spots for the fishermen to park,” says Curran. He supports the workers of the working waterfront. He even floats the idea of building another pier for them. But, no condos. He hates to see condos on Portland’s piers.
Travis Curran discusses the waterfront with idealism, calling himself “salty” and noting the anchor in his campaign logo. But he admits the waterfront is his least read about topic, and he’s ready to “go down to Andy’s Old Port Pub to find out what the problem is.”
Also along the waterfront, Curran supports Angelo’s Acre on West Commercial Street as a location for an emergency shelter. He says it is a better location with more access to services, transportation, and job opportunities. Unlike the Riverton neighborhood, which he says was the wrong choice for a shelter location.
“[Riverton] is too far away. It’s too far away from the city. It’s too far awayfrom walkable jobs…” he says. He worries about how those accessing a Riverton shelter would reach other needed services located downtown.
In general, Curran supports more shelters, even if they are going to be built off peninsula, if there are shelters on peninsula as well.
Curran recognizes that to face homelessness, underlying causes like the opioid crisis must be faced.
“I lost one of my very good friends to heroin…” Curran shares. “He lived in northern Maine and- I wish I knew he was on heroin cause I could have done something. So honestly, raising awareness is one of the key factors to actually stopping it. Cause it’s got to be personal…”
Travis Curran takes the opioid crisis personally and seriously. He favors harm reduction, better programs for the homeless, overdose prevention sites (monitored spaces for drug use), and he wants police involvement.
“I want to work really closely with the PD at establishing a really positive presence in Portland,” says Curran. He wants more community police presence and neighborhood foot patrols. Curran supports neighborhood watch programs and wishes there were more of them. And safe, well-lit streets are a priority.
How to pay for it all? Local option sales taxes on hotels, but not restaurant food since that’s how we get the tourists here. In general, he supports a tax system that would “nickel and dime the tourists” until we find enough money.
REVISE THE CITY CHARTER
But part of getting more neighborhood police patrols or new taxes would be working closing with the city manager. And the last two mayors seemed to have trouble with that.
Travis Curran has plenty to say about Portland City Manager Jon Jennings. Curran accuses Jennings of “chopping up and selling our city” to “outside developers.” But he also says he doesn’t have a “giant problem with the guy” and he would seek a good relationship with the city manager through honesty and transparency.
“Also, it should be less him [the manager] versus the mayor,” says Curran. “The mayor should be a voice of the people, but I also think he should be the voice of reason on city council to the city councilors.”
But underlying it all, Curran believes the city manager has too much power for not being a popularly elected position.
“I honestly believe the charter needs to be revised,” Curran says. He would lead the people in opening the charter for more revisions.
In the meantime, Travis Curran says he would be a voice for the people making sure residents know when decisions are being made and that they can come to him with concerns.
“We should have far more outreach. This is what’s going on and why. And I think as mayor I am going to be a great sorta liaison between City Hall and the people. I’m still going to walk up and down Congress Street twice a day. I don’t plan on changing that.”