Portland’s progressive candidates lost big last night. What now?

Brian Feulner | BDN File

After several long months running some very intense campaigns, when all of the votes were counted last night across Portland and up in Brunswick, where mental health and domestic violence advocate Whitney A. Parrish ran for town council, every single one of the handful of progressive upstart “Bernie-crat” candidates in southern Maine came up short.

In the Portland race for City Council At-Large, Jill Duson, the former fossil fuel lobbyist, who, over her 16 years on council, has proven a vocal opponent to the city’s low income residents, consistently blocking their rights to a fair wage, affordable housing and public health services, even going so far as to try to sell the public park at the center of the city, Congress Square, to a luxury developer, emerged victorious with 44% of the vote.

Left in the wake were Joey Brunelle, a local software engineer and progressive community organizer, at 30%, and Bree LaCasse, a lifelong Portlander, public school advocate and nonprofit worker, at 26%.

In the race to represent District Four, which extends out from the north shore of the Back Cove, Justin Costa, a young politically centrist lawyer, won re-election over Kim Rich, a political newcomer and progressive firebrand, who quit her job as an administrative worker at Maine Med after Donald Trump was elected to become a full-time activist and social justice advocate.

In the race to represent District Five, the city’s northern most district, Kim Cook, a local lawyer and former member of Porland’s Zoning Board of Appeals, soundly defeated her two opponents, Marpheen Chan and Craig Dorais, both of whom are avowed Democratic Socialists.

So what now?

As I see it, had every one of the progressive candidates who threw their hat in the ring for the first time this year came out on top, they’d still all just be in the middle of the work.

Attaining a significant position in local government is certainly a real accomplishment, but being a leader is a lot bigger than simply holding a seat. Most positions in state and local government require never ending meetings and a mountain of bureaucracy, all for very little pay. Being a leader is bigger than that. Politics is bigger than that.

Politics is about bringing people together. It’s about shaping the public conversation. If you play guitar, you’re a musician, whether or not you’re currently in a band. Same thing if you’re a genuine leader: your administration doesn’t start when you win, it starts the moment you begin putting your first campaign together. And when you do get elected, the campaign doesn’t end the minute the tallies are posted. As long as you’re in the public eye, you’ve got to continue inspiring people to follow you.

Sure there are victories and defeats along the way, but the work itself is ongoing. It stretches for decades. Collectively, it’s been going on for centuries. If genuinely done in earnest, in a lot of ways, ethically leading other people is the hardest thing human beings are capable of. It’s a blessing to be somebody who feels a significant calling to step up.

So, I don’t know. If you’re one of the many people who worked on a progressive campaign this cycle, get some rest. Dust yourself off. Nothing’s really changed. It rarely does. But it can. 2018 is coming. Hang in there everybody.

Rob Korobkin

About Rob Korobkin

Rob is a software engineer, community organizer, teacher and musician. He can often be found at Peloton Labs, staring at his laptop, drafting diatribes and programming software late into the night.