Portland school board member announces run for City Council

Apr. 3—A third candidate has thrown his hat in the race for an at-large seat on the Portland City Council that will open up this fall.

Ben Grant, a city school board member with a background in state politics, announced Tuesday that he is running to fill Councilor Roberto Rodriguez's seat. Rodriguez announced last week that he will not run for a second term.

Grant has served on the school board since 2022 when he was elected to finish out Rodriguez' term after he was elected to the council. Grant said if he is elected, he will approach his work on the council with an eye toward the impact of city issues on education.

"Education is really the magic bullet for the health of a city. The project of educating kids is everybody's project. I want to bring more of a focus on schools to all the work we're doing in the city," said Grant, who has two kids in the Portland school system.

Two other candidates have also announced plans to run for the seat in November, Joey Brunelle and Jake Viola. Also on the ballot will be the council seats in Districts 1 and 2, currently held by Councilors Victoria Pelletier and Anna Trevorrow. Neither returned messages Wednesday asking if they planned to seek another term in office.

Brunelle, a graphic designer and web developer, said he is backed by councilors April Fournier and Kate Sykes. He ran for an at-large seat on the council in 2017, but lost to Jill Duson. He lost another bid for an at-large seat the following year to Nicholas Mavodones.

Viola, a political newcomer, is from South Portland and spent several years working in federal and state government in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts, he said. He moved back to Portland in 2021.

Grant has worked for years in Democratic politics. He served as chair of the Maine Democratic Party from 2011 through 2014 and was co-chair of Gov. Janet Mills' transition team when she took office in 2019. Grant currently works as general counsel for the Maine Education Association, the largest teacher's union in the state. His campaign said he was endorsed by Councilor Regina Phillips and School Board Chair Sarah Lentz.

He says his experience in government will help the council move policy forward more efficiently.

"I see Portland as having a lot of great ideas right now for how we can progress as a city, but I also see a council that needs some help," he said.

Grant said he'd also like to focus on housing affordability. He'd like to see a future where everyone who works in Portland can also afford to live in the city.

Nomination papers, which officially put a candidate on the ballot, won't be available until June 3. Candidates will have until July 29 to turn them in. Clean elections paperwork is already available, and both Viola and Grant have started that process.