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Portland City Councilors split on mask mandate decision

A tie vote by councilors on Monday defeated the proposed mandate for now, but the council is expected to vote again.

PORTLAND, Maine — The City of Portland will not have a new mask mandate, for now. The Portland City Council voted 4-4 at its meeting Monday to defeat the proposal.

The 4-4 vote was not enough to enact the proposed mandate, but not enough to kill it.

Monday's vote comes after weeks of discussion, and a postponed vote at a special meeting last week.

Councilors voting against the mandate cited the negative impacts it could have on businesses in the city and said that without a larger statewide mandate, a city mandate wouldn't have the impact on preventing COVID-19 cases that councilors hope.

"I think it's only effective if it happens as a regional effort, preferably a state effort. And one of the reasons for that is it does place our businesses at a disadvantage," said Councilor Belinda Ray, who voted against the mandate with Mayor Kate Snyder and councilors Nick Mavodones and Mark Dion.

   

Councilors Pious Ali, April Fournier, Tae Chong, and Andrew Zarro supported enacting the mandate. 

The 4-4 vote comes after Portland City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau resigned from the council to accept a position in Washington in the Biden administration with the U.S. Department of Energy. 

According to city staff, following the tie vote, councilors expect to face the measure again at a meeting in two weeks. It will remain an agenda item until the measure is amended to pass or is indefinitely postponed. 

An effort to postpone the mandate indefinitely also failed on Monday as councilors again split 4-4.

"Cities like Portland have to take the lead," Chong said. "And by doing so, there's going to be people that are going to win and lose. But at the end of the day, if we can save fewer people from going to the hospitals, and have fewer kids being quarantined and having more pressure on child care, that's a good thing."

Following the decision Monday, Zarro, who originally initiated the mask mandate, suggested the council drop its emergency measure allowing for remote participation in meetings, calling it "inconsistent."

Several councilors that voted against the mask mandate, including Snyder and Ray, said that their votes were not placing "businesses over people" but said they still had issues with the mandate. 

Snyder and Ray said they would support a state or regional mandate.