Nate: Becca, I’ve been reading “A Promised Land,” the recently published first volume of Barack Obama’s presidential memoir. I’m only through the first 170 pages, but one thing that strikes me about it is that Obama sincerely desired and sincerely tried to bring about a post-partisan era in American politics, one in which Americans could look past their differences and collectively work towards some shared goals. But the shadow of failure hangs over all that: we are manifestly not living in a golden age of cooperation and common good, and in fact Obama’s presidency ended with the inauguration of Donald Trump. So the story feels to me like a grand tragedy, almost mythical in scope and sadness. It makes me wonder what lessons can be applied locally. Do you think there are any?

Becca: Oh, you with your fancy book-reading and cultural references! Locally — I think one of the issues with the Obama presidency is that he underestimated the racism and the absolute refusal of the Republicans to work with him on any issues. I believe he, like many middle-of-the-road Democrats, listened too much to politicians and corporate lobbyists rather than the public, who consistently support more progressive ideas than elected officials. So my takeaway for local organizers and politicians is to focus on policies that you know will make people’s lives better and benefit the environment, rather than trying to kowtow to some mythical idea of bipartisanship. Use your time in power to work with those at the very bottom of the food chain, explain to the broader public why these changes are for the best, and then dedicate yourself to making these positive changes. Your take?

Nate: I agree completely (especially about me being fancy)! That may be a lesson of the Rockland minimum wage referendum, too: Despite some loud opposition from people with financial and cultural capital, the public supported it overwhelmingly. So what’s next locally? I’m inclined to try to tackle housing. A couple of years ago, before I was elected, the Rockland City Council attempted some residential zoning changes aimed at increasing the housing supply, encountered intense opposition, and backed off. You and I had planned to write about that at the time, but we never got around to it. I think it’s time for the city to try again, in some of the same ways but also some different ways.

Becca: Great! We’ve dropped various ideas about housing here over time. Are you thinking of any rent control measures? What about public housing?

Nate: I am thinking about public housing and community land trusts (thanks to former Free Press editor Andy O’Brien, who turned me on to the idea). I don’t know much about rent control, and I would need to do some research about how it works elsewhere. One issue with starting a land trust is that you generally need some land (or money). The city sometimes acquires parcels that are either abandoned or taken for nonpayment of taxes or fees, and in cases where the original owner doesn’t want the land or can’t realistically reclaim it, we could potentially use the land to start a trust. There are plenty of other models around the world too. I am also thinking about incrementally loosening our residential zoning restrictions, for example by allowing detached accessory apartments, which my fellow City Councilor Ben Dorr and I are sponsoring for the December City Council agenda.

Becca: I’m always saying: There are ways to get the money. Given that wealthy people have been allowed to acquire endlessly due to unfair policies, they can be enticed, if not forced, to contribute generously to the well-being of all. It’s a matter of sustainability, too, and if the sustainability coordinator has any extra time, could that be part of what they do, raising funds for public housing? In a recent Facebook post, Camden Select Board member Alison McKellar mentioned the need for Camden to focus on “making it possible for people of all income levels to be here.” My pessimist reaction was to think: That ship has long since sailed in Camden and Rockport. Having grown up in Millville, my sense is that housing in Camden hasn’t been generally affordable for 30-plus years. Locally, it’s up to Rockland to do everything it can to stem the rapid disease of gentrification that eventually comes to every coastal Maine town and is being hastened by the pandemic. Are you seeing a lot more people struggling with the higher tax bills in Rockland? How about stopping non-owner-occupied Airbnb’s completely?

Nate: We’re almost out of words, so I’ll end with this: I and others have blown a lot of hot air over the past few years about gentrification and affordability, without much success. But I think there’s now a cultural and political appetite to tackle these issues more directly. We’ll see!