PORTLAND, Me. – The Portland City Council decided Nov. 19 to add its muscle to a push for universal health care in Maine. Councilors voted 6-3 to pass a resolution endorsing the results of a Nov. 6 nonbinding referendum, in which nearly 52 percent of Portland voters supported the concept of universal health care.

The council’s resolution will be forwarded to the Legislature as a petition from Portland residents. It commits the city to work for efforts to develop a single-payer system. Councilors who supported the referendum said they hope it will encourage the passage of universal health care in Maine and cut a path for the rest of the country to follow.

“If it happens, it would be a wonderful thing,” said Councilor James Cloutier, who voted for the resolution.

Supporters of a single-payer system say they hope state lawmakers will see Portland’s referendum as a mandate to take up the issue when the Legislature reconvenes in January. However, legislators serving on a board that is studying universal health care say the issue likely won’t be ready for debate until 2003. That’s OK with some of the referendum’s key backers.

“Whenever we put this forward, we want to have a plan to make it work,” said Tammy Greaton, co-director of the Maine People’s Alliance and a member of the legislative panel that will issue a report on the issue next spring.

Supporters of the Campaign for Universal Health Care held a news conference Nov. 19 in front of City Hall to show support for the council’s resolution. Dr. Richard Dillihunt, a retired Portland surgeon, said he believes “it is a matter of social justice for everyone to have decent health care.”

Brenda Broder, owner of a hair salon, said she hopes Portland will lead the state and the nation in the fight against lack of access and rising health care costs.

“We want to find a system that works,” Broder said. “We want change.”