PORTLAND, Maine — Through 14 rounds of “instant runoffs” Wednesday, Michael Brennan extended the lead he built on Election Day and was unofficially named the first publicly elected Portland mayor since 1923.
“We have a rarity of being part of history in the state of Maine,” Brennan told a room full of opponents, members of the public and reporters just moments after the results were announced. “This is a new voting process in the city of Portland. … I am truly blessed and humbled by this process, and I look forward to starting the work of being the next mayor of Portland.”
Fellow former state senator Ethan Strimling and current City Council-appointed mayor Nicholas Mavodones failed to leapfrog into the top position as the city conducted its first ranked choice election. During Wednesday’s retabulation process, second choice votes for lower ranked candidates were systematically reallocated to higher ranked candidates until an individual claimed more than 50 percent of the total.
The unofficial results were announced late Wednesday after elections officials and reporters spent 12 or more hours at City Hall monitoring the painstaking ballot scanning, reviewing and tabulating processes.
The results will be certified Thursday after the remainder of the nearly 20,000 ballots are reviewed by elections officials. But Caleb Kleppner of elections consultant TrueBallot told members of the media the vote-counting software being used showed “extraordinary accuracy” during the review of 1,000 ballots Wednesday, and he’s confident the unofficial results will be cemented as official.
There were 15 candidates on the ballot, on which Portland voters could rank the candidates from No. 1 all the way to No. 15 if they chose. Only first choice votes were counted on Election Day, and with no single candidate garnering a majority of the first choice votes cast, the hours-long Day 2 process kicked into gear Wednesday.
Brennan came into Day 2 the frontrunner, having racked up 5,240 (27 percent) of the first choice notches counted on Election Day, with Strimling tailing him in second place with 4,390. Mavodones, in third with 2,938 votes by Tuesday night, remained in the running with the Wednesday process to play out as well.
But as candidates at the bottom of the list were eliminated and their second choices passed around to the higher ranked candidates, Brennan continued to outpace his top two opponents.
He finished the race with 8,971 votes compared with Strimling’s final tally of 7,138. Mavodones, who like fellow candidates David Marshall and Jill Duson will remain in their seats on the City Council, finished in third with 4,075 votes before being eliminated.
With the victory, Brennan earns a four-year term as the mayor, during which time he’ll serve as the council’s chairman and make $66,000 per year. He’ll get veto power over the annual municipal budget, a move that can be overturned by a two-thirds vote of his fellow councilors.
Beyond the veto power, the newly elected mayor’s job is less defined. He’ll be generally expected to advocate for the city’s interests both locally and statewide. City Manager Mark Rees will continue overseeing day-to-day city operations, leaving Brennan to determine for himself how politically active the publicly elected mayor will be moving forward.
“I do think it’s going to be critical for the mayor to have a good relationship with the city manager,” Brennan said Wednesday, adding that he’ll seek to build common agendas with city councilors and the city’s state legislative delegation.
“The major policy issues — where we’re going to go with the waterfront, for instance — are what the mayor needs to address, and we have to attack it early on so the public knows we’re making progress,” he said.
Portland voters re-established the popularly elected mayor job last November by approving a slate of charter changes at the polls. Since 1923, the mayor has been appointed by the City Council, essentially as the panel’s annual chairman with mostly ceremonial authority.
Following Mavodones in the final rankings Wednesday was Marshall, with upstart Jed Rathband placing fifth in terms of which candidates lasted the longest through elimination rounds. Duson and Deering High School teacher Markos Miller came in sixth and seventh, respectively.
“There’s an element of the city that really looks forward to having energetic new leadership,” Rathband told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday. “Mike will do a great job, and I look forward to working with him in whatever capacity I can.”