PORTLAND, Maine — Ending months of speculation, former Democratic state senator Ethan Strimling announced Tuesday that he’ll once again run to be mayor of Portland.
Strimling becomes the ninth candidate to enter the race to lead Maine’s largest city, and is perceived by many to be the most credible threat to incumbent Mayor Michael Brennan, who is also a former Democratic lawmaker. Strimling’s candidacy was widely expected, but he has demurred for months about whether he’d run.
Brennan defeated Strimling to win the mayor’s office in 2011, winning roughly 55-45 after 13 other candidates were eliminated in the state’s first-ever instant runoff election. It was also Portland’s first popular mayoral election in nearly 90 years.
On Tuesday, Strimling addressed friends, family and reporters outside the offices of Learning Works, in the city’s West End, where he has been director for two decades. The nonprofit provides education opportunities for at-risk youth, low-income families and immigrants.
Strimling emphasized his role at Learning Works, and its place in his neighborhood. He lives just a block away.
“We all have our own stories, our own Portland city block like this one — each with a rich history, friends, neighbors and workplaces that make our city special,” he said.
He pledged a collaborative approach to the mayor’s office, saying he’d bring the city together to achieve his vision of success.
“People want to be able to say, ‘I’m raising my kids in Portland because we have the best schools in the state. I work in Portland because it is where I found a great job that pays a livable wage. And I live in Portland because it’s affordable, safe and has a great quality of life.’” he said.
Aside from his job at Learning Works, Strimling is also a well-known political commentator, squaring off with former Republican lawmaker Phil Harriman in print and over the air. He said he’d “quit” his commentator jobs at the Portland Press Herald and WCSH Channel 6 — the local NBC affiliate — for the duration of his campaign.
A privately funded poll in July showed Brennan and Strimling in a dead heat, although the passage of time and the hypothetical nature of Strimling’s candidacy at that time raise questions about how much can be gleaned from the survey today.
Still, Strimling’s campaign is poised to be Brennan’s toughest challenge on the path to re-election, though Strimling on Tuesday said the mayoral election should not be viewed as a referendum on Brennan’s four years at the helm.
“No, this is about the future of the city,” he said. “This is not about any one of us individually. This is about the people who are all standing behind me, and making sure we can all come together and find solutions — that we’re all part of and proud of.”
Strimling and the other eight candidates have until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 25, to submit at least 300 certifiable signatures in order to qualify for the ballot. With only a week until that deadline, gathering signatures will be Strimling’s most immediate concern.
Brennan’s got a jump start on that front: Having taken out his nomination papers back in June, the incumbent on Tuesday became the first candidate to deliver signatures for certification. To qualify for the ballot, candidates must return at least 300 signatures from Portland residents. Brennan returned about 350 signatures.
Speaking with reporters after turning in his signatures, Brennan said he and Strimling “both know what we’re getting into” after having run against each other in 2011, and in the 2008 Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District, a six-way race won by Chellie Pingree.
“I feel very confident about the race at this particular point. The city is moving in a very positive direction,” Brennan said. “I’m really excited to be able to run on the record that I’ve had over the last four years — what we’ve done with economic development, improving our school system and really improving the overall economy in neighborhoods within the city of Portland. Unemployment is under 4 percent now, we have growth in all the important sectors within the city.”
Brennan said that despite Portland’s successes, he sees room for improvement in the school system. He also said he’d like to bring municipal broadband access to the city.
Also running in Portland’s mayoral contest are Portland Green Independent Party chairman Tom MacMillan; City Councilor Ed Suslovic; Portland firefighter and Washington Avenue resident Chris Vail; Arcadia National Bar co-owner Benjamin Culver; Maine College of Art student Brendan Glass; Deering Center resident Karl Nordli; and Zouhair Bouzara, who lives in the city’s Parkside neighborhood.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.