PORTLAND, Maine — The elected mayor’s seat in Maine’s largest city has been a source of political strife since it was enshrined in 2011. On Nov. 5, Portland voters will decide whether to keep their rebranded incumbent or pick someone who may be a more conciliatory choice.
Mayor Ethan Strimling is running for another four-year term in the liberal stronghold. In the nominally nonpartisan race, he’ll face two more centrist Democrats — City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau and former school board chair Kate Snyder — and political outsider Travis Curran.
The race is as much about the scope of the mayor’s job as it is about the ideas of the candidates. Here’s how they are pitching themselves to voters — in 400 words or less.
First-term mayor, former nonprofit director and legislator
The context: The 51-year-old mayor has run in all of Portland’s three mayoral campaigns. He lost in 2011, then beat an incumbent in 2015 with support from councilors and the business community behind a promise to be a “ listener-in-chief.” He has reinvented himself in 2019 as a progressive movement-builder after battles with City Manager Jon Jennings and most of the council. He has contended the tension has bred constructive work, citing voters’ 2017 passage of a $64 million school bond as the highlight of his tenure.
Key quote: “Our city is squeezing the middle class. Wealth is flowing into the city, but it is not flowing to our working people,” he said at a Thursday debate held by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We are going to lose our city if we don’t focus on this, if we don’t recognize that the heart and soul of who we are is our working class and middle-class families.”
Major backers: Strimling raised $148,000 — more than any other candidate — by mid-September, according to financial disclosures. His campaign said it came from 1,500 donors. He is endorsed by labor groups including the Maine AFL-CIO. A majority of the Portland school board support him alongside just one city councilor — Pious Ali, who holds an at-large seat. Big-name donors include developer Joseph Soley and former Maine Gov. John Baldacci and he has been endorsed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
On the mayor’s role: During the height of his power struggle with Jennings and councilors in 2017, Strimling made a call for a review of the mayor’s authority in the city charter, which gives the mayor little formal power and says they should “articulate the city’s vision and goals.” It fell on deaf ears. Strimling has said he would favor eliminating the city manager position and handing their authority to the mayor, but he said Thursday the role shouldn’t be changed now.
One big idea: Strimling pledged for the first time in the Thursday debate to push for an hourly minimum wage of $15 in the city, almost goading the chamber audience by saying he knew the crowd would “light your hair on fire” over it. He opposed such a hike during a 2015 campaign in which he had chamber backing. Voters rejected that increase in the same election.
City councilor and real estate attorney
Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...
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