February starts with Groundhog Day, when, according to tradition, furry rodents creep out of their holes. If they can see their shadows, they register campaign committees with the state ethics commission.
In March, tradition tells us, human candidates for mayor of Portland do the same.
Actually, there is no tradition when it comes to electing a mayor in Portland, or if there is, it’s buried so deeply in history that no one alive (except maybe Herb Adams) remembers what it is.
But since Election Day is only eight months away, we (just me, really) have decided that it’s not too early to roll out some names.
There is a formally announced candidate or two, but it seem more profitable at this point to focus on the people who haven’t yet announced but have been the subject of the hottest rumors:
1. Nick Mavodones: Of all the people who could be mayor, he is the easiest to imagine in the job because he has it now, he had it last year and he’s had it a time or two in the past.
His transition from part-time elected-by-his-colleagues mayor to full-time elected-by-the-people mayor could only be complicated by his vigorous campaign against the whole elected-mayor concept just a few months ago.
He said it would be a waste of money and the position would be too weak to make a difference.
He was also particularly critical of the ranked-choice voting system embedded in the charter change, which he said could be subject to manipulation.
But those statements probably won’t hurt him. Almost as many people voted against the charter change as voted for it, and the anti-mayor campaign leader would seem to be the candidate of choice for the we-like-it-how-it-is crowd.
And despite his dire warnings about ranked-choice voting, the likable candidate with strong name recognition seems poised to benefit from a system that pays dividends for being someone’s second choice.
2. Michael Brennan: Few people in Portland have more experience at the intersection of policy and politics than this longtime state legislator and Muskie School faculty member.
Brennan served in the state House and Senate, at various times chairing the Education and Health and Human Services committees, and was elected Senate majority leader by his colleagues. He ran for Congress in 2008 and finished third overall, but second only to Chellie Pingree in Portland.
He is hard-working and relentlessly cheerful, and his name comes up often from Portland’s progressive activists looking for someone to support.
His biggest problem may be that a lot of people won’t remember who he is. It will be more than three years since his last campaign, and three years of recession, budget cuts and the Republican takeover of Augusta should be counted like dog years in Portland politics.
To win, Brennan will have to remind people who he is and why they liked him.
3. Ethan Strimling: No one needs to be reminded about him – he appears to be everywhere. The former state senator (who finished just behind Brennan in the Portland 2008 congressional primary vote) is the executive director of Portland Learning Works, the social service agency formerly known as Portland West.
His work brings him in contact with a wide range of nonprofits, and he has built a high-profile side career as a political commentator on talk radio and television news.
Strimling raised $600,000 to run for Congress and would not need nearly that much this time to get his vision for Portland out to the public, whatever that vision may be.
4. Rosa Scarcelli: In the days between Halloween and Election Day, Democrats were seen walking the streets of Portland with their hands in their pockets and their heads hanging low. If you got close enough to hear their muttering, you might have deciphered the words, “Maybe if Rosa had won the primary … “
The feeling was that the smart, well-spoken businesswoman would have been a better adversary for Paul LePage than any of the candidates with long resumes in government.
That’s not, of course, what people are saying now about Scarcelli, or “Mrs. John Doe No. 1,” as she is sometimes known.
That’s a reference to the lame-brained political attack website called “The Cutler Files,” which probably won votes for its target, Eliot Cutler, by feeding the narrative that he was the victim of scurrilous attacks. The site was dreamed up by Scarcelli’s husband, Thom Rhoades, and political consultant Dennis Bailey. They then proceeded to lie about their involvement – or come so close to lying that it amounts to the same thing – before finally coming clean.
Some are saying the episode means the end of Scarcelli’s political career, and others are probably advising her to lie low for a while. But that has problems of its own. Someday people will forget about The Cutler Files, but they won’t forget to associate Scarcelli with something they didn’t like.
A race for mayor could give her a second chance to introduce herself, and she might show herself to be the kind of representative for the city that people are looking for.
Those are four names, and there probably will be many others before anyone figures out how this new tradition is supposed to work.
Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: [email protected]