The Maine State Pier is where people got fed up with Portland’s system of government.

This was the place where, in the fall of 2007, a deadlocked City Council fought over which of two companies should get a chance to build a $100 million development on the waterfront.

A year later, the council was still talking, but neither business was still interested. With the economy in collapse and the city laying off police officers, firefighters and school employees, anger over the Maine State Pier became the rationale for changing Portland’s form of government.

In case anyone forgot any of that, Ethan Strimling was back at the pier Tuesday to announce his candidacy for mayor, using his critique of the city’s failed economic development effort as his reason for running for the new office.

And although he didn’t mention anyone by name, Strimling’s choice of backdrop for his announcement was a shot against at least three members of the gargantuan field — Nick Mavodones, Jill Duson and David Marshall — who are members of the City Council now, as they were during the Maine State Pier debacle.

“There’s nothing out there, why?” Strimling asked at the pier Tuesday. “They wanted to make a $100 million investment, and we couldn’t find a way to say ‘yes.’ We couldn’t find a way to say ‘thank you.’“

Regardless what you think about Strimling as a potential mayor, you have to agree that his entry into the race gives the field some thing that it has so far lacked — a sense of drama.

He is a well-known name, the CEO of LearningWorks, a large social service agency, and a former member of the state Senate, representing Portland for six years. He appears regularly on radio and television as a political analyst.

He’s also known for the campaigns that he didn’t win — most recently a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 2008 1st District Democratic primary won by Rep. Chellie Pingree after he raised and spent more than $600,000. (Another 2011 mayoral candidate, Michael Brennan, finished third in that race.)

Strimling first came to the public eye in a disastrous race for a City Council seat in 1999 that found him the winner in a recount, but still forced to concede victory to incumbent Jack Dawson, because Strimling’s legal tactics were seen as overly aggressive.

In Maine, people prefer candidates who don’t appear to want it too much. Strimling seems to have learned his lesson, and kicked off this year’s campaign by going door to door, asking people if they wanted him to run.

So, his sense of drama brings us back to the Maine State Pier, in part because he wants to make economic development the centerpiece of his campaign (and who doesn’t?), but maybe also because he wants to bring Portland voters back to the sense of outrage they had when they said they were ready to try out a new form of government.

No candidate in his right mind would call himself the voice of the status quo, but there is a pretty strong argument available to a candidate who promises continuity.

Portland is a great city, as all the magazine list-makers keep telling us. It has a lower unemployment rate than the state as a whole, and it has a lot of features that job creators say they are looking for, like workers with college diplomas.

A strong case can be made that Portland is heading in the right direction and all it needs are a few tweaks to build on what it already has.

Strimling argues that Portland is succeeding in spite of its government.

He says it takes three times longer to pull a building permit in Portland than in a neighboring community like South Portland or Westbrook. There is a 12 percent vacancy rate in Portland’s downtown offices, and what should be prime real estate down on the waterfront is serving as parking lots.

At the same time, city residents pay more in taxes than their neighbors in other communities, which is the most common complaint Strimling has heard in his listening tour so far.

“That’s why economic development is the key to everything,” he said. “Once you do that, all your other problems go away.”

Which is why he was saying this at the Maine State Pier.

Strimling not only comes to the race as one of the best- known candidates, but he is also the one with most to lose. After his dismal finish in the 2008 congressional primary, a loss here would be a major setback for a guy who is probably still as ambitious as he was when he ran for the City Council.

And because this race is the first in Maine to employ ranked-choice voting — which lets voters pick more than one candidate and uses second- and possibly third- or fourth-place votes to determine a winner, it is a hard one to game plan.

Until someone comes up with a way to campaign for second-place votes in Portland, Maine, there is no conventional wisdom to rely on.

A high-profile candidate like Strimling, who has shown the ability to raise money and run hard, should be a signal to the voters that the lazy summer is coming to a close and it’s time to tune into this race.

And if you are still mad about the Maine State Pier, there’s a guy who wants to talk to you.

Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at:

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