PORTLAND — During his 13 years as state legislator, Michael Brennan established a track record of building consensus, even on contentious issues.
As Senate chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission on MaineCare Reform, Brennan steered the commission toward a unanimously supported report.
He did the same as chairman of the Legislative Committee on Learning Technology, which led to laptops in classrooms.
And he did the same as House chairman of the Education Committee, repeatedly earning unanimous support on often-contentious issues like school funding and school construction, according to Maine State Legislature voting records.
Brennan said the city will need a collaborator like that for its first popularly elected mayor in 88 years.
“The charter doesn’t give the mayor top-down power,” he said. “The mayor’s power will come from the strength of his ideas, and the persuasion and consensus-building to get everyone else on board.”
In the last month, Brennan has become a front-runner in the mayor’s race. He has received more high-profile endorsements than any other candidate.
Portland Tomorrow, whose stated goal is to “identify and support” the best candidates for mayor, named Brennan its No. 1 choice, as did the Press Herald’s editorial board.
The Maine League of Young Voters and Portland Education Association each named Brennan their second choice.
And City Councilors John Anton and Ed Suslovic, and former Portland mayors Nathan Smith, Linda Abromson and Pamela Plumb also have endorsed Brennan.
Iraq war veteran Adam Cote, who ran against Brennan in the 2008 Democratic primary for Maine’s 1st Congressional District, said people gravitate toward Brennan as much because of his character as his accomplishments.
“Most importantly, he’s a really good person with very high integrity. That’s the first thing I think of when I think about Michael,” Cote said.
“That’s not always the case with politicians. Some politicians change their message depending on the audience they’re speaking to. Michael never did that in our race and I really respected him for that.”
Brennan has few critics, even among his fellow candidates. Markos Miller said his plan to regionalize transportation would only incrementally improve the efficiency of the system.
Former state Sen. Ethan Strimling, who also ran in that 2008 congressional primary, has pointed out that neither Brennan nor incumbent Mayor Nick Mavodones have experience in the private sector.
Chris Vail lumped him in with other candidates who have previously held political office in one salvo:
“People are tired of politicians,” said Vail, a firefighter with no previous political experience. “I don’t think electing anyone who’s held office before is a progressive step for this city.”
Brennan deflected the criticism.
“There are people in elected office who are effective, and there are people in elected office who aren’t,” Brennan said. “I think my record speaks for itself.”
Brennan is running on a platform of education as a job creator. He points to a recent report from Southern Maine Community College, which showed Maine will need about 1,800 jobs filled in the near future that Mainers can’t fill because they lack the necessary job skills.
He said the mayor can work with local schools like the University of Southern Maine, the University of New England and SMCC to offer rapid retraining programs so locals can fill those jobs.
Eight-month or one-year programs can do the trick, he said, instead of the traditional two- and four-year degrees.
The city also can create a “research triangle” between those schools, as well as Maine Medical Center and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, he said. The research cluster would serve as a petri dish for innovation, he said, and innovation leads to jobs.
He said his knowledge of educational policy, his ties to the education community and his ability to build consensus could accomplish these tasks.
“I’m the only candidate who can make this happen,” he said, citing his ties to local schools. Brennan works as a research associate at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service.
Brennan said he would also like to establish an ombudsman at City Hall to streamline the permitting process and work with the surrounding communities to build a regional approach to public transportation.
And he’d like to garner support from other communities to rework the school-funding formula to get back the $1 million in state funding that Portland lost in the last budgeting process.
“I’ve said when Portland works alone in Augusta, we generally don’t have much success,” he said. “But if we can find partners and work collaboratively, we tend to do much better.”
Supporters said Brennan’s experience and relationships in Augusta and throughout the state will serve him well as mayor. He worked with a Democratic, Republican and Independent governor during his time in the Legislature, and had success under all of them, they said.
But most importantly, they said, his message of collaboration and consensus will lead to success.
“He not only understands what the mayor can do,” Suslovic said, “he understands what it can’t do. That’s what I think separates him from the other candidates.”
Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6347 or at: