PORTLAND — Former state Sen. Michael Brennan will be the city’s first elected mayor in 88 years after being named the winner of a 15-way race Wednesday night.
“My hope is we’ll look back in four years and say, ‘Not only did we elect the right person, but having a (stronger) mayor made a difference for the city of Portland,’ ” Brennan told the dozens of people gathered at City Hall to watch the returns in the city’s first ranked-choice election.
Brennan won with 8,971 votes, or 56 percent of the 16,109 cast, in the 13th and final round of counting. He will be inaugurated Dec. 5.
As the room erupted in cheers, several of Brennan’s opponents shook his hand and Ethan Strimling, who finished second, gave him an extended hug.
Brennan, a policy associate at the Muskie School of Public Service for nearly 10 years, was a state representative for Portland from 1992 to 2000, and served as a state senator from 2002-2006. In 2004, he became the first Senate majority leader from Portland.
With Wednesday’s results, Brennan now steps into a new mayor’s role. The charter commission created the post of a full-time, elected mayor to serve a four-year term in order to increase accountability and expand the role of the mayor from the current, largely ceremonial post.
The position is being closely watched, particularly with other key jobs being filled in Portland. A new city manager was recently hired, a search is under way for a new police chief and the school superintendent recently announced he is stepping down.
As mayor, Brennan said his first goal would be to establish a solid working relationship with the city manager and city councilors, since he will need their support for his policy proposals.
Brennan grabbed an early lead in the initial vote count on election night, taking 27.4 percent of the first-place votes, but not the 50 percent-plus-one needed to win.
That triggered Wednesday’s “instant runoff” ranked-choice vote-counting, which took all day. Under ranked choice, as candidates with the lowest number of first-place votes are eliminated, those ballots are redistributed to each voter’s second choice for mayor.
Brennan’s lead held through each round of counting, and Strimling remained in second place, City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones in third and City Councilor David Marshall in fourth.
Strimling said he was disappointed, but said Brennan would make an excellent mayor.
“I felt like we gave voters a clear choice. If Portland wanted my type of leadership, they could vote for me. And if they wanted Mike’s type, they could vote for him,” he said. “They chose Mike and I’m OK with that. Forty-four percent voted for me and I’m proud of that.”
Brennan’s campaign focused mostly on education. He said quality public schools would keep and attract families.
He also talked about forming a partnership with University of Southern Maine, Southern Maine Community College, the University of New England and other local schools to put together rapid retraining programs that don’t require two- or four-year commitments.
That would accomplish two objectives, Brennan said. First, it would help quickly close the skills gap and fill available jobs that don’t have the trained workers to fill them.
Second, it would prepare Mainers for the coming jobs that require more than a high school education, which studies show will comprise a large part of 21st century jobs, Brennan said.
He also said he would bring back heavy item pickup day, which drew laughs from the crowd.
“I am truly blessed and truly humbled by this process,” Brennan said. “And I’m looking forward to going to work soon to accomplish our goals.”
Counting the votes took longer than expected. A series of delays pushed the final results from early afternoon until almost 8:30 p.m.
TrueBallot Inc., the company hired to help the city with ranked-choice voting, was supposed to start scanning in the ballots at 8 a.m., but didn’t start until 10 a.m.
Once the ballots had been scanned, the data took 2½ hours to upload onto TrueBallot’s computers, much longer than city officials had predicted.
City officials and TrueBallot employees chalked up the delays to high voter turnout. The city was expecting a 25 percent turnout, but it topped 40 percent, said Nicole Clegg, the city’s director of communications.
Several candidates said they liked the ranked-choice process.
Jed Rathband, who finished fifth, said ranked-choice voting eliminated negative campaigning because candidates didn’t want to alienate other candidates’ supporters and lose those second-place votes.
“It became more about the issues and less about personalities,” Rathband said. “That’s a good thing.”
Firefighter Chris Vail, who finished ninth, agreed.
“There was a lot of anxiety beforehand about the ranked-choice ballots,” Vail said. “But almost everyone I talked to said it was no big deal after they left the polls.”
In total, 139 of the 20,212 ballots cast Tuesday were incorrectly filled out and had to be thrown out, and 439 were left blank for the mayor’s race, according to numbers provided by the city. More ballots were eliminated in later rounds of counting if voters didn’t rank multiple candidates.
On Wednesday night, the ranked-choice voting software started the second round by eliminating Jodie Lapchick, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes.
Her votes were then redistributed to other candidates, based on her supporters’ second-place choices. If a voter only voted for Lapchick, their ballots were discarded after the second round.
In the third round, the software eliminated Hamza Haadoow, who received the second fewest votes, and redistributed those ballots.
The process continued, eliminating one candidate after another, until Brennan had 8,971 votes of the remaining 16,109 ballots.
Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: [email protected]