When Jerry Jalbert’s on a bike ride, he doesn’t try to avoid the hills. He looks for them.

“I enjoy the challenge,” the South Portland mayor said Friday – referring both to physical feats and to political affairs.

After leading the city though a particularly challenging year, when an international debate over the export of tar sands oil fell on South Portland’s waterfront, Jalbert is ready to step away from politics – not because he’s fed up, but because he finally feels fulfilled.

Jalbert has decided not to run for re-election in November to a second term on the City Council. Although his stint as councilor was only three years, with just one as mayor, his public service career spans two decades.

“I feel really good about what I’ve done as far as public service,” said Jalbert, 61. “This past year in particular, quite frankly, it’s been a lot of fun.”

His career in public service started when his neighbor across the street, then-Councilor Birger Johnson, asked him to fill a year-and-a-half vacancy on the Board of Appeals. He ended up serving five terms.

Johnson said there were a lot of reasons he thought Jalbert would be good for the job. “He’s a good man, industrious reliable, friendly.”

Plus, he said, “You can talk to him and get answers in paragraphs.”

Jalbert had already gotten a taste for politics as union shop steward at the S.D. Warren paper mill in Westbrook – now Sappi – where he worked for 20 years.

Around the time Jalbert decided to transition into the white-collar world, taking night and weekend classes in accounting at Husson University’s Portland campus, Johnson approached him about the zoning board.

Johnson said he was “pleasantly surprised” to see Jalbert eventually become mayor. His wife, Linda Johnson, South Portland’s first female mayor, said Jalbert’s decision is the city’s loss.

“He’s been wonderful,” she said, “but if he decides not to run, that’s his own business.”

Even Councilor Michael Pock, the sole dissenter on the council on the issue of banning the export of tar sands from South Portland’s harbor, will be sad to see him go.

“I like Jerry a lot,” he said. “He was a good mentor to me when I first got on the council.”

As for their political differences, Pock said, “That’s democracy. We respect each other for it.”

Jalbert’s decision to step away from politics – permanently, he insists – dovetails with the near-ending of his career as a mortgage loan officer, though he has no immediate retirement plans.

For someone who keeps all his commitments and is never late for an appointment, neither job jibes with Jalbert’s other aspirations.

He wants to spend three months in Europe and attend the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

He’d like to have more freedom to island-hop in his kayak, spend long weekends skiing and take more bike trips, conquering new hills.

“I’m going to pursue the bucket list,” he said. “It’s a long list, so I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

Twitter: @lesliebridgers