Mayor Ethan Strimling's policy address came during a period when he has been in a power struggle with City Manager Jon Jennings and at odds with several city councilors.

Mayor Ethan Strimling’s policy address came while he was in a power struggle with City Manager Jon Jennings and at odds with several city councilors. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Passing a $70 million bond to renovate four elementary schools. Voting rights for legal immigrants who are not yet U.S. citizens. And doubling the requirement for affordable housing in some market-rate developments.

Those are among the wide-ranging progressive policy initiatives unveiled by Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling in his second annual State of the City Address, including “strong support” for equipping Portland police with body cameras.

Other initiatives include a requirement for businesses to provide earned paid sick leave and providing targeted tax relief for seniors. He also called for a gender-neutral bathroom at City Hall and promised to eliminate the tipped wage, should state legislators reinstate it.

“It’s when this council powers a progressive vision with steadfast courage that we set Portland on a path to truly fulfilling the needs of our city and those who live here,” he said.

The mayor’s annual policy speech comes as Strimling is locked in a power struggle with City Manager Jon Jennings and at odds with several city councilors, who recently rewarded Jennings with a substantial raise for his performance last year.

Portland City Councilor Pious Ali listens as Mayor Ethan Strimling gives the State of the City address Monday evening at City Hall.

Portland City Councilor Pious Ali listens as Mayor Ethan Strimling gives the State of the City address Monday evening at City Hall. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

It also comes just days after Jennings discussed his priorities for the coming year at a breakfast meeting of local business leaders. Those priorities include rewriting the city’s zoning code, repairing streets and sidewalks, and updating the city vehicle fleet.

Strimling, who released the text of his speech as city leaders gathered in council chambers at City Hall, used the address to make the case for a $60 million to $70 million bond to renovate four elementary schools.

“Soon we will formally ask this council to send to the voters a package that will ensure our children are spending their most formative years in 21st-century learning environments,” Strimling said. “We must ensure that a child’s address does not dictate his or her educational experience.”

City councilors must decide whether to send the proposal to voters, and some are concerned about taking on the cost all at once. Jennings said Friday he would support a smaller bond to renovate fewer schools to preserve the possibility of state funding. However, Strimling has said the state has made it clear it would not fund the schools. He noted that the district has more than $300 million in other school needs that could be funded by the state in future cycles.

Along with upgrading elementary schools, Strimling said his other priorities include doubling the amount of affordable housing units that developers are required to include in new projects, ensuring that workers in Portland can earn paid sick time, providing tax relief for seniors, increasing use of clean energy and allowing legal immigrants to vote in municipal elections.

Portland voters turned down a similar immigrant voting initiative in 2010. Even though the topic of immigration has been increasingly toxic nationally, Strimling said it’s important that Portland take additional steps to welcome new Mainers, including giving them the right to vote.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said in his address that "it's when this council powers a progressive vision with steadfast courage that we set Portland on a path to truly fulfilling the needs of our city."

Mayor Ethan Strimling said in his address that “it’s when this council powers a progressive vision with steadfast courage that we set Portland on a path to truly fulfilling the needs of our city.” Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

“Amid threats from Washington, D.C., we must not retreat from the values we hold so dear,” he said.

In terms of housing, Strimling called on the city to double the amount of affordable housing required in developments with 10 or more units. The current says 10 percent of those units must be affordable to middle-income earners.

He also renewed calls to extend the amount of notice a landlord must give an at-will tenant when not renewing a lease from 30 days to 90 days, and also making it mandatory that landlords participate in the housing voucher program, which is currently voluntary.

Both proposals were turned down by his own Housing Committee last year.

Strimling said the market has not provided an answer to the city’s housing problem, where low supply and high demand are driving up rents. Only 204 of the more than 1,400 housing units approved in the past three years have been built, according to city records.

He reiterated his call for the city to move forward with more housing for the chronically homeless, an initiative launched last year that made little headway. And he expressed opposition to any efforts to adopt a residency requirement at the city’s homeless shelters, which are used mostly by people from out of state and other Maine towns.

The council’s new Health and Human Services Committee will begin looking at ways to improve the city’s shelter at a meeting Tuesday.

Strimling made a point of delivering his address before the council gathered to set its goals for the year. Last year, he gave the speech after the council set goals.

Most councilors chose not to provide a reaction immediately after the speech. Councilor Jill Duson said councilors will consider the initiatives at its annual goal-setting workshop.

Audience members have a mixed response to a point made by Mayor Ethan Strimling during his address in council chambers.

Audience members have a mixed response to a point made by Mayor Ethan Strimling during his address in council chambers.

Councilor Nicholas Mavodones agreed.

“I think it’s an ambitious list of things – all of it well-intended,” Mavodones said. “But we’re going to have to grapple with the costs.”

Jennings, the city manager, said he thought Strimling delivered an “excellent speech,” though it may be difficult to fund all the mayor’s stated priorities.

Striming began his four-year term one year ago with high expectations. A former chief executive officer of a local social service agency, he unseated Mayor Michael Brennan in November 2015 thanks in large part to a slew of endorsements from councilors and school board members who came to criticize Brennan’s performance.

Strimling campaigned to be the “listener-in-chief” and chairman of the council. However, he quickly found himself at odds with the council after denouncing the city manager’s budget proposal to shutter a city-run clinic during a budget message that his colleagues criticized as inaccurate and unfair.

Strimling said Jennings kept him in the dark about the clinic proposal, but his colleagues noted that he was repeatedly briefed before the budget’s release and raised no concerns. The mayor began to question the manager’s decision to exclude him from budget meetings with department heads who are under the direction of the manager, not the mayor.

Both the city’s attorney and a prominent Portland attorney issued legal opinions regarding the mayor’s role under the 2010 charter that instituted an elected full-time mayor. Both concluded that the mayor and manager should work collaboratively to implement the goals of the council and that staff members should take direction from the manager, not the mayor.

Despite tensions, Strimling was able to deliver one policy goal outlined in his first State of the City address: Establishing a new office in City Hall to help immigrants and young people of color access existing resources in the community to learn English, polish their resumes and update their training to become more integrated in both the economy and community.