October 27, 2011

Michael Brennan: Candidate strives for consensus

Democrat Michael Brennan, a former state lawmaker, is running on a platform of education as a job creator.

By Jason Singer jsinger@pressherald.com
Assistant City Editor / Online

PORTLAND — During his 13 years as state legislator, Michael Brennan established a track record of building consensus, even on contentious issues.

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Michael Brennan

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MICHAEL BRENNAN

PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat

AGE: 58

ADDRESS: 49 Wellington Road

PERSONAL: Married to Joan Martay. Sons: Travis Brennan, 30, and Ryan Brennan, 26

EDUCATION: Bachelor's in education, Florida State University; master’s in public policy and management, Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine; master’s in social work, University of New England; certificate, Executive Program for State and Local Officials, John F. Kennedy School, Harvard University

OCCUPATION: Policy associate, Muskie School of Public Service

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: State representative, D-Portland (1992-2000), state senator, D-Portland and Falmouth (2002-06), Senate majority leader (2004-06)

WEBSITE: www.brennanformayor.com

TOP PRIORITIES

Collaborate with local schools to create rapid retraining programs.

Work to increase school funding for Portland Public Schools.

Promote Portland as a research hub.

Make the city more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, and create a regional approach to public transportation.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

MICHAEL BRENNAN will answer questions from Press Herald readers during an hour-long live chat with the candidate starting at noon today. Go to www.pressherald.com to participate.

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.

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