October 20, 2011

Ethan Strimling: A pledge to energize, build 'can-do' culture

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

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AGE: 43

ADDRESS: 211 Spring St.

Married to Mary Beeaker

B.A. in history, University of Maine; M.A. in education, Harvard

CEO of LearningWorks

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: State senator for Portland, 2002 to 2008

WEBSITE: StrimlingForMayor.com


• Institute metrics to measure city employees' performances

• Bring accountability to City Hall

• Transform City Hall's culture to "can-do" attitude

• Lower property taxes

• Invest in school buildings


will answer questions from Press Herald readers during an hour-long live chat with the candidate starting at 11 a.m. today. Go to www.pressherald.com to participate.

Editor's note: This is part of a 15 daily profiles of Portland's mayoral candidates, paired with online chats. You can find out more about other candidates in our Portland Mayor Race 2011 special section.

Fellow candidates have criticized Strimling for his portrayal of the mayor's job as a CEO-type position. Markos Miller and Michael Brennan have said the city manager -- not the mayor -- will interact with staff, implement policy and manage day-to-day operations. The mayor will only set the vision and build consensus, they said.

But Strimling scoffs at that notion. He said part of the mayor's role will be to build a relationship with City Manager Mark Rees, so they trust each other to share the responsibility for implementing strategy for the city.

Strimling, who said he's knocked on more than 7,000 doors during the campaign, believes voters want a strong mayor, regardless of the specific powers allotted to that position.

"They want someone who's going to stand up and be accountable and say, 'Yes, I'm responsible for the city, and I'm responsible for its successes or failures,'" he said.

Others are skeptical of Strimling's pro-business stance. As a state senator from 2002 to 2008, he received low ratings from the National Federation of Independent Business and the Maine Economic Research Institute.

The latter repeatedly ranked Strimling as one of the least business-friendly senators, although Democratic legislators have long accused the institute of having a Republican bias.

Lone Republican mayoral candidate Richard Dodge -- who ran against Strimling for City Council in 1999 -- accused him of "suddenly" becoming business-friendly. He said Strimling and several other candidates are running the race like DINOs -- Democrats In Name Only.

"Some of these Democrats, including Ethan, they've never been for less regulation, they've never been pro-business," Dodge said. "It's like they've suddenly seen the light, and I'm not sure everyone will buy it."

But Strimling defends his record. He voted in the state Senate to eliminate a business tax on personal property, which passed. He said LearningWorks shows he's committed to creating jobs and improving service.

Numerous local businesses have bought in. Brian Petrovek, the owner of the Portland Pirates hockey team and a self-proclaimed "conservative Reagan Republican," said he will support Strimling even though he's a Democrat.

"He listens to what the business community has to say," Petrovek said. "He not only listens, but he takes what he's heard and implements it into a strategy."

Petrovek said he also likes Strimling's experience in both the public and private sectors. "I've looked at candidates and what he's done at LearningWorks and I've seen a guy who's run something. He's proven to me he can do it successfully.

"I also like that he's got a political background and has that dynamic. He just has leadership skills. I sense it. I feel it. It's part of his DNA."

Outside of putting performance metrics in place, Strimling doesn't cite many specific initiatives he wants to accomplish. "It's a cultural change, not programs," he said.

He wants City Hall to have a "can-do" attitude instead of a "can't-do." He points to the Maine State Pier redevelopment fiasco and Roxanne Quimby's abandoned attempt to fix a dilapidated building on Congress Street as evidence that City Hall's slow action has driven away development.

"We need to change the culture of City Hall (to one) that says, 'We are going to accomplish these tasks,'" Strimling said. "But if you haven't led in the public and private sector, then you don't know how to do it. ... You have to have gone through it. We can't have someone learning on the job."

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: jsinger@pressherald.com


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