November 11, 2011

Brennan's priorities: jobs, education

When it comes to local business, the Democrat says he'll rely on the city's new economic development plan.

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

PORTLAND - Mayor-elect Michael Brennan says jobs and education will be the immediate focus of his administration.

click image to enlarge

Mayor-elect Michael Brennan discusses plans for Portland at his office Thursday.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

"Maine is a small-business state and Portland is a small-business city," Brennan said in an interview Thursday at his University of Southern Maine office, less than 24 hours after being elected in the 15-way race. "We need to allow the small-business owners that are currently in Portland to thrive and expand."

Brennan, a former Democratic state senator, will leave his job as a policy associate at the Muskie Institute for Public Service later this month and take office Dec. 5.

He said Thursday he will follow the city's newly unveiled economic development plan when it comes to local business.

As the plan calls for, Brennan will visit local businesses, gather their feedback about how the city can help them and adjust policy based on that feedback, he said. He also will point them to the city's available grants and loans for small businesses if those programs fit a business's need.

Brennan's other top priorities revolve around education.

He pointed to the East End Community School and Riverton Elementary School -- both of which candidates repeatedly described as "failing" based on the institutions' inability to meet federal standards -- as evidence of the city's struggles. He also noted Portland's high-school graduation rate of 69 percent, which is 13 percent lower than the rest of the state.

"The scariest thing I heard on the campaign trail was young families saying that they might move out of Portland because they lacked confidence in the school system," Brennan said. "That's bad for Portland's future."

Brennan said he plans to get involved in the search for a new schools chief to replace retiring superintendent Jim Morse. He also plans to act on his vision of changing the state's school-funding formula, a plan he described repeatedly during the campaign.

"Those two things should go a long way toward making an immediate impact," he said.

Brennan has said he believes he can convince enough state legislators from various Maine cities to form a coalition large enough to push through a school-funding change that would give Portland and Maine's other cities more funding.

"I've said this before: When Portland stands alone in Augusta, we usually don't succeed," he said.

Brennan helped rewrite and pass a new school-funding formula as a state senator, so he thinks he can do it again, and build a new coalition.

"Portland needs to push for its fair share," he said.

As mayor, Brennan will lead a City Council that includes three members who ran against him -- councilors Nick Mavodones, who finished third; David Marshall, who finished fourth; and Jill Duson, who finished sixth.

"I've known Mike a long time," Mavodones said Thursday. "He's honest. He cares deeply about the city and its issues. He has good leadership skills. He'll make an excellent mayor."

Marshall agreed, saying he looked forward to working with Brennan, with whom he shared common concerns about education and energy.

One person on his get-to-know list is new city manager Mark Rees, who he has never met. They plan to sit down together in the near future, Brennan said.

As he preached during the campaign, Brennan said Thursday his goals of education and economic development can complement each other. He said the local universities can create rapid retraining programs, which educate students in months instead of years, to help close the "skills gap."

According to Gov. Paul LePage and recent reports, there are 24,000 unemployed people in Maine and 21,000 job postings. But Mainers can't fill most of those jobs because they lack the necessary job skills.

Brennan said the retraining programs can close that gap and quickly boost the economy. He also said a partnership between the city, the local universities and local research centers can target growing industries that southern Maine has the potential to house.

Those partnerships can raise public and private funds to provide the resources to attract businesses in those industries.

Brennan, who has worked nearly 10 years at Muskie, said his ties to the education community can make those partnerships a reality.

 

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be reached at 791-6437 or:

jsinger@pressherald.com

 

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