December 4, 2012

In first year, Portland's mayor walks softly

Michael Brennan has mostly stayed out of headlines, preferring to work behind the scenes to build consensus.

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

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Mayor Michael Brennan on the steps of Portland City Hall.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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• Led Mayors Coalition to lobby in Augusta for needs of cities

• Reduced the number of City Council committees to provide better staff support

• Established performance guidelines for the city manager and city clerk

• Actively opposed state cuts to General Assistance

• Laid the groundwork for a "research triangle" and education initiatives

• Started an initiative to increase the use of local produce and milk in schools.



• Unsuccessfully lobbied against charter schools

Reluctant to use it locally, Brennan did use it in Augusta to blast proposed state cuts to General Assistance.

He and the Mayors Coalition held a news conference and testified before legislative committees about the effects that state budget cuts to welfare programs could have on Maine cities.

Brennan seemed comfortable in Augusta, where he represented Portland in the House and Senate, including as Democratic Senate leader from 2004 to 2007.

Brennan said the coalition helped to reduce a $2 million cut proposed in General Assistance to $220,000. Observers in Portland support that claim.

"What people should judge is the results, not whether or not you're standing up at the beginning and making proclamations and pronouncements," he said.

Brennan was less successful in opposing publicly funded charter schools, one of which is expected to open in Portland in 2014.


Brennan's behind-the-scenes style can keep even his most ambitious policy initiatives out of public view, making some residents wonder what's on the mayor's mind.

He was reluctant to discuss his plan for a "research triangle" with a reporter before publishing an opinion piece on the topic.

The mayor does not keep open office hours for residents, and his schedule is not posted publicly. A search of the city news archives produces only 11 news releases with his name, although City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg forwarded several others.

Updates on Brennan's Twitter account, which was run by Councilor Edward Suslovic's daughter, stopped in October. But Brennan keeps a relatively active Facebook page, which is updated by an intern.

Pamela Plumb, who chaired the charter commission that established the position, said she was initially skeptical about having a popularly elected mayor. But she gave Brennan high praise for his first year in office.

Plumb, however, said she feels out of touch with what the mayor is thinking and doing.

"I would love to see him be even more visible," she said. "I think the community needs to be able to really follow the mayor and know what the mayor is doing and be better prepared when another election comes up."


In 2010, the Portland Community Chamber endorsed three candidates in the 15-way race that Brennan won through ranked-choice voting. None of the endorsements went to Brennan, whose experience is in education and social services. "I couldn't be more surprised and happy from what we've seen from Mike Brennan," said Bourque, the chamber president. "He's got fabulous energy. To his credit, he has reached out to learn where he can."

Business leaders praised Brennan, who meets with them regularly, for seizing on the city's first economic development plan, which was adopted before he took office.

The plan calls for a business visitation program and several loan programs, which Brennan announced in the spring. In the past five months, he has visited 10 businesses.

"That is very important to us," said Janis Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District.


Working to implement the recommendations of the city's task force on homelessness will be a big issue in the coming year. Business and community leaders hope that Brennan will be in front of that effort.

The report recommends three new 35-unit housing complexes for the chronically homeless, among other ideas. It has already proven contentious.

Business leaders are concerned about more services for the homeless being downtown.

"There has to be a public dialogue that respects the differences of opinion," said Pringle, the West End neighborhood leader and a former mayor and city councilor.

Elements of the report have been referred to council committees, which have been asked to report back to the council in the spring.

(Continued on page 3)

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Today's poll: Mayor Brennan

Do you think Portland Mayor Michael Brennan has done a good job in his first year in office as elected mayor?



View Results