October 25, 2011

Ron Bancroft: Mayor's race draws attention from outside city limits

By Ron Bancroft

The big race to be Portland's new full-time mayor is coming right up on Nov. 8. Just what the mayor will actually do is something of a mystery. The charter vote that led to this new office suggests that the mayor will have a largely ceremonial and representational role -- or will he or she?


You can find out more about all the candidates in our Portland Mayor Race 2011 special section.

The city remains committed to a city manager approach to governing -- which means that the city manager does the hiring and firing of city employees and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city. The mayor will likely try to extend the power of the job, particularly if an activist mayor is elected.

Whatever happens on Election Day, the way in which the new mayor works with the city manager will be a key to the ultimate success of this approach.

There has been no shortage of enthusiasm for the new job. Fifteen candidates are in the race. The race is also drawing interest because, for the first time, Portland will use ranked-choice voting. This approach will ensure that the winner receives more than 50 percent of the final vote count.

Much has been written about the way ranked choice works. Simply put, the ballot will list all 15 candidates and allow the voter to rank each candidate in order of preference. Thus, the voter indicates first choice, second choice, third choice, etc., until all 15 are ranked -- or the voter gives up trying to differentiate. The ballot will appear daunting, but in reality most voters should be able to legitimately differentiate two, three or four choices.

I applaud Portland for taking this ranked-choice approach. I believe it will prove a good way to reflect the voice of a true majority -- unlike the state's most recent gubernatorial election, in which the winner had only 37 percent of the vote.

I am not a Portland resident and have not attempted to track all of the candidates. Friends in Portland who follow such things tell me that Michael Brennan, Nicholas Mavodones and Ethan Strimling are the likely front-runners. Jed Rathband is given credit for running a strong race for a relative newcomer.

It happens that I know three of these candidates reasonably well -- Brennan and Strimling from their service in state office and Rathband from his work on various political campaigns in Portland.

I have been impressed with Mike Brennan's record as a state legislator. He was an excellent chairman of the Education Committee, working hard to get consensus on the toughest issues. He is a person of great integrity. I believe his style would be one that blends well with the city manager.

I have considerable respect for Ethan Strimling, but I would worry that his out-front style might lead to confusion about who is in charge of city government.

I also find it ironic that Strimling is presenting himself as pro-business. If so, he has had an epiphany since his days in Augusta.

I like Jed Rathband's energy and his ideas. I just wish he had more experience.

I recommend taking a look at the candidate profiles that The Press Herald is currently running. They are balanced and well-researched.

Don't forget that there are also important ballot initiatives to be decided Nov. 8.

For me, the most important is the amendment to the state constitution that changes the timing of redistricting and will require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for approval of a redistricting plan.

Our experience earlier this year with partisan infighting over redistricting showed the importance of a process that demands that both parties agree on any final plan.

Most importantly, please vote.

Ron Bancroft is an independent strategy consultant located in Portland. He can be contacted at: ron@bancroftandcompany.com


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