One historic election will follow another, at least in Portland, where voters approved a charter change this week that will let the city directly elect its mayor next fall for the first time in nearly a century.

The residents of Maine’s largest city will have to come to terms with what that will mean. They will stop thinking of an elected mayor in abstract terms and instead start making a list of names. As they go through the process, we hope this new form of government will lead to new thinking about the city and its potential.

While there is a lot of talent on the current City Council, we hope the field of potential candidates also includes people from business, arts and community groups, who will offer a different perspective about where the city should be headed. Just because the current mayor has to be a member of the City Council doesn’t mean the directly elected mayor should be.

In fact, there are some good reasons why an outsider would be welcome.

Despite a lot of criticism of the city as a place to start or grow a business, Portland has a lot going for it already.

In a state with an aging population and declining school enrollments, Portland bucks the trend because young people want to live and work here, attracted by the seaside setting, access to recreational opportunities and other factors. The city also is helped by its strong arts scene and livable neighborhoods. Portland has had some success attracting high-technology businesses that could locate anywhere, and could benefit by attracting more and seeing the ones already here grow.

The problems are also present, however. Portland’s tax rate is high, and it has a bad reputation in the business community for a complicated and confusing regulatory process. Residents have seen city services cut as collections of fees paid by businesses decline as a result of the recession.

Portland’s first elected mayor should be the person who best explains how to make businesses grow while preserving the livable qualities that attract people.

The nature of the position created in the newly revised charter leaves intact the structure of city government, in which a professional staff executes the policy of the elected council. What’s changed is this: Now Portland will have a full-time political leader who can articulate a vision for the city and bring together all the groups, from inside and outside city government, that are needed to make things happen.

That vision will be the subject of next year’s election, and we look forward to hearing what the candidates have to offer. It’s an election that is guaranteed to make history, and the campaign begins now.