PORTLAND — The City Council will pick one of its own to serve as mayor for the last time today.

The councilors’ choice will serve a one-year term in the mostly ceremonial post before voters take over the job of electing a full-time leader for four years next November.

Fittingly, the council seems poised to choose Cheryl Leeman, the council’s most ardent opponent of the charter change that voters adopted Nov. 2, paving the way for a popularly elected mayor.

Leeman, the longest-serving councilor, has served as mayor twice before – in 1988 and again in 2000.

The person chosen at the council’s caucus this afternoon will represent the city and will chair council meetings.

Councilor Nicholas Mavodones has been mayor for the last year, and the council has only rarely given a mayor two consecutive terms.

Leeman played it coy this weekend, saying only that it’s “possible” she’ll be mayor-elect as of this afternoon. However, she has already told some councilors she has five votes locked up, and other councilors confirmed that.

Councilor David Marshall, who doesn’t plan to be at the caucus, said Leeman called him last week to tell him she had the votes in hand, and Councilor Jill Duson said she’s one of at least five who will vote for Leeman.

Marshall said the selection of Leeman illustrates the need for a new way of picking a mayor, which the voters backed via a charter change earlier this month.

“Councilors basically line up their votes, and when they have the votes (lined up) a caucus is called,” he said. “Instead of a councilor going and having conversations with four other councilors, someone running for mayor will have to have thousands and thousands of conversations with voters.”

Marshall said he has a scheduling conflict and won’t be at the caucus, which was postponed from last week, but he said Leeman “has got the votes whether I’m there or not. My vote isn’t needed in this.”

Leeman dismissed Marshall’s complaints, saying the current system for electing a mayor is what it is.

“It’s called politics,” she said. “It’s not the process beforehand (that matters) as much as what the person does with the position once they’ve got it.”

Leeman’s selection may seem a bit of a surprise, given that the council is controlled by five Democrats, there are three Green party councilors and she’s the lone Republican, even though council races are nonpartisan.

But with at least four of the nine councilors considered likely to run next year for mayor – which will become a full-time post with a salary of about $66,000 – the choice may reflect a desire to have someone in the office who isn’t likely to compete for the seat in November 2011.

Leeman declined to rule out a run, but given her opposition to the full-time post with a four-year term, she’d have to explain to voters why they should give her the job that she thinks is a bad idea.

There would also be the difficulty of a Republican’s getting elected in a predominantly Democratic city, although Leeman noted that voters in her district have elected her time and time again.

Duson, who supported the charter change, said she didn’t float her name for mayor this year because she’s worried that a council-elected mayor who also runs next year will have every decision dissected for political impact.

Councilor John Anton said he wasn’t part of the conversation that came up with Leeman, though he will vote for her because “it’s good manners to support the will of the majority.”

Anton is also considered a possible mayoral candidate next year and said he thinks the choice of Leeman is “a fitting epitaph for the soon-to-be-replaced way of selecting a mayor.”

But he also said he won’t read too much into the selection.

“The council needs a chair, and the city needs a face at the ribbon cuttings,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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