PORTLAND — City councilors elected Portland’s mayor for the last time Monday night, and it wasn’t the councilor who everyone thought would step into the largely ceremonial post.

At-large Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. was chosen to serve another term as mayor after Councilor Cheryl Leeman withdrew.

Before Monday’s mayoral caucus, Leeman had secured enough votes to win the position. But after being nominated Monday night by her fellow councilors, she unexpectedly declined.

“Needless to say, it’s always a distinct honor to serve as mayor of Portland. I’ve done it twice before. But regrettably, I am going to have to decline the nomination,” said Leeman, who has served nine consecutive terms on the council, beginning in 1984.

“We are at a critical point where we need to maintain some continuity,” she said.

Leeman then nominated Mavodones, who has been mayor for the past year.

He was quickly elected by a 7-0 vote. Councilor Dave Marshall was unable to attend Monday’s caucus.

“I’m surprised. I was looking forward to serving with Councilor Leeman. She would have made a great mayor,” said Mavodones, who is completing his third term one-year term as mayor.

Portland voters, who approved a change in the city charter this month, will elect the mayor themselves on Nov. 8, 2011.

Before the referendum on the charter change, Leeman was one of the leading opponents of a popularly elected mayor. She said the current system — nine elected councilors and a professional city manager — has worked well for 87 years.

Last week, city councilors said Leeman had locked up at least five votes on the nine-member council and was positioned to be the last mayor chosen by councilors.

But during the weekend, Leeman said, she changed her mind.

“Don’t you just love surprises,” Leeman told reporters after the vote to elect Mavodones.

“I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time. I was excited about leading the city through this transition phase, but sometimes you have to step back and decide to do what’s best for the city,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘Why switch horses midstream?’“

Leeman praised Mavodones, saying he has done an “incredible job” of leading the city through tough economic times, and of representing Portland.

“Sometimes you have to do the right thing, and the right thing was providing some continuity in leadership,” Leeman said.

She didn’t rule out running for mayor next year, saying, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

Mavodones, 50, the operations manager for Casco Bay Lines, also did not rule out a run next year for a job that will be full time with an annual salary of about $66,000.

“I’ll consider it,” he said.

Mavodones said he will do whatever he can to make the new administration in Augusta aware that budget cuts could harm Maine’s largest city.

He noted that Gov.-elect Paul LePage is the mayor of Waterville, another large service center.

“I remain optimistic that the new governor, who sat as mayor in Waterville, will look through the same lens as we do,” Mavodones said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]