Even incumbent Portland Mayor Michael Brennan has yet to announce whether he will seek a second term.

Portland’s second mayoral race in nearly a century is about six months away, but you wouldn’t know it.

Even the incumbent mayor remains tight-lipped about his plans.

Portland held its first citywide mayoral race in 88 years in 2011. By this time four years ago, a handful of candidates were off and running. When nomination papers were made available on June 30 that year, a dozen candidates had entered the field, which eventually grew to 15 people.

But this year’s race is so far a relatively sleepy affair, with incumbent Mayor Michael Brennan even playing coy.

“I will make a decision in the next month or so,” Brennan said last week.


Prior to 2011, councilors would choose one of their own to serve for one year as a ceremonial mayor, who would cut ribbons and run meetings.

Residents voted in 2010 to change the City Charter to have a popularly elected mayor, who would work full time, earn a salary of roughly $67,000 and serve a four-year term. Day-to-day operations are still handled by a professional manager, but the mayor is tasked with setting a policy direction and advocating on behalf of the city and the council.

Ronald Schmidt Jr., associate professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, speculated that the 2011 race was an anomaly in terms of its early start, the number of candidates and the amount of money raised – the top three candidates raised a combined total of $206,000 for their campaigns.

“That was a high-profile race. It was exciting,” Schmidt said. “My guess is what we’re going to see in the future is more typical of mayor races in cities of this particular size, and less of what we saw last time.”


The only person to so far publicly declare his candidacy is Michael Anthony, who did so in a nine-minute YouTube video in which he describes himself as a revolutionary who has no chance of winning. Anthony, who says he has been homeless for four years, says he wants to advocate for better treatment of the poor and the homeless.


Besides Brennan, other well-known potential candidates whose names are swirling in the rumor mill include former City Councilor Cheryl Leeman, who served 30 years as the District 4 councilor, and Ethan Strimling, a former state legislator and political analyst who placed second in Portland’s 2011 mayor’s race.

Leeman, who did not seek re-election in 2014, said in an email last week that she is “strongly considering” a mayoral run, despite the fact that she has never won a citywide race.

“I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from so many people citywide who have encouraged me to run for mayor, and I am giving it serious consideration, but have not made a decision yet,” she said.

Strimling, the executive director of a Portland nonprofit group who co-writes a regular column in the Maine Sunday Telegram and appears on WCSH-TV and on pressherald.com to discuss state politics, said he currently has no plans to run.

In 2011, Strimling raised $90,000 – $30,000 more than Brennan – but finished in second place by 1,900 votes in an instant runoff election, where voters rank their candidates in order of preference.



Councilors who currently hold at-large seats are likely to have the best chance at winning the mayoral election, because they have already won citywide elections. District-bound councilors are elected by smaller slices of the electorate and essentially would have to introduce themselves to the rest of the city.

Some sitting councilors who ran for mayor in 2011 and did well, including District 2 Councilor David Marshall and At-Large Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, could try again but would face a greater risk this year because their council seats are also up for re-election. If they lost the mayor’s race, they would be off the council altogether.

Other potential candidates are not expressing interest.

At-Large Councilor Jill Duson, who at times has clashed with the mayor over how council agendas are set, placed sixth in 2011. Duson’s council term doesn’t expire until 2017, but she nevertheless said she isn’t interested in running for mayor this year.

Although the mayor’s race is officially nonpartisan – there are no partisan primaries or party designations on the ballot – Duson said that as a “lifelong Democrat,” she wouldn’t want to oppose an incumbent such as Brennan, who is from the same party and with whom she agrees on most issues. “I hope he’s considering running again and if he is I would support him,” she said.

At-Large Councilor Jon Hinck, also a Democrat, said he hasn’t thought about running, despite his recent criticisms of the mayor. Hinck recently blamed Brennan for not doing enough to keep Acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian in the city’s employ. Hill-Christian, who is popular with councilors and city staff, is leaving May 8 for Cincinnati, Ohio.


Hinck, whose seat expires in 2016, also received praise from the Maine Women’s Lobby for advocating for a higher citywide minimum wage as a member of the council’s Finance Committee. Hinck was the only committee member to fully support Brennan’s proposal to increase the wage to $10 on Jan. 1 and tie future increases to inflation.

“I do think Mayor Brennan is helping move the city of Portland forward,” Hinck said. “On the other hand, I would like to see more progress in other areas,” including improving relations with the state and showing fiscal and budgetary leadership.


Other interested groups, including the Portland Community Chamber of Commerce, are still planning out their involvement in the upcoming campaign.

In 2011, the chamber’s political action committee endorsed and contributed to four of Brennan’s rivals: Strimling, Mavodones, Marshall and local Realtor Jed Rathband.

Chris O’Neil, the chamber’s City Hall lobbyist, said the city is undergoing “significant change,” not all of which has been good.


The chamber opposes creation of a citywide minimum wage above the state minimum of $7.50 an hour. It has also expressed concerns about the city’s banning plastic foam and rolling out fees on pavement that can cause stormwater runoff and on disposable shopping bags that can generate litter.

Also, several large development projects have been stymied by residents who want to preserve Portland’s historical character.

“This is a big election, so naturally there’s an ongoing political conversation among the Chamber’s 700 member employers,” O’Neil said in an email. “The Chamber urges all candidates to be mindful that a healthy economic climate is critical to the entire community, and that it can change for the worse as a result of what happens in City Hall.”

Although the mayor’s race is nonpartisan, political parties are also discussing their strategies.

Tom MacMillian, chairman of the Portland Green Independent Committee, said the party plans to run candidates in all of the local races, although the group’s efforts are mostly focused on its petition campaign to establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage in the city.

MacMillian said it would be difficult – if not impossible – for a challenger to take down an incumbent in the mayor’s race.


The Portland Republican City Committee, however, sees an opportunity in the reliably Democratic city, given some of the policies that have been implemented under Brennan’s term and Gov. LePage’s scrutiny of the city’s welfare programs.

“There is great potential to harness the energy of those who have serious misgivings about policies being enacted at the local level,” said Committee Chairman Peter Doyle. “The question is finding the right person.”

Nomination papers for the mayor’s race won’t be available until June 30. To appear on the ballot, an individual must collect 300 to 500 valid signatures from other Portland residents.


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