Eleven of Portland’s elected officials publicly declared their support Wednesday for Ethan Strimling to be the city’s next mayor, a strong rebuke of Mayor Michael Brennan with less than three months before the Nov. 3 election.

The four city councilors and seven school board members made their preference known at a press conference in front of City Hall Wednesday, the day after Strimling announced he would run against Brennan, who is seeking a second term after becoming the city’s first popularly elected mayor in 88 years.

In unusually critical statements during a press conference in front of City Hall Wednesday, city officials stressed the need for a leader with an ability to collaborate with others – something, they said, Brennan lacks.

City Councilor Nick Mavodones said he had “high hopes” when Brennan was elected, but instead has seen “the impact of failed leadership” under him.

“Our council is divided, our school board is divided, our community is divided. Many key staff members have left,” he said in a prepared statement. “The frustration I’ve felt has been profound.”

Brennan responded Wednesday by saying he doesn’t think there’s “one bit of evidence” that staff members leaving had anything to do with him.


He said his record shows that he has brought different people and groups together during his term, citing Growing Portland, an economic development collaborative; Portland ConnectED, a citywide educational partnership, and the $20 million of state funding secured for the Hall School as examples.

Brennan said he believes he’s also worked well with councilors on issues such as providing assistance to asylum-seekers, raising the minimum wage and passing the city budget. Asked why colleagues think he hasn’t been communicative or cooperative, Brennan said, “You’d have to ask them.”

Councilor Jill Duson joined in the criticism outside City Hall, saying she has found herself unable to support Brennan.

After watching “the public and behind-the-scenes decisions and actions of our current mayor, I have concluded that we must choose new leadership in November,” she said Wednesday.

Duson called for “leadership that listens; leadership that respects” and said she and others have identified Strimling as “a leader who can keep our city on the path to success.”

Councilor Ed Suslovic, who worked on Brennan’s first campaign but is now supporting Strimling, said in a statement Wednesday that the past few years on the council have been “difficult and, frankly, not productive.”


Both Suslovic and Mavodones called the mayor a friend, but an ineffective leader.

“We need a leader who can bring people together. We need a leader who will listen to others,” Suslovic said. Strimling, he said, “will be able to find common ground where there are differing views.”

The officials touted Strimling as a proven leader and collaborator through his role as state legislator and the chief executive officer of LearningWorks, a nonprofit educational organization in the city’s West End.

In a 15-person race for mayor in 2011, Strimling came in second, just 1,833 votes behind Brennan.

The strong showing of support for Strimling reflects the contentious relationship between Brennan and some city councilors as both sides have struggled to establish their newly defined roles outlined in the recently amended City Charter. The charter changes created the role of a popularly elected mayor who works full time with administrators at City Hall and earns $70,000 a year, but has limited day-to-day authority and shares oversight of city operations with the eight members of the council. The charter change did give the mayor the power to veto the city’s annual budget, but that action can be overridden by a vote of six councilors.

Some councilors have openly questioned whether having an elected full-time mayor creates confusion about who is in charge at City Hall and adds work for city staff, especially the city attorney, city clerk and city manager, all of whom work closely with the mayor but report to the council as a whole. In recent years, the city has replaced its city manager, attorney, police chief, fire chief, Health and Human Services director, human resources director, communications director and finance director.


Others have said Brennan has contributed to the tensions by operating more as a free agent and focusing on pet issues rather than collaborating with the council.

Councilors have clashed with Brennan over their right to place items on meeting agendas, for example. And in May, some councilors publicly accused Brennan of forcing them to delay a budget vote by having city staff announce a postponement of the vote hours before councilors had a chance to meet and discuss the idea.

Also supporting Strimling is Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who is not running for re-election when his term ends in November.

In addition, seven of the nine sitting school board members endorsed Strimling: Sarah Thompson, Marnie Morrione, Stephanie Hatzenbuehler, Holly Seeliger. John Eder, Anna Trevorrow and Pious Ali.

“It’s a strong statement,” Mavodones said.

Mavodones said Strimling could not be at the press conference because he was out collecting signatures, which are due Tuesday.


Brennan is the only candidate to have submitted the 300 required signatures, though six people other than him and Strimling have taken out nomination papers.

They are Portland firefighter Christopher Vail, who was the first choice of about 2 percent of voters in 2011; Portland activist Tom MacMillan, bar owner Ben Culver, Maine College of Art student Brendan Glass, Karl Nordli of Hillis Street and Zouhair A. Bouzrara of Grant Street.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: lesliebridgers

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