2015 will be a significant year for Portland – and not just because it means the Patriots are on the warpath.

It’s also significant because, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, Portland residents will have an opportunity to vote for our mayor.

Electing our mayor is (now) a once-every-four-years event. In some ways, 2015’s election is even more significant than the first one back in 2011.

Then, what made it special was its newness: After nearly 90 years, the people of Portland were finally handed back the right to elect their own mayor. Someone who would hold the office for four years, provide vision for the city and help it to thrive.

This time around, the novelty of the election process has worn off, but the importance of the election remains paramount. That is because electing our mayor gives Portland voters a direct voice in the direction of our city. If we like the direction of our city, we can re-elect the incumbent; if we feel that another person could lead the city in a better direction, we can elect someone else.

Voters have the power to make this choice because of the new City Charter approved in 2010. That charter created the position of elected mayor based on the work of a citizen Charter Commission, which served from 2009 to 2010. The new position of elected mayor is important for several key reasons, which we should not forget:

 The new charter allows the voters to elect our mayor and have a say in the direction of our city. Under the old system, the mayor was purely a ceremonial post, picked annually by city councilors with little public discussion.

Our mayor now serves a four-year term, with the opportunity for re-election. Under the old system, the “mayor” held office for a single year, with no ability to develop and enhance policies or programs over time.

Our mayor has responsibility under the charter “to articulate the city’s vision and goals and build coalitions to further such vision and goals.” Under the old system, no single voice was able to speak for Portland, to make a case for Portland, to enrich Portland.

Portland Tomorrow, formed in the wake of the Charter Commission, is a nonpartisan group of individuals who care deeply about the city. Its mission is to help inform the electorate and to focus on good governance – go to www.portlandtomorrow.org.

As a group, Portland Tomorrow is not taking a position on who should win November’s election, but we believe strongly that having an elected mayor has helped the residents of Maine’s largest city. We also recognize that more work needs to be done among the mayor, City Council and the city manager to further refine their respective roles.

For instance, the charter says that the new office of mayor is to “… represent the city with other municipalities, levels of government, community and neighborhood groups, and the business community.”

This has certainly been the case. In Augusta, with the new Mayors’ Coalition, the mayor’s office has become the focal point for expressing and advancing Portland’s interests.

The city of Portland has also seen significant, long-term programs developed because the job of mayor is now a full-time, four-year position with, frankly, a bully pulpit inherent to the position. In the past, a one-year mayoral term was not enough time for the city to develop lasting initiatives.

This is not a minor accomplishment. Individuals and organizations that for years have discussed the idea of working together on common problems are now being brought to the table because the Office of the Mayor is asking them to do so. The office becomes a linchpin for mutual connectivity and action, regardless of who occupies the office.

But perhaps the best “new” thing about the Office of the Mayor is that it allows – in fact, it requires – that whoever holds the job will articulate what Portland should be addressing and how the city can evolve and prosper.

And if you don’t agree with how one person expresses those issues and priorities – well, that’s why we have elections. It’s an opportunity for you, Portland residents and Portland voters, to either stay the course with one person or to elect someone else.

It’s about a month until Election Day. The signs have started to sprout on lawns, and we have three candidates who will try to capture our attention with their respective visions for our great city. And that’s just the way it should be.

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