The mayor of Portland should be the best communicator in the city. That’s why we support Ethan Strimling – the best communicator in the race – for mayor.

Of the three men running this year, Strimling is unrivalled in his ability to define issues and explain them in clear, concise, concrete terms. This is a key skill for anyone who is trying to get large groups of people to buy into a broad vision.

But communication is not just talking. A good communicator also has to listen and react.

Over his career as director of the nonprofit social service agency LearningWorks, a state legislator and a pundit (including time as a political columnist with the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram), Strimling has shown his ability to think on his feet and adapt to changing circumstances.

Although our board was unanimous, this was not an easy decision.

FORMING COALITIONS KEY TO LEADING CITY

We endorsed incumbent Mayor Michael Brennan in 2011, and we agree with virtually all of his policy goals. Why would we consider replacing him now?

The answer to that question can be found in our 2011 endorsement, where we addressed the question of whether the new elected mayor position was “strong” enough.

We wrote:

“This is a job for a political leader, one who can build majorities on the City Council and also form coalitions with neighborhood groups, business leaders, other municipalities and members of the Legislature.

“The right person could use such relationships to lead the city toward a shared vision. If it’s done successfully, there would be nothing ‘weak’ about the influence Portland’s elected mayor could have.”

This is where Brennan has fallen short.

The refrain that Mayor Brennan is a bad listener has been heard long enough and from so many different quarters – even from some of his supporters – that it can’t be ignored.

Brennan doesn’t only stay true to his values, but also sticks to his methods, and doesn’t worry if he loses some support along the way. We share his values but question whether his approach has always been effective.

BEHIND-THE-SCENES TACTICS FALL SHORT

Brennan has had considerable success working behind the scenes, especially in Augusta, where he secured funding for projects vital to Portland’s working waterfront, social services and schools over the objections of a hostile and vindictive governor.

But he has not always been able to rally public support at home around important issues, like the failed attempt to sell part of Congress Square Park.

We supported his plan to leverage the sale to pay for public improvements to what should be one of the city’s most important public spaces (and we think Strimling was wrong to oppose the sale), but Brennan was not able to get the votes for his vision at a special election in June 2014. The loss sent a confusing message both inside and outside the city about what Portland considered important and where it was headed.

Brennan’s record as a communicator should be enough to lead voters to take a serious look at the other candidates in the race.

That’s what we did, and while we were sympathetic to what the Green Independent candidate, Tom MacMillan, had to say, we were concerned that he was too inflexible in his outlook to put his policies into practice. We chose Strimling.

It’s hard to find an issue on which Brennan and Strimling disagree, but their approach couldn’t be more different.

Brennan believes that since he was directly elected by the whole city, he has a responsibility to set a policy agenda independent of the City Council’s.

Strimling understands that if he is elected, he would be accountable to the people in four years, but his ability to get anything done in the meantime requires getting most of the councilors on the same side most of the time.

MEETING VOTERS WHERE THEY ARE

The members of the City Council are all independently elected, often representing conflicting interests. But developing a community consensus starts with bringing the council together, and that takes more than having the right values.

At times, a mayor may have to massage some fragile egos, share credit and be willing to split the difference and take a partial victory. From what we have seen so far, we think Strimling would be better than Brennan at that aspect of the job.

And bringing the council together is the easy part. Most Portland residents never attend a council meeting or watch one on TV.

To reach them, the mayor has to be where they are, talking about the things they care about, communicating with all the tools available.

If Portland is ever going to develop a consensus on questions of economic development, education, infrastructure investment and growth that is strong enough to withstand referendum campaigns and malcontents’ lawsuits, we need a mayor who can engage the public and marshal its support.

We feel that Strimling is best equipped to do that job, too, and in Portland’s “weak” mayor form of government, that’s the job that matters most.