It did not look like a fun event for Michael Brennan.

Portland’s outgoing mayor presided over the swearing-in of new city officials, including new Mayor Ethan Strimling, with squinted eyes and compressed lips, looking like he was getting mentally prepared to have his prostate examined.

It was an otherwise light-hearted affair, where policy and personal disputes were temporarily put aside. People said thank you, told a few jokes, handed out compliments and there were smiles all around.

But Brennan did not smile, did not tell jokes and did not say goodbye. He did what was required of him and left.

If he’s still angry about his unceremonious dumping on Election Day, it would be understandable.

Brennan, Portland’s first elected mayor in nine decades, did everything he said he was going to do when he was running for office in 2011, and handled a few crises that no one had seen coming. But this time around he took a 13-point beating, losing to Strimling in 11 out of the city’s 12 precincts, leaving Portland’s state-of-the-art ranked-choice voting system on the shelf because no runoff was required.

Strimling, on the other hand, will probably never be able to do everything that he said he would in the next four years, either because some of what he promised is physically impossible (you cannot actually “listen to everyone” in a city of 70,000) or hugely expensive (like 2,000 new units of affordable housing in the next five years) or are totally out of his control (such as the outside perception of the city’s school system).

And the next four years should be rockier than the campaign has been, because Strimling stands on the fault line of a number of deep divides in the city, none more complex than attitudes about growth.

Simply put, some people believe that Portland has grown enough, or grown too fast, or has grown in the wrong way.

And there are some (OK, me) who think the city has not grown anywhere near enough, and the result is an out-of-control rental market that is swamping the homeless shelter, displacing the working class, taxing out the low-income elderly and shutting the door on young people who would like to move here if they could, turning the Portland peninsula into a de facto retirement community for the rich.

You can listen to all of those points of view, but you can’t make everyone happy. Strimling managed to attract votes from both sides of the growth divide in his race against Brennan, and he still seemed to be trying to thread the needle in his inaugural speech Monday with lines like this:

“So, yes, we must welcome change, but not as our new master,” Strimling said. “No, we must welcome change like a guest who may become our new neighbor.

“We must prepare for its arrival and create an environment in which it can thrive, without losing sight of all that has gone before. Without knocking down all that we have built over centuries. Without losing sight of the essence of who we as Portlanders recognize ourselves to be.”

This sounds like he was trying to send a secret message in code. If I were a cynic, I would think that Strimling didn’t want anyone to understand what he was saying because that would spoil the inaugural good vibe.

Which is fine. His four-year clock didn’t start ticking until Tuesday, and he was entitled to a controversy-free day. He will have plenty of time to start alienating people. Some of the issues are already teed up.

It will be interesting to see how he handles the firefighters, who have been working without a contract since 2013 and are coming into conflict with City Hall.

The firefighters’ union, which endorsed Strimling this fall, has angered City Manager Jon Jennings because some union members dealt with a reduction in overtime hours by putting a sign outside the Munjoy Hill fire station that made it look like the station was closed by the city.

Jennings called the sign “childish” and said he was “angered and disappointed” by their actions. The union says it’s time for the city to pay up and properly fund this essential public service.

Strimling can listen, but a “make change your guest” speech is not going to make anyone happy.

And there is a brewing controversy over the uncompleted realignment of Spring Street, which, depending on who you talk to, is either a boon for pedestrians or an invitation to chaos.

Maybe everybody should just keep an eye on their essence.

The transition from campaigning to governing is always like this and Strimling isn’t the first former candidate who has had to switch gears. But if he doesn’t want to be the guy with the stern expression on inauguration day 2019, he better figure it out quick.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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This column was updated at 1:56 p.m. on Wednesday, December 9, 2015 to correct the number of affordable housing units Ethan Strimling promised will be built in Portland in the next five years.

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