The final results from the 2017 election are finally in, and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling is the loser, without even being on the ballot.

After a year of trying to acquire some allies on the City Council to back him in his ongoing power struggle with City Manager Jon Jennings, Strimling is more isolated than ever.

On Monday, he found himself at the wrong end of an 8-1 vote on his proposal to appoint himself chairman of the budget-writing Finance Committee. It was one of those obscure procedural votes that don’t matter much outside City Hall, but they tell you a lot about what people inside the building are thinking.

For Strimling, it was proof that the entrenched powers in Portland were still not ready for a real mayor – one that’s elected by the people.

But for the councilors, who just watched Strimling and his adviser, Steven Biel of Progressive Portland, try and fail to replace two of them with Strimling-friendly candidates this year, there was no appetite for feeding the mayor’s ego.

Strimling’s act is getting old. Instead of building relationships and finding ways to forge consensus on complicated issues, he continues to grandstand and complain that he is supposed to have more power than the others are willing to give him.


It’s not that the city councilors don’t support “a” mayor for Portland.

It’s that they don’t trust “this” mayor, and they don’t seem to care who knows it. Strimling may believe that his problems could be solved if everybody would just do a closer reading of the city charter, but to his colleagues, the source is closer to home.

“The common link on all these failures is him,” said Councilor Belinda Ray. “It’s like he’s lost the same argument a million times, and he thinks the problem is with the million people that he talked to.”

It’s unclear where this is headed. Strimling is supposed to name councilors to serve on committees, which meet and get issues ready for council action.

A list of all the committee assignments is sent to the full council for approval and on Monday it was rejected because Strimling’s name was on it as finance chair. For now, there are no committees and until that changes, the council will not do any work between meetings.

Strimling and his supporters will tell you that the problem is the 2010 charter, which created a mayor position with an ambiguous role.


The mayor is not an executive, the way they are in big cities, so he has no power to hire, fire or direct staff. The mayor draws a full-time salary (about $70,000 a year) and has an office in City Hall, but he just has one vote on the City Council, and can be thwarted.

Strimling says that can’t be what the people had in mind when they voted to create the position. But regardless of what the voters had in mind, the charter they approved was clear, according to Peter DeTroy, the Portland lawyer who was hired to mediate the conflict last year.

The city manager is in charge of day-to-day operations, the City Council has the last word on policy, and the mayor is supposed bring the sides together.

“This is because … the (position of) mayor is designed and expected to lead by collaboration,” DeTroy wrote. “It is a role of comity, not power; of collaboration, not assertion.”

But Strimling claims that it is about power, and he is frozen out of exerting any because the council won’t share it with him. And he and Biel keep trying to get city residents to see his lack of influence as proof that anti-democratic forces don’t like Strimling’s progressive policy agenda.

But they are wrong. Five members of the current council supported Strimling’s run for Mayor in 2015. They were Nick Mavodones, Jill Duson, Spencer Thibodeau, Ray and Pious Ali. If Strimling had one ally left, he wouldn’t need to name himself finance chair. And if he had been able to hold onto four, they would have the votes needed to drive the city’s agenda.


Instead of building relationships on the council, Strimling has spent the last year aligning himself with Biel, the most divisive figure on the city’s political scene. Together, they have alienated people on a political spectrum which runs from moderately liberal to socialist – or practically everyone in Portland.

Strimling is not going to be able to “lead by collaboration” if he keeps pushing his name for the Finance Committee chairman. It’s time that he recognize that the election is over.

The votes have been counted, and he lost.


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