Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling used his fourth State of the City address Monday evening to recount his accomplishments over the past three years and put forward a progressive agenda for the coming year.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said in his State of the City address, “I am very proud of what we have accomplished in our city in the last three years, but we can’t rest on our laurels.”

The nearly 50-minute speech – which touched on education, housing, workers, the environment and local election reform – seemed to be a preview of Strimling’s messaging for a probable re-election run. Some of the strongest applause lines dealt with addressing climate change and proposed election reforms.

“The state of our city is strong. It is strong in so many ways,” Strimling said. “I am very proud of what we have accomplished in our city in the last three years, but we can’t rest on our laurels.”

The proposals come as Strimling appears to be polishing his progressive bona fides for a re-election bid. Although he won’t formally announce his decision until this spring, Strimling has already filed paperwork at City Hall that allows him to raise and spend money.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau announced his candidacy last week, and two other councilors – Belinda Ray and Justin Costa – are seriously considering runs.

Costa seized on the mayor’s call to get “big money out of municipal politics” by creating a local clean elections program that would allow City Council and Board of Education candidates to use tax dollars to fund their campaigns. It comes only months after Portland voters overwhelming approved a charter amendment proposed by Councilor Ray to require candidates to file an additional campaign finance report.

No other community in Maine has a local clean elections program, according to Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

Strimling also proposed a requirement for lobbyists to register at City Hall, though the details still need to be worked out.

Costa noted that Strimling raised over $117,000 in the 2015 race and outspent his opponents by a 2-to-1 margin. Strimling has already raised over $10,000 toward his re-election. “As usual it’s less about what the mayor says and more about what he does,” Costa said.

In a wide-ranging address, Strimling called on the city to make greater investments in public transportation, including bringing light rail to the eastern waterfront, and education. He called on the council to support universal pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds and fully fund the school district’s Portland Promise agenda, which aims to close the achievement gap in city schools. He also called on the city to add solar panels at all of the schools.

TAX REBATES, PAID SICK TIME

He also proposed extending a local property tax rebate program for seniors, which takes effect this year, to other low-income residents. He said seniors could receive up to $2,400 per household. The council would have to find a way to pay for those property tax rebates.

He also touted his proposals to require all Portland businesses to provide earned paid sick time to employees, and for businesses receiving city contracts to pay a prevailing wage and participate in a registered apprenticeship program. Both proposals are currently pending before council committees.

Strimling also spoke about the need to extend voting rights for noncitizens on municipal issues. Last year the council held a public hearing on a possible charter change to extend those rights, but tabled it after immigration advocates warned about possibly unintended consequences of creating a registry of noncitizens and creating confusion about which elections noncitizens would be allowed to vote in.

Strimling renewed his request that the city borrow $7 million for unspecified affordable housing projects. He also called on the council to reconsider its opposition to two of his previous proposals to help renters – requiring landlords to participate in the Section 8 housing program, which is currently voluntary, and requiring landlords and tenants to give 90-days’ notice before terminating a tenancy at will, which is often referred to as a no-cause eviction when used by a landlord. The current requirement is 30 days.

CLASHES OR COLLABORATION?

Strimling framed his call for bringing light rail to the eastern waterfront and adding to the Greater Portland Metro bus fleet as necessary responses to climate change. He wants to add 15 new buses – at about $500,000 to $750,000 each – for Portland Metro. He said in an interview that he does not know how much it would cost to bring in light rail. Both of those proposals would rely on federal funding, with the city picking up about 20 percent of the cost, he said.

After the speech, Councilor Thibodeau said he hopes the mayor, who has frequently clashed with the council and manager, will work collaboratively with the council.

“Each year I give the mayor the benefit of the doubt that he will finally work collaboratively with the manager, city staff and the council and each year he has fallen short,” Thibodeau said. “I hope this will be the year that the mayor will work with the council on 90 percent of the issues that we agree on to bring people together around a shared vision of Portland – a place that is inclusive, affordable and offers greater opportunities for everyone to enjoy the quality of life we have become famous for.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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Twitter: randybillings


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