Mayor Ethan Strimling defends the work he has completed while in office during a debate question last week about the effectiveness of the position. Mayoral candidates Travis Curran, Kate Snyder and Spencer Thibodeau look on. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — The four candidates running for the office mayor come with distinct backgrounds and different thoughts as to what they think the mayor’s position could and should be.

That became clear at the mayoral debate held Sept. 18 that was attended by incumbent Ethan Strimling and his challengers, Travis Curran, Kate Snyder, Spencer Thibodeau. The event was hosted by several neighborhood groups at the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine on Congress Street.

“The mayor should be the voice of the people. Unfortunately when you get into politics, you get into money and alternative corporate interests start to take hold. I promise as your next mayor, nobody is going to buy me,” Curran said at a

Snyder said she often hears community members question why Portland needs a mayor.

“There is a lot of people out there wondering about this position. There is a lot of controversy about it,” she said.

The mayor position for years was a one-year term appointed by the city council, but since 2010 the position has been elected. According to the mayor’s page on the city’s website, the person elected “provides community leadership and develops policies to guide the city by setting strategic goals and priorities for the city with the council … and  represents the city’s interests in Augusta and Washington, D.C., where he advocates for the city, its residents, and businesses.” The city manager, however, is in charge of day-to-day operations of the city, as well as hiring/firing and drafting the city budget.

Snyder said what was envisioned by the charter commission for the position is not happening.

“It is a policy position. The power comes from working with colleagues on the council to identify priorities, agree to them and get to work. It is not an activist position,” Snyder said.

Current mayor Ethan Strimling disagreed.

“It is an activist position when it needs to be and not when it doesn’t need to be. That is important to understand. There is not just simply one way to make sure you get results. What matters is you get results,” Strimling said.

He said getting the bond approved to renovate four elementary schools in the city, offering a new property tax relief program and banning pesticides would not have been possible without an elected mayor to champion the causes.

“That is the effect of having your voice in City Hall,” he said.

Thibodeau said he doesn’t believe the elected mayor’s position is going well.

“I think we have left a lot to be desired,” he said.

He said the council has lost trust in the mayor, highlighted by the fact that five of the other city councilors, Brian Batson, Justin Costa, Jill Duson, Nicholas Mavodones and Belinda Ray, have endorsed him over Strimling. Councilor Pious Ali has endorsed Strimling while Kimberly Cook is endorsing Kate Snyder, who also has support from Costa.

“If you don’t have the trust of your colleagues, you don’t have any basis for success. I have that trust,” he said. “I work with the city manager. I work with my colleagues on the council. Even when I disagree with them on a Monday night, on Tuesday and Wednesday at committee (meetings) I am back in there working with them to get things done.”

Both Curran and Strimling indicated they were supportive of getting rid of the city manager’s position and replacing it with an executive mayor. Snyder and Thibodeau don’t support such a notion.

 

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