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Portland Mayor Lays Out Vision For City In Last Annual Address Of His Term

Irwin Gratz
Maine Public/file
Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling delivered the last state-of-the-city address of his four year term last night. He floated some ideas that could set the stage for a re-election campaign – possibly against several other councilors who have been critical of his style.Strimling's rhetoric focused on how, even during the city's recent era of prosperity, many of its residents have fallen behind. He noted, for instance, that more than 1,000 new housing units have been completed in Portland in the past five years, "But only 11 affordable units were approve and built in the past three. No wonder we have 1315 families on the waiting list at Portland Housing Authority. Think about it - 1,300 families on a waiting list looking for housing in our city."
To address that challenge, Strimling proposed dedicating to affordable housing $1 million that remain from a payment the tech company Wex made to the city as part of a deal to move its headquarters downtown.

That was one of a slew of initiatives Strimling proposed. They range from installing solar panels on all city schools, to expanding a property-tax relief program for seniors, to re-establishing a light rail system on the city's east end.

He also floated a batch of progressive government reform initiatives. Those included a public-funding option for city campaigns, ranked-choice voting in school board elections, and a requirement that lobbyists doing business with the city register the names of their clients and the dates of their meetings with councilors or staff.

"The people of this city - all of them - not just those with money and access, should have a stronger voice in our democracy. Our people understand best what solutions will help them remain a part of our city's prosperity, as we work towards a more perfect union, a more transparent and accountable system, a system that is more responsive to the needs of people, we deepen and strengthen our democracy."

Strimling previewed some of those ideas in press accounts yesterday - drawing quick fire from fellow-councilor Spencer Thibodeau. Thibodeau says that while many of the mayor's proposals might have merit,  Strimling has historically done a poor job of developing consensus among the council before going public with them.
"Communication is so important," Thibodeau said, "and this idea that we're going to govern through press releases or in news articles - that's not the way this position was supposed to be."

Thibodeau announced last week that he will run for mayor this year. And after three years of conflict between Strimling and fellow councilors, as well as with City Manager Jon Jennings, Thibodeau is not the only councilor eyeing the mayor's seat. Councilor Justin Costa says he is considering a run as well - and like Thibodeau has a jaded view of Strimling's approach to the job.

 "There's some concern about the mayor's willingness to follow through, really do the tough work and dig into the details of  things and figure out how they are going to be paid for," Costa said, "how we're going to make choices among a whole bunch of competing priorities, all of which will have some merit."
There is some consensus to be found, however. The council is expected to continue work this year on one of Strimling's calls to action - to allow non-citizen residents to vote in city elections.

Strimling, meanwhile, has not announced yet whether he will run for re-election, although he has filed the initial paperwork necessary to establish a campaign.