PORTLAND, Maine - A former state lawmaker and longtime political commentator is taking on incumbent Michael Brennan in this fall's Portland mayoral race. Ethan Strimling narrowly lost to Brennan four years ago. Brennan submitted signatures for his re-election a few hours after Strimling's announcement.
The day of maneuvering aimed at Portland's top job began on a sweltering street corner. Ethan Strimling lives at the corner of Spring and Brackett Streets, a short walk from LearningWorks, the community education and mental health agency he runs.
Standing outside the entrance to the non-profit, Strimling shared the news his supporters had been waiting for.
"People want to be able to say, 'I'm raising my kids in Portland because we have the best schools in the state. And I work in Portland, I found a job in Portland that pays me a livable wage,' " Strimling said. "And I'm here today, announcing I'm running for mayor, because I want to make that vision a reality."
The announcement marks a change of heart for Strimling, who said a few months ago that he didn't have any plans for a rematch with Michael Brennan.
"What's really changed is that in the last month I've heard from more and more and more people talking about the potential of what this city can become," Strimling says. "People want this city to reach it's greatest potential."
Implicit in this message is that the city is not reaching its greatest potential under Mayor Brennan. But when asked by reporters to critique the mayor's first term in office, Strimling declined - for now at least.
"We'll have time to talk more about that," he said. "At the moment, I'm really just out listening to people. I think that people feel like they want to be united around the solutions that we're trying to achieve for this city."
Strimling says specific policy ideas to improve education and create more affordable housing, jobs and economic opportunity in Maine's largest city will come later.
For now, Strimling and an army of volunteers will fan out across the city, talking with voters and collecting the 300 signatures he needs by next Tuesday at 4:30 to officially qualify for the ballot.
A few hours after Strimling's announcement, Mayor Brennan handed his signatures to Melissa LaChance, the election administrator in the Portland City Clerk's office.
"If you'll sign off on this that states that, once we've certified, you will not withdraw," she instructs. "I'll get you a receipt and give you that for your records and I'll take all of this."
Brennan met the media outside the clerk's office. "This is the third time that Ethan and I have been involved in a race with one another. So I think we both kind of know what we're getting into," he said.
Prior to the mayoral race four years ago, the two rivals lost to Chellie Pingree in the 2008 Democratic Primary in Maine's 1st Congressional District. Brennan says he's confident about the record he's preparing to run on.
"Unemployment is under 4 percent now. We have growth in all the important sectors within the city. We have people that are moving to the city, so we have population growth," he said. "But we still have issues related to affordable housing. I'd like to see broadband in the city. And we still need to continue to look at ways to improve our school system."
Seven other candidates are exploring runs for mayor. They include: City Councilor Ed Suslovic, Christopher Vail, who ran in 2011, Portland activist Tom MacMillan, bar owner Ben Culver, Brendan Glass, a student at the Maine College of Art and city residents Karl Nordli and Zouhair A. Bouzrara.