The primary modern-era elected Portland mayor was ousted by the second. He was crushed handily by the third. Then Kate Snyder selected to not run for a second time period.
For the reason that new place was established in 2011, it has had bother gaining traction in Maine’s largest metropolis. Lower than 5 months from Election Day, solely two persons are working to helm the state’s financial middle and its solely constant bastion of native progressive coverage.
Within the closely Democratic metropolis, the final 5 years have been marked by electoral and referendum wars between these nearer with the enterprise group and activists who favor sweeping adjustments. Each camps have had victories, and the strains between them have typically been blurred.
All alongside, the job of Portland mayor has been troublesome due to political tensions, the instances and an absence of formal authority that makes the job extra of a figurehead than an government regardless of a full-time title and a wage within the low six figures. There additionally has been a pendulum swing in personalities within the workplace.
“The concept of the mayor of Portland, Maine, it sounds good. It appears good,” mentioned Metropolis Councilor Andrew Zarro, one of many candidates working for mayor this yr. “It’s arguably one of many hardest jobs within the state of Maine.”
The mayor’s essential job beneath the town constitution is to articulate the town’s targets. They’re a member of the Metropolis Council, run conferences and might veto budgets. However the council-appointed metropolis supervisor selects division heads, proposes the finances and runs day-to-day operations.
The scope of the job was the primary topic of one in all Portland’s current political battles. Progressives swept a low-turnout 2021 election to pick a lot of the members of a fee to revamp the town constitution. These in that camp additionally took over the Metropolis Council later that yr, one thing that was seen as a optimistic signal for efforts to strengthen the workplace of the mayor.
It didn’t go that approach. Among the many greatest suggestions from the constitution fee was a powerful mayor who would nominate the town supervisor and division heads and will additionally veto ordinances. The council would have expanded from 9 to 12 members. Almost two-thirds of metropolis voters rejected it in 2022, locking within the present energy construction.
That was after enterprise pursuits led a marketing campaign beneath the banner “Sufficient Is Sufficient” that raised greater than $1 million and urged voters to vote no down the poll, together with on key constitution suggestions and one other record of questions from the Democratic Socialists of America’s Maine chapter, together with one that may have sharply raised the minimal wage.
Almost each dwelling former Portland mayor, spanning eras through which the place was council-appointed and elected, opposed the change. It didn’t land effectively with councilors, with 4 of the 5 who indicated positions to the Portland Press Herald opposing it.
The concept got here from a historical past of struggles within the place. The primary Portland mayor, Michael Brennan, was ousted in 2015 largely due to a nasty relationship with the council. Eleven councilors and college board members plus the native chamber of commerce endorsed his successor, Ethan Strimling, who promised to be the town’s “listener-in-chief.”
He rapidly morphed right into a progressive motion builder. He warred with then-Metropolis Supervisor Jon Jennings on points starting from key insurance policies to entry to metropolis employees, dropping these previous alliances. Snyder, the present mayor and a former college board chair, stayed away from fight with Strimling however proved to be his direct reverse within the race. She promised to be a facilitator and eschewed a particular coverage agenda, successful a rout with 61 p.c of votes.
She has averted political issues of the previous by principally successful over the council. However her period has been marked by the frequent referendums and the problem of managing the COVID-19 pandemic, the response to racial-justice protests of 2020 and the homelessness disaster pushed partially by a wave of asylum seekers coming to the town this yr.
Snyder introduced final yr that she wouldn’t search reelection, saying then that she wished to verify voters knew that earlier than she weighed in in opposition to the adjustments to her place. She mentioned in an interview that she’s not working once more as a result of she’s going to “be out of steam” this yr.
Snyder believes the function of Portland mayor has “a purposeful job description,” however she urged these trying to succeed her to verify they perceive it and understand that whereas they’re a public face and plenty of will look to them for options, the mayor is one in all 9 councilors.
“All I can say is, it’s what it’s,” she mentioned. “It has its limits. It has its alternatives.”
The activist crowd within the metropolis more and more sees the federal government construction as inert by design in a approach that favors established pursuits. Wes Pelletier, who chaired the Maine DSA’s referendum marketing campaign, sees Snyder as somebody with “a vested curiosity in not doing something,” councilors as missing their very own agendas and the town employees as inherently conservative.
“There’s a rising contingent that the DSA could be very a lot using of individuals which are like, ‘Why the f— isn’t our authorities doing something?’” he mentioned.
Even some who usually favor the present construction suppose the Portland mayor ought to have extra authority. Brennan, now a state consultant, mentioned the mayor ought to have the ability to current the preliminary metropolis finances. It could make the mayor extra accountable for key insurance policies with out severing them from the council, he mentioned.
Solely Zarro and political newcomer Dylan Pugh, an internet developer, are working for the place now. The following Portland mayor might be taught from the final three by mixing Brennan’s ability at advocating for the town in Augusta with Strimling’s populism and Snyder’s facilitating capacity, mentioned Marpheen Chann, a constitution fee member who opposed the governance adjustments.
He recounted speaking with a member of the 2010 constitution fee that established the place of mayor as it’s, saying the job works however wants “a George Washington” to cement it.
“Tall order, proper?” Chann mentioned with fun.