Around this time in 2011, the field of candidates for Portland’s first mayoral race in nearly a century was filling out.
In fact, as the number of hopefuls eventually climbed to fifteen, the ballot was more than just filled out, it was bloated.
Four years later, as the first (and perhaps last) term served by eventual 2011 winner Mike Brennan draws to an end, the 2015 slate of Portlanders vying for the mayor’s seat is markedly slimmer than the last time around.
As exciting as the race was in 2011, with all the different platforms and talking points, only about half of the candidates stood a realistic chance of winning.
In the end, Brennan beat out former state senator Ethan Strimling, with current city councilors Nick Mavadones and David Marshall following respectively.
When the city charter was enacted to change the mayor’s position in Portland from an appointed to an elected seat, ranked choice voting was part of the deal.
That means that ballots are filled out by voters ranking their candidate choices in order, rather than just voting for the one they like the most.
Thanks to the ranked choice format, and the fact that the field was so big, candidates stayed away from negative campaigning and attack ads. Instead the focus was on self-promotion and displaying an understanding of the issues.
As can be witnessed in this photo, even immediately following the election results, the candidates were jovial and friendly towards one another:
As can be seen thus far, and as can be predicted for the coming months, the 2015 mayoral race is taking a much less friendly tone than in 2011. This can be attributed in part to the much smaller field, but it’s also due to the candidates themselves.
So far, the only people to have taken out nomination papers are Brennan, current city councilor Ed Suslovic, Portland firefighter Chris Vail, and Portland Green Independent Committee Chairman Tom MacMillan.
Brennan, who has largely lost the faith of Portland voters, and has completely failed to maintain support within City Hall, would be a lame duck for reelection if it weren’t for the comparatively weak opposition he currently faces.
Suslovic, who probably wouldn’t still be on the council if he had faced any real competition when he ran for reelection in 2013, is widely regarded as a blowhard who is out of touch with working class Portlanders.
Representing Portland’s District 3, Suslovic’s only challenger in 2013 was a candidate named Greg Blouin who ran on a vindictive (and bizarre) platform of lowering costs for a privately owned local adult rec league that he got kicked out of for poor behavior.
He also used a shirtless selfie picture as his candidate head shot for the media and made public claims that he didn’t even know where Nathan Clifford, a former elementary school in District 3, was located.
Still, even though his sole competition ran a completely inept campaign, and even though it was just a district race- which is incredibly easy to win reelection in- Suslovic only managed 69% of the vote.
So almost 1/3 of Suslovic’s neighbors would have rather seen a shirtless, aimless candidate in Blouin represent them in City Hall than him.
And he’s supposed to be Brennan’s stiffest challenge in the 2015 race.
Vail, who finished in ninth place out of the fifteen candidates in 2011 and had to put up a fight just to be included on the ballot due to his status as a city employee, certainly stands to place higher in this go around, but that’s only because there won’t be as many candidates.
When it comes right down to it, without any prior political experience other than his failed mayoral campaign, he’ll be lucky if he does any better than last place.
MacMillan, who just announced his candidacy yesterday, actually may stand a chance to make some waves in the race.
He has a proven track record of local activism, and has been a major catalyst for movements like the local marijuana referendum in 2013 and the formation of the Friends of Congress Square Park, which directly opposed Mayor Brennan and the rest of the city councilors who voted to sell the park to the owners of the Westin Hotel.
But, even in a progressive city like Portland, money wins in politics, and both Brennan and Suslovic will likely have a lot more of it than MacMillan and Vail combined.
So with such a weak field, which will most likely yield to Brennan if it stays as is, one can’t help but wonder why the guy who came closest to beating Brennan in 2011 hasn’t thrown his hat in the ring yet.
Strimling, who polled more favorably than Brennan in a hypothetical poll that was leaked to the media in April, has yet to say anything more committal than “I’m still thinking about it,” when it comes to the race.
But with all the name recognition and popularity that he has earned and maintained over his years as a state senator and political pundit, one has to wonder just what it is that he’s considering.
The field is small and weak, Brennan’s favorability is plummeting particularly fast after his latest gaffe following the council’s vote to approve a local minimum wage hike ordinance, and Strimling is one of the most well known Democrats in Maine.
He’s known for making “bold predictions” in his pundit roles, well I’ve got a prediction of my own to make:
If Strimling runs for mayor, he’ll win.
So with all the hypotheticals and what-ifs looming over the 2015 Portland mayoral race, the biggest question remains, “Ethan Strimling, what are you waiting for?”
Note: Strimling politely declined to comment for this post.