PORTLAND — Michael Brennan on Monday afternoon was sworn in as the city’s first elected mayor since 1923.
On Monday night he devoted much of his inaugural address to the importance of building a world-class education system.
Brennan, who was sworn in at noon ceremony at City Hall, broke with tradition and delivered his 35-minute inaugural speech to a nearly full house at Ocean Gateway on the city’s waterfront.
Brennan, a former policy associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, is also a former state senator who chaired the Legislature’s Education Committee under former Gov. Angus King.
He extolled the virtues of the Maine Laptop Initiative, ushered in by King, who attended the inaugural reception.
“That has been the trademark – the hallmark – of a Maine education,” Brennan said. “It showed how we can not only lead others states and other countries, but we lead the world with that initiative.”
Brennan said his grandmother came to the U.S. from Ireland about 100 years ago with a sixth-grade education at the age of 14. When her husband died at age 32, she moved in with her brother on Munjoy Hill and cleaned houses and cooked for families on the West End.
Despite those challenges, however, her four children all went to college during the Great Depression, he said. His aunt later went on to become a Maine Teacher of the Year.
“Education has been very important to me and very important to our family,” he said. “I want to make sure that Portland and our schools – that we continue to have a world class system.”
Brennan, who held a joint reception with the School Board, said he looked forward to working with board Chairwoman Kate Snyder to make Portland an education city.
Instead of promising specific accomplishments during his four-year term, Brennan focused on values and principles. And the metric by which to measure success, he said, will not be in statistics, but rather whether the city is “more compassionate.”
“Government at its best is values-based and principle-based,” he said. “Hopefully we will have initiatives and programs that affect those values.”
Brennan said education, economic development, affordable housing, stemming homelessness, building green transportation, and sustainability are all interconnected.
He noted the importance of establishing a “research triangle” between the city, universities and research institutes to fill the skills gap that exists when employers cannot find qualified workers.
With about half of the state’s economic activity generated in greater Portland, Brennan said the city is positioned to lead Maine into a new economic era.
“If we can transform our economy, we will transform the state,” he said.
Brennan also said he would like to establish a language immersion program in Portland; build a coalition of public, private and nonprofit sector groups to raise money for affordable housing, and encourage more local food production.
“Maine imports 80 to 85 percent of our food,” he said. “I want to make a commitment tonight to look at ways, not only to become more green in terms on energy creation and jobs, but how can we become more self-sustaining in terms of food we grow and be able to feed people in the state of Maine.”
With a reference to Union Station, which was torn down 50 years ago and replaced with a strip mall, Brennan said the city should “forge a generational contract” that ensures future development, especially along the waterfront, has long-term value to future residents.
At City Hall, outgoing Mayor and City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones called on the city – and councilors in particular – to close ranks behind the new mayor, who will earn an annual salary of about $66,000.
Mavodones predicted Brennan would be under an intense spotlight, and councilors should do whatever they can to support him, regardless of differing opinions.
“It’s not an easy job,” said Mavodones, who finished his second consecutive term as the council-appointed mayor. “I really encourage and challenge my colleagues and other elected officials to get behind the mayor. It’s going to be successful, we want it to be successful.”
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan chats with former Gov. Angus King shortly before delivering his inaugural address Monday night at Ocean Gateway.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan address a large crowd Monday night at Ocean Gateway.