PORTLAND — It’s been about a week since Michael Brennan made history by winning the state’s first election using instant-runoff voting to become the city’s first popularly elected mayor since 1923.
The polls closed on Nov. 8 with Brennan holding 26 percent of the vote. After the runoff, with round-by-round results displayed on a screen at City Hall, Brennan was declared the winner over runner-up Ethan Strimling. He had nearly 56 percent of the vote.
“That was exciting,” Brennan said after receiving warm hugs from his competitors. “My heart is still racing. I hope to never see another bar graph presented like that again.”
This week, Brennan, a former legislator who is no stranger to elections, said the ranked-choice vote forced him into a campaign like no other he has experienced.
“This was all uncharted territory,” he said Monday during an interview at Federal Spice in the Old Port. “We were constantly adapting and re-adapting our strategy as we thought we learned more about instant-runoff voting.”
Brennan was a state representative from 1992 to 2000 and a state senator from 2002 to 2006. Those campaigns, he said, involved a lot of knocking on doors and very little fundraising, since the state has Clean Election funding.
Brennan made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Congress in 2008. He said that campaign involved very little voter contact. Rather than knocking on doors, most of his time was spent fundraising, debating (45 times), and developing a broad media strategy using television and mailings.
In that four-way primary, eventually won by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, Brennan said he thought if he would get to 30 percent he could win.
The Portland mayor’s race, he said, was a combination of his state and federal campaigns.
“In this campaign you had to simultaneously raise money, knock on doors and have a lot of voter contact,” he said.
Brennan said he plans to have lunch with City Manager Mark Rees this week and to speak with each city councilor about committee assignments. “That’s my top priority,” he said.
Brennan said he isn’t eager to start measuring the drapes in the mayor’s office. He said he wants to respect Mayor Nicholas Mavodones’ remaining days as mayor, so he will not be hanging around City Hall much before the Dec. 5 inauguration.
After being sworn in, Brennan said, he looks forward to working on the issues he campaigned on: economic development, education, quality of place and having a responsive City Hall.
“Those haven’t changed,” he said.
Brennan said wants to meet with the school superintendent and School Board chairman to talk about ways to improve schools. He is also interested in forming a “triangle” between the city, research institutes and universities.
“When you look across the country at communities that have done well during the recession, and communities that had strong economies before the recession, they all had partnerships with the university system and with their research institutes,” said Brennan, who for 10 years has been a policy associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.
“If we can harness those resources to focus on the jobs we’re going to create in the future and simultaneous be training a workforce,” he added, “I think that will go a long way towards making greater Portland’s economy sustainable.”
Brennan said he is excited to be the mayor as outlined in the City Charter, which keeps the day-to-day operations under the purview of the city manager. That framework will allow him to concentrate on broad policy goals and to advocate for the city’s interest in Augusta, he said.
Brennan said he is friendly with mayors in Westbrook, Biddeford, Auburn and Waterville. He said those contacts will help form the basis for coalition of urban communities to offset what has become a powerful rural coalition.
While similar efforts have stalled, Brennan said there’s now an important difference: “I’ve done it before,” he said.
Although some people have expressed concern the mayor’s position would be used as a springboard for other elected offices, Brennan vowed to serve his full, four-year term.
“I can tell you unequivocally – I will be around for four years,” he said. “I have run for Congress and I have no interest in running for Congress. And I have no interest in running for governor. I will serve out this four-year term.”
Portland Mayor-elect Michael Brennan in front of City Hall on Congress Street, where he will be sworn into office on Dec. 5.
PORTLAND — With the election firmly in the rear-view mirror, here are odds and ends from the city’s historic mayoral election, the state’s first dance with ranked-choice, or instant-runoff, voting.
Ranked-choice voting is hailed by proponents for producing a winner who receives a majority of votes, typically the person who is least offensive to voters. That’s because the winner must ultimately win over his or her opponent’s supporters.
But Terry Reilly, a former chairman of the Campaign Finance Review and Ethics Board in San Jose, Calif., who has studied ranked choice voting, contacted The Forecaster in October with this view:
“RCV is nothing more than plurality with Lipstick,” he said in an Oct. 19 email.
In a sense, he was correct. Not once did the original standing of any of the 15 candidates ever change during the run-off tabulation. If the election had been decided on Nov. 8, without a runoff, the outcome would not have been different.
The only difference is with RCV, it’s possible for the second- or third-place candidates to come back and beat the person with the most first-round votes. That happened in Burlington, Vt., where RCV was later scrapped.
And the majority? Well, it was a majority of only 16,234 valid ballots by the 15th runoff round. Meanwhile, 19,728 valid first-place ballots were cast. So the 9,061 received by Mayor-elect Michael Brennan is about 1,000 short of a true majority.
It turns out Reilly correctly predicted that, too.
“The ‘winner’ will receive (about) 9,000 votes or 45 percent support,” he said. “This mean, like your (Gov. Paul LePage), more people (55 percent) voted against the winner.”
For the record, Brennan received nearly 46 percent of the total votes cast in the first round.
One of the common complaints of the mayoral election was that there were too many candidates. Some voters at the polls said so many names made the ballot confusing and made it difficult to research the candidates.
Some candidates complained their voices were being buried or oversimplified in news stories. At forums, candidates only had a matter of seconds to speak on complex topics like economic development, homelessness and affordable housing.
One way to limit the number of future candidates would be to require a primary. But don’t expect that to happen, since that would involve making the race a partisan election between Republicans, Democrats and Green-Independents.
Another way to limit candidates would be to increase the number of signatures it takes to put a name on the ballot. It only takes 300 valid signatures to get on the ballot, a relatively low threshold considering that residents can sign as many petitions as they want.
Now consider this: Four of the 15 candidates received fewer votes than they did petition signatures.
Jodie Lapchick finished last (well, second to last if you count write-in candidate Erick Bennett, but we’ll get to that later) with only 133 first place votes – less than half the number of signatures she gathered.
Somali immigrant and businessman Hamza Haadoow only received 184 first-place votes. Charles Bragdon received 218 first-place votes, topping out at 226 after the third runof.
Even former state Rep. John Eder had a weak showing, receiving only 275 first-place votes. But he eventually reached the threshold of 300 – after four runoffs.
It appears that only 12 percent (16 votes) of Lapchick’s votes went to the only other woman in the race, City Councilor Jill Duson. However, 14 percent (19 votes) went to Councilor David Marshall, who shared Lapchick’s passion for the creative economy.
Brennan didn’t start gaining ground until the fifth round, when Bragdon was eliminated. But after losing round six to Marshall, when Eder’s votes were distributed, Brennan went on to win all but one of the ensuing rounds.
Mayor and City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones received the highest percentage of Richard Dodge’s votes, 14 percent, even though Dodge frequently criticized the 14-year council veteran.
Brennan got his noticeable bump from Marshall, who was in fourth, in the 14th round. The 44 percent swing translated into a 999-vote boost for Brennan.
Marshall turned to Brennan as the results were counted, and said, “You’re welcome.”
In the final round, 36 percent (or 1,479) of Mavodones’s votes went to Brennan and 30 percent (or 1,222) went to Strimling. That means more than 1,400 of Mavodones’ supporters did not vote for either Brennan or Strimling.
That was the question posed to the city attorney minutes after election workers began scanning more ballots – hours after the original ballots, contained in secure, red boxes, had been scanned, processed and were being inspected.
City Attorney Mary Costigan said the votes, from voting District 5-2 (Grace Baptist Church), had been overlooked in the vault. She assured onlookers at City Hall that the 385 ballots had indeed been processed on Election Day.
Costigan also had a simple answer about why the ballots were in a ragged cardboard box, instead of a locked, red box. “Because we ran out,” she said.
Late in the processing of run-off votes, there was a (sort of) familiar face in the back of the State of Maine room at City Hall: Erick Bennett, who failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Bennett, who declared a write-in campaign, could be heard pressing the city’s spokesperson. “Where are my votes?” he asked.
No one could give him an answer at the time, but here it is: 17 votes, according to the clerk’s office.
— Randy Billings