The key issues facing Maine’s largest city – raising the minimum wage, creating more affordable housing and keeping property taxes in check – took second billing to Portland’s relationship with Gov. Paul LePage during the final mayoral debate on Tuesday night.

Mayor Michael Brennan left no doubts when asked if he could work well with LePage.

“The answer is no,” said Brennan, who has clashed with LePage often since 2011, when he became Portland’s first popularly elected mayor in 88 years. “Paul LePage has proven that he can’t work with anybody. I think the values of the city of Portland are fundamentally different than those in Augusta.”

Portland voters will choose between Brennan, former state senator Ethan Strimling, and Green Independent leader Tom MacMillan on Nov. 3. The debate was broadcast live from the studios of WGME-TV in Portland and was sponsored by the station and the Bangor Daily News.

In his opening remarks, Brennan said he was proud of standing up to the governor, especially preventing immigrants from becoming homeless. He was referring to the City Council’s decision to continue providing assistance to asylum seekers when the state cut it off funding. The state aid has since been restored.

Brennan accused Strimling of “naively believing he can change” the city’s relationship with the governor.

“Of course, I don’t agree with Paul LePage on the time of day,” Strimling replied.

But Strimling said that if he is elected, he would be open to working with anyone – including LePage – if the result could benefit the city.

“We need someone as mayor, who can work with the people in Augusta,” Strimling said.

MacMillan, who talked extensively about his support for raising the minimum wage in the city to a “livable wage” – he supports $15 an hour – said the biggest problem facing the city’s next mayor will be overcoming the governor’s dislike of the city.

In the lightning round of the debate, when candidates were asked to keep their comments brief, Brennan and Strimling gave very different answers when asked what their favorite place to go in Portland was at night. Strimling said he would dine at Caiola’s, a neighborhood restaurant in Portland’s West End. Brennan said he would choose to watch the sunset over the Eastern Promenade while eating an Italian sandwich.

“I’m running for mayor because Portland is worth fighting for,” said MacMillan, who has served as chairman of the Portland Green Independent Committee for three years. “I want to make sure that people who work hard for a living can afford to live here.”

MacMillan said he would support a rent stabilization program.

Citing a lower unemployment rate than when he was elected four years ago and an increased focus on economic development, Brennan said he has tried to serve as an aggressive leader and not a ceremonial leader.

“I do believe that the city of Portland is better off than it was four years ago,” Brennan said.

Citing broad support from city firefighters, several Portland city councilors and the Portland Press Herald, Strimling said he believes that he is more than fit for the job.

“The most important trait is that you’ve got to be able to listen,” said Strimling, who has served as the director of LearningWorks for two decades. LearningWorks provides learning opportunities for at-risk youth, the immigrant community and low-income families.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.