PORTLAND, Maine — Michael Brennan talked about preparing Maine’s largest city for a global economy, new education initiatives, protecting local history and even OccupyMaine during a wide-ranging inaugural address Monday night that marked the arrival of Portland’s first popularly elected mayor in 88 years.
Brennan departed from tradition by hosting the inaugural gala at the Ocean Gateway Terminal event hall and invited school board race winners to join elected city councilors. The venue accommodated a crowd of more than 300 who came to hear the city’s first publicly elected mayor since 1923 share his vision for Portland.
Live music was provided early by the Gig Orchestra of Portland, Deering and Casco Bay high schools, and later by the folk blues quintet Chipped Enamel.
In his remarks, which lasted about 40 minutes, Brennan reached back to his grandmother’s arrival in Portland from Ireland as a 14-year-old immigrant in 1909 and forward to his own grandchildren, pledging to help build a community in which his newly married son will want to raise kids.
A major component of building that community, he said, will be providing an education parents will want to seek out. Among the new initiatives he announced Monday was a push to establish a foreign language immersion program for Portland students. He also reiterated his campaign pledge to encourage local research and higher education institutions to form a “research triangle.”
Combined, the initiatives could bring Portland worldwide notoriety as a city where the work force is fluent in the global marketplace, he said.
He reiterated goals of increasing high school graduation rates and enrollment in postsecondary schools, recalling the impact going to college had on his life and the role it played in his family’s American dream.
Brennan said his grandmother, who cobbled together a living in a poor economy after her husband died young, put four kids through college.
“For my grandmother, Portland was truly a gateway for her to a more prosperous future, a better future and a better life for her family,” Brennan said. “I look forward to working with [Chairwoman] Kate Snyder of the school committee to make Portland an education community.”
Brennan noted the “interconnectedness” between challenges facing the city and called for the creation of a network of public, private and nonprofit partnerships to seek ways to create more affordable housing, public transportation and renewable energy options.
He recalled visiting the old 1888 Union Station with his mother as a youngster and lamented the 1961 demolition of the St. John Street structure in favor of a strip mall. The new mayor said that while the city should remain forward-looking, it must use the memory of Union Station as a reminder not to make hasty development decisions.
“I miss having Union Station, but I learned from that experience,” he said. “When we redevelop our waterfront, we will do it in a way that not only looks forward 10 months or 12 months, but also what’s in the best interests of our city for the next 50 years.”
Brennan thanked the 14 other mayoral candidates, who he bested in the November election, for contributing enthusiasm and new ideas for city government. To a rousing applause, he even promised to reinstate regular curbside pickup of bulky waste, a nod to candidate Peter Bryant’s oft-stated campaign goal.
Brennan also made note of the OccupyMaine tent community at Lincoln Park near City Hall. The group set up its encampment more than two months ago in support of the larger Occupy Wall Street and in protest of consolidation of wealth and corporate influence on government. On Wednesday, the Brennan-led City Council will decide whether to approve OccupyMaine’s request for a six-month permit to stay in Lincoln Park — last week, the city’s Public Safety Committee unanimously recommended against approving that request.
Before a crowd that included a small handful of OccupyMaine members, Brennan said the group’s message cannot be overlooked.
“We live in a country that has tremendous income disparity and tremendous poverty,” he said during his Monday night address. “We cannot pass down that poverty and income disparity to future generations.”
The new mayor closed with what he called an old African saying he once heard former Vice President Al Gore deliver.
“He said, ‘If want to move forward quickly, go by yourself — if you want to go a long way, go with a lot of people.’” Brennan said. “We all need to do this together.”