PORTLAND, Maine — In a mayoral race charged with discord between an incumbent and a city councilor, a third candidate — Kate Snyder — was the last one standing in Portland’s election on Tuesday.
Snyder, a 49-year-old executive director of a nonprofit benefiting Portland schools, took 61.9 percent of votes in the final round of the ranked-choice election, unseating Mayor Ethan Strimling in Maine’s largest city. Strimling finished third behind City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, a real estate lawyer, who got 38.1 percent of votes in the final round.
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To many voters, the race was about determining a path forward in a changing city. Snyder positioned herself as a facilitator of good government, often emphasizing process over concrete political positions. In a September debate, Snyder pledged to establish “a tone of civility and inclusion” and saw the mayoral role as one of “collaborative public service” that cedes political heavy-lifting to the council.
A desire to revamp Greater Portland’s transit system was one of the Snyder campaign’s most salient issues. She argued that the city must decrease its reliance on vehicles, and supports eliminating fare for the city’s METRO bus system for middle- and high school students.
Her stated positions on other issues are less incisive. With short-term rentals, she signaled an intention to “work with” Airbnb to direct funds to community investment. At odds with Strimling’s support for a $15 minimum wage, Snyder voiced a willingness to work with “other high cost-of-living communities” to develop a more flexible minimum wage statewide.
Snyder’s victory is also a victory for City Manager Jon Jennings, whose vocal opposition to Strimling’s re-election all but functioned as an endorsement of his most competitive challengers.
Snyder’s call for a more “working rapport” inside City Hall bolstered the narrative advanced by Jennings and a majority of city councilors that Strimling’s “divisiveness” impeded city government’s ability to craft good policy.
Snyder’s campaign raised $70,000 as of mid-September, a sum that trailed her main opponents. Unite Portland, a PAC steered by Councilor Dory Waxman and comprised of campaign donations from real estate interests, ran numerous ads attacking Strimling, linking the incumbent mayor without evidence to Portland’s growing unaffordability.
The ads served as de facto support for Snyder and Thibodeau, Strimling’s most broadly supported opponents. Unite Portland and Strimling have made dueling campaign finance complaints against each that are currently being reviewed by a state watchdog agency.
Kate Cordaro, a 41-year-old West End resident who backed Snyder on Tuesday, said “it seemed like she had a demonstrated record of working with people and collaborating.”
“I think Ethan and Spencer were both strong candidates, but I think she had the most to offer in terms of a new perspective,” Cordaro said.
The mayoral election was the city’s third since switching from a ceremonial position appointed by members of the council to a citizen-elected mayor in 2011.