Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.

Phil: When you were mayor of Portland, your critics decried that your “style” divided the council?

Ethan: Yes, that was the narrative orchestrated to distract from the actual policies we were fighting for, since those were so popular (as proven in 2020 referendum results).

Phil: Well, last week’s 4-4 vote by the council on whether to mandate masks in businesses seems to prove divisiveness exists even without you. On an issue that most expected would win easily (much to my chagrin), Mayor Kate Snyder opposed it, then supported it, then opposed it, and subsequently the Portland council deadlocked.

Ethan: Incredibly disappointing. Another example of the council putting big business lobbyists ahead of workers and small businesses owners.

Phil: What happened to the ninth councilor, by the way?

Ethan: It was Spencer Thibodeau, but he abruptly resigned the night before the vote to take a job with the Biden administration.

Phil: Nothing like giving your constituents a little notice. Since the vote was 4-4 and Thibodeau won’t be coming back, Robert’s Rules dictate that this issue will continue coming before the body until someone blinks.

Ethan: For our readers, the version the council deadlocked on would have mandated masks in restaurants, gyms, salons, barbershops, retail stores and social clubs, with exemptions for onstage performers.

Phil: Can I take the mask off while I am enjoying an adult beverage?

Ethan: You may de-mask during your three-martini lunch.

Phil: By the way, your city did decide, through internal regulation (re: un-elected people setting policy) to mandate that anyone using Merrill Auditorium, Ocean Gateway and/or the Expo, must not only wear a mask, but must be vaccinated. Good for the goose, not so much for the gander.

Ethan: Yes, although I am glad someone is protecting us from those renegades who are exacerbating our public health crisis.

Phil: Perhaps we can compromise by pronouncing one of those renegades will get infected?

Ethan: Your sarcasm is morbid today. Look, even though you oppose mandates, we do know they result in more compliance. And hence fewer deaths. You know, like seatbelts.

Phil: Sure mandates create more compliance, but what we give up in freedoms is the trade-off we must balance.

Ethan: You mean the freedom to kill yourself and spread the virus on your way through the ICU to the graveyard?

Phil: Speaking of morbid sarcasm. Look, we know if someone is vaccinated, which I strongly encourage, you are much more protected from those who have chosen a different path. If you must have your mandate, then how will you make sure our small business owners do not have to become the mask police?

Ethan: We could hire more health safety workers to assist owners when there is a problem?

Phil: Another example of not letting a crisis go to waste so you can hire more government workers! Regardless, I don’t think health safety workers should be asked to deal with unruly customers. How about we just let the people know the best practice and let them decide, like we do with tobacco?

Ethan: Sure. In your own home you are welcome to wear a mask or not. Just like smoking. But in a public business, you must wear a mask so that you don’t poison others. Just like you can’t smoke.  

Phil: My point was that we should let adults decide. If a business wants to say “masks required,” fine. If not, and you then don’t want to go to that business, or work there, also fine.

Ethan: I believe that is what currently exists.

Phil: Exactly. That’s why I am with those four councilors.

Ethan: And why I am with the other four.