Three days after Kate Snyder topped three other candidates in a hard-fought election to be the next mayor of Portland, she was ready for a break. She’d partied with supporters, made the rounds of the media, and reached out to the city manager and city councilors.
“It’s been an exceedingly exhausting week,” Snyder said, admitting she wasn’t quite feeling like herself. She said she “put a fence around this weekend,” hoped to take a break, refuel, and then get to work in earnest.
Election Day was the culmination of seven months of official campaigning that actually began a couple of months before she announced her candidacy in March, putting out feelers and deciding whether she should run. Although Snyder had two School Board races under her belt, the four-way mayor’s race was different.
Snyder’s first campaign for the School Board in 2007 was competitive. There were six people on the ballot, including an incumbent. Shortly after the ballot was set, an audit revealed a huge deficit in the school budget and that changed the face of the race and took away some of the incumbent’s advantage. Snyder won one of the two seats up for grabs. When she sought re-election in 2010, things were less competitive; she was one of two incumbents and a challenger running for two seats.
“I didn’t do a lot of doors for School Board,” Snyder said. “It was a totally different ball game.” She raised about $6,000-$7,000 for that campaign and it seemed like a lot of money. She was excited that she had the money to send out a couple of mailers.
In contrast, the mayor’s race had “many factors that made it feel very competitive,” Snyder said. It was only the third time that there had been an election for the office, the inclusion of ranked-choice voting, and she was running against incumbent Mayor Ethan Strimling, City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau and neophyte candidate Travis Curran. Then there was the role of money.
Snyder said she knew going in that Strimling had raised more than $100,000 in his last campaign and that there would be “significant pressure” to fundraise that hadn’t existed in her School Board elections. She said being able to fundraise was a really important sign of the campaign’s viability in this race, but in the end the race was “not all about the money.”
“It was interesting that the fair elections petition was circulating as the campaign was going on,” Snyder said, adding that if you need to raise large amounts of money to be a viable candidate, “it creates a very exclusive club of who can raise their hands for this type of service.”
She said she was in favor of the citizen-initiated petition, which would extend public funds to municipal elections, much like Maine’s Clean Elections fund for works for state candidates, calling it a “way to level the playing field.”
Snyder said she is using the time until inauguration on Dec. 2 to transition out of her job as executive director of the nonprofit Foundation for Portland Public Schools and to meet with every councilor and City Manager Jon Jennings. At the end of the transition period she will roll out her plan for her first 100 days in office. After that, she plans to sets goals with the council that will help guide its work for the next year or beyond.
“I feel like Day 1 has already started,” Snyder said when asked about what her first order of business would be.
“There’s not a ton of mystery over what the issues are,” she said, listing homelessness, transportation, housing, and economic opportunities among them. “We know the issues and we’ll continue to work on them.”
Snyder said she has no concerns about working with the council or Jennings. She said there are questions about the mayor’s job description that need to be worked out, but “that doesn’t worry me too much.
“We can work together. We’re on the same team,” Snyder said. “I intend to have a very positive and healthy working relationship with the city manager.”
Strimling did not respond to requests for comment about the election or his plans after his term as mayor expires.
Ranked-choice voting in the mayor’s race
Kate Snyder was elected mayor of Portland by ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference.
If no candidate gets 50 percent of first-choice votes in the first round of voting, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated – in this case, Travis Curran. Votes are then tallied again using the second choice of voters whose first pick was eliminated and so on until a candidate has 50 percent of the vote.
In the Nov. 5 election, Snyder had 39 percent of the initial vote. There were three rounds of tallying, first eliminating Curran, then Mayor Ethan Strimling, then finally City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau. Snyder ended up with 62 percent of the final vote.
“I like ranked choice. A lot of people don’t. I learned that at doors and I get it. It’s kind of complicated; we’re still struggling to get our heads around it,” Snyder said.
She also said there are great benefits to the voting method when there are multiple candidates, because it creates an environment of campaigning that’s more positive because candidates want second-place votes as much as the first place ballots, and don’t want to alienate voters whose first choice is another candidate.
Snyder said she supports extending ranked-choice voting to City Council and School Board elections, an issue that is expected to be on the council’s agenda.
— Lori Eschholz