He meant it when he said everyone would have a seat at his table. On Wednesday, February 3 that happened to be the breakfast table at Portland Community Chamber of Commerce’s monthly business breakfast Eggs & Issues.
Strimling was interviewed by Portland Community Chamber of Commerce Board President Quincy Hentzel with questions submitted by the audience before the event.
More than 380 people listened to Strimling as he outlined his plan to help build Portland from the inside, with high speed internet and school improvements, and the outside with new Americans.
One thing Strimling stressed was that everyone would be able to bring their issues to the Mayor’s office.
“The only way to get Portland to become what we want it to become is dialogue, with all voices at the table. As many of you know, I appreciated all of your support when I ran for Mayor but what was most important about the support I was receiving was that it was across the political spectrum,” he said. “So while I had the Chamber’s support, I also had the support of several unions in town. We had councilors, state employees, school board members, teachers, we had Sudanese, Somali – we tried to build the broadest coalition possible. Not simply to win an election, but because that’s the way we have to govern.
“We want to build a strong economy, push wages up, and you’ll have to be partners at the table, I will ask again and again,” he said. “I know there will be moments when we disagree. But I hope in those moments when we disagree we’re sitting at a table, trying to find an answer.”
One issue question that was asked repeatedly was what Portland’s schools needed to do in order to not only remain competitive, but to attract families from outside the region.
“How do we pay to rebuild our elementary schools? We have four schools in desperate need (of repair),” he said. “I am going to come to the Chamber and ask for help. It may cost us a little money to get there, we may ask for your help to help make it happen, because if we can repair our elementary schools, we can transform our city.
“You don’t hear ‘I’m moving to Portland because they have the best schools in the state.’ You don’t hear that yet. I want parents to say before I’m done ‘I moved to Portland because you have the best schools in the state.’”
Strimling said the city, state and country could do a better job of integrating immigrants, or New Americans, which is why he wants to start an office dedicated to such a task.
“We aren’t going to change the heroin epidemic until we understand that addiction is a healthcare issue. It’s not an enforcement issue,” he said. “It’s like a heart condition. It has to be dealt with medically. That doesn’t mean enforcement isn’t a part of it – it’s enforcement, it’s prevention and it’s treatment.”
Strimling also focused on housing, saying that while inclusionary zoning might not be popular, it could potentially keep the city’s workforce in place.
“Zoning is very important. Creating better density would allow people to build buildings higher, have more units, and that’s a good incentive for folks on the market rate side of things.
“I think, and this is not going to be as orthodox in this room, I don’t think the problem is just supply and demand. There is a supply problem that has to be alleviated but right now the supply that’s getting built is market-rate and not affordable for our middle class families. Workforce housing
Inclusionary zoning passed, it’s been put in place, it’s just 10 percent of units that are affordable for working class families.”
Those working class families will need to remain if Portland wants to keep moving forward while holding onto its heritage, Strimling said.
Be sure to register for the March 3 Eggs & Issues featuring Janine Bisaillon-Cary, President and State Director of the Maine International Trade Center for a presentation entitled “Maine Goes Global.”