LEWISTON — It's ironic, Larry Gilbert said, that the mayor's job gets so much scrutiny.
In Lewiston, at least, the mayor's role is very limited. The mayor runs meetings and acts as the ceremonial head of the city.
But he doesn't get a vote or a say in the day-to-day running of the city.
"But the mayor gets all the attention. You have the mayoral debates and all that stuff, televised — and the mayor has no power," Gilbert said. "Because of that, people expect more from a mayor. You can't live up to the expectations people have about you because you just can't do it."
Gilbert said he's done his best to live up to people's expectations, fighting when he had to and cooperating when he could.
"The mayor doesn't have a lot of power, but he has a job to do and I took that very seriously," Gilbert said.
His term officially ends Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., when Mayor-elect Robert Macdonald and the 2012-13 City Council are sworn in. The council's inaugural ceremony will be held at the Franco-American Heritage Center.
Gilbert won his first mayoral election in 2007, while working for Maine Community Policing Institute. He'd already announced his plan to seek the job in fall 2006, planning to run when incumbent Lionel Guay reached his two-term limit.
"I just turned 62, and I knew that our funding was running down," Gilbert said. "I knew I could start over and start a new career. But I enjoy public service. This was my community, I raised my family here and I was serving on the Downtown Advisory Board. So I decided then, I was going to run."
Guay resigned a year before his term ended. Gilbert ran for and won that seat, taking the mayor's chair in 2007.
"When I campaign, I campaign hard," Gilbert said.
Norm Rousseau, councilor for Ward 7, ran for the same seat and he had a good deal of support from his council colleagues.
While Gilbert won that election, conflicts between him and the councilors made the last year of the term tough but memorable. They fought over making city appointments, creating a citizens committee to review the budget and privatizing or selling off the Colisee.
"It was unpleasant," Gilbert said. "But I persevered."
All seven councilors stepped down or lost their re-election bids in 2007, and Gilbert found himself sitting among a new group of councilors as 2008 began.
"And that group came in as a block," Gilbert said. "And then they started breaking off."
That group devolved into controversy as Gilbert and several councilors worked successfully to oust City Administrator Jim Bennett. Gilbert declined to discuss that issue.
The most recent council, which began serving in 2010, was much more to Gilbert's liking.
"They haven't always agreed on the issues, but everyone was respectful," he said. "Everyone was there to serve, not to serve themselves."
Gilbert gives much of the credit for the council's smooth sailing to City Administrator Ed Barrett.
"For Ed, it's never been about him," Gilbert said. "He wasn't controlling, he gave us the information and let the council set the policy."
As far as Gilbert is concerned, he's the same mayor he was when he began serving.
"The same person, but the reaction is different," Gilbert said. "I haven't had to fight. When I see people doing something, violating the charter, I have a duty to speak up. When the council president says he's going to find a way to go around the mayor, I have to fight."
Gilbert also ran for the State House District 71 seat in 2008, losing the June Democratic nomination to former Lewiston Fire Chief Michel Lajoie. Gilbert won't repeat that attempt, he said.
"It's time to enjoy my family," Gilbert said. He's looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Pat, and getting notes, letters and memorabilia from his career in order.
"I could not have done anything without her support," he said. "So now, we're looking forward to having more time for each other."
Look for him to get more involved in local charities and community efforts, he said. He'll work for some other political campaigns, if he's asked.
"And I've been noticing that some of the fire hydrants need painting," Gilbert said. "Maybe I can do that."