Levey Leaders Alumni Profile: David Brenerman ’63
David Brenerman, Levey Day School class of 1963, attended Portland Hebrew (Levey) Day School, for grades 1 through 6 and is one of Levey’s most accomplished Alumni. He went on to Portland High School, and graduated in the top 10 of his class of 500 in 1969. He received a BA in Government from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration (MPA) from the University of Maine in Orono. At age 25, he ran citywide for the House of Representatives from Portland, and served two years representing the entire city and four more years representing a new district that included part of Munjoy Hill (where he grew up), Bayside, the Newbury Street neighborhood, Downtown and the Old Port, setting up a nine-year career in politics and a future in the private sector field of government relations.
David has served as the Executive Director of the Maine Democratic Party, and attended the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco. After leaving the Legislature in 1982, he ran at-large for the Portland City Council, beating four other opponents. In his third year on the Council, David had the honor of being selected as Mayor of Portland in 1984 and 1985. David says, “Being Mayor of the City in which I was raised was the most fun job I ever had.”
In addition to public service, David worked for 29 years in Unum’s government relations office, retiring in 2013 as Vice President of Government Affairs. At which point he began his own public policy consulting business, focusing just on Maine.
Last November, David was once again elected to the District 5 seat on the Portland City Council after 30 years away from serving his city.
Says David, “I have discovered that I love public service and helping people to solve issues they may have with their local government. I am also excited to have a voice in shaping the future of Portland. There are dozens of important issues facing our city, and I am fortunate to be entrusted by my constituents to try to solve them.”
David learned from my parents the importance of giving back to the community and “tikkun olam,” and so for most of his adult life, he has served on numerous boards and committees, both in Portland and statewide. He has been Board President of the Portland Public Library, chair of the board of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, fundraising chair for the library renovation campaign and the Boys and Girls Club annual campaign. He has been an officer of Temple Beth El, the Jewish Community Center, and Boys and Girls Club. He has worked with others to start two neighborhood associations in Portland, Munjoy Hill and North Deering.
David’s wife of 32 years, and best friend, Nancy, has been an essential part of all of his political, work, and community activities. Their daughter Molly is a student at USM and also works during the school year for the City of Scarborough in an elementary school after-care program.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Levey?
First and foremost, it was the lifelong friendships developed in a small school. For most of my six years there, I had only five in my class, so we knew each other well. But, many of the people I consider friends today were also in the classes ahead of and behind mine.
Secondly, the basics of our religion: My knowledge of Jewish prayers, my ability to read Hebrew, my commitment to my Jewish faith were all bred both at home and at Hebrew Day School.
And third, when I reached Jack Junior High School on Munjoy Hill in seventh grade, I was ahead of my peers in several subjects, such as English, Social Studies and Math. My education at Levey was not solely about reading and learning Hebrew, understanding the Holiday traditions, and studying Torah, the preparation for public school was outstanding also.
What is special to you about Maine’s Jewish Community and growing up Jewish in Maine?
Growing up Jewish in the 1950’s and 60’s in Portland was far different than today. I was raised in a Kosher home, which wasn’t so unusual then, and the Jewish community supported our ability to do that. There were three kosher butchers (meat markets) on Middle Street alone. My Aunt, Rebecca Rice, owned a Jewish bakery, Rice’s, on Franklin Street. Across the street, my uncle and aunt, Louis and Bertha Seavey, ran Seavey’s Market, which sold kosher foods, including deli. Most Jews lived in Portland. And many of us were first-generation Americans. While my mother was born in Portland of immigrant parents, my father was born in Eastern Europe.
Our life revolved around Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue, first on Newbury Street, then on Noyes Street, and the Jewish Community Center. As a high school senior, I was President of JCC Center Youth. It was not until high school that I expanded my friendships beyond the Jewish community, but my best friends were Jewish. There was something wonderful about being with people we had known since childhood.
Portland’s Jewish Community is not as close-knit as it once was, because many Jews live outside of Portland, yet we come together and support each other when the times and events call for it. An example is the current plan to build a new Jewish Community Center. As a people, we have made great progress in being accepted in organizations and communities where we were not when I was young. When I was on the City Council, there were three other Jews with me. I was the third Jewish Mayor in a row, after Linda Abromson and Bill Troubh. I feel a part of something special, a community that celebrates its own, that values education, arts and culture, community service, social justice, diversity. Portland’s Jews have a strong history in this community that I feel every day. And Levey has helped to maintain that Jewish tradition and history in our city and has even reached out to the greater community.
What does it mean to you to be a leader in the community? Why do you do it and why is it important?
I have a lot to be thankful for in my life, and I believe strongly in giving back to the community in many ways, including volunteering in organizations that are important to me and to our society. Being a leader does not always mean chairing something or being the lead contributor, although those are essential to any endeavor. Leadership also means stepping forward when you are called to do so. I’ve done it through board participation and elected office because organizations need good people to serve, and I believe that I have something to contribute. Other people are leaders by volunteering at soup kitchens, or working with the elderly and disabled, or writing a small check to their favorite charity. We can all be leaders in our own way. And when we do so, and we help someone else, there is no better feeling.
If you had one piece of advice for young people, what would it be?
I have several pieces of advice: 1) Work hard at whatever you do, because you will be rewarded for it. 2) Education is the key to the future. 3) When you get out of college, find something you love to do, and find someone to pay you to do it, because it is so important to love your work. 4) Tell your parents and people important to you that you love them, and give them a hug every night.