When voters went to the polls November 5 in Portland, Bangor, Brewer, Lewiston, Westbrook, and Hampden, they made state history by electing seven first and second-generation Mainers to city council and school board offices.
These newly elected officials, who won by handy margins, were born in Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Haiti, Thailand, and South Korea, and came to the United States as immigrants.
In a state widely considered one of the whitest in the nation, the results of this year’s election cycle represent something very new in Maine’s political scene.
In Bangor, Angela Okafor was elected with 1881 votes from a field of eleven candidates to fill a seat on the Bangor City Council.
Marwa Hassanien was elected to the Bangor School Committee with 1818 votes.
Soubanh Phanthay won 33.5% of the vote in Brewer to earn a seat on the City Council.
In Hampden, Tania Jean-Jacques was elected to the RSU 22 School Board with 487 votes.
Safiya Khalid won 69.6% of the vote in Lewiston’s Ward 1 to earn a city council seat.
Claude Rwaganje was elected to the Westbrook City Council At-large seat with 1557 votes, or 44% of the ballots that were cast.
Pious Ali, running unopposed for his second term as Portland City Councilor At-large, earned 12,030 votes, or 100% of the ballots cast.
Tae Chong, winner of the District 3 City Council race in Portland, earned 1546 votes, or 44% of all ballots cast.
Deqa Dhalac, South Portland City Councilor, reached for comment after the results were announced, said, “I am over the moon with joy and gratitude. The people of Maine showed their support for those who want to serve regardless of their ethnicity and background. I am so proud of my immigrant brothers and sisters who stepped up to the challenges of serving their communities. Congratulations to all the winners.”
Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, commented, “First and foremost, it was a delight to have so many black and brown candidates run for office this year. And the wins.. oh my, this is truly historic!! These wins certainly made our Get Out the Vote Drive today feel very purposeful. Congratulations to all the winners! MIRC is looking forward to working with you to advance immigrant lives and help create a better Maine.”
Abdullahi Ali, CEO of Gateway Community Services, said, “This election was historic for many. The election of new Mainers to local offices is another testimony to their contributions to society and commitment to responding to the needs of their neighbors and community members. This is also sending a message that new Americans are on the front lines in the fight to make a positive change in our State and in the country.”