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‘First Queer’ Maine Mayor Surprised City Councilors Upset At Being Accused of ‘Sexism, Ageism and Bigotry’

November 28, 2018

The city council of Belfast, Maine has voted not to allow the mayor to speak on behalf of the council after she implied in a local newspaper that councilors have reacted to her with “sexism, ageism and bigotry.”

Samantha Paradis, 27, who was elected mayor in November 2017, was formally rebuked by all five members of the city council Tuesday night.

Councilors took exception to a guest column Paradis wrote in The Republican Journal complaining about comments a speaker made at a chamber of commerce meeting that she felt were at her expense.

A reference at the chamber meeting to the way she runs city council meetings sent her home crying, Paradis wrote, and led her to express frustration with how other city councilors have treated her.

“In the last year I have been carving out and fighting for every inch of the seat I sit in at the center of the Belfast City Council. I have encountered sexism, ageism and bigotry,” Paradis wrote.

She also described herself in the column as “the first queer, second woman, and youngest mayor of Belfast.”

Eric Sanders, a city councilor, called the special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the mayor’s accusations, which he didn’t appreciate.

“I would have to say I reject that statement and resent it,” Sanders said, adding that the charges are “labels … that I don’t mess around with.”

Sanders said his daughter asked him if the mayor had called him a bigot in the newspaper.

“It’s very awkward as a father to explain to your 10-year-old daughter what a bigot is, when you don’t think you are one,” Sanders said.

Another councilor, Mike Hurley, said the mayor runs council meetings poorly. Frequently, he said, “the mayor jumps in and starts talking, just about until the oxygen is gone from the room.”

“The job of the mayor is to preside over the meetings. Not to dominate it, not to try to force something down the council’s throat,” Hurley said.

Hurley pointed to a previous meeting when councilors were to discuss whether to reduce a height restriction from 50 feet to 45, but heard from a member of the public who attacked councilors for about a half-hour and then ended with a poem accusing them of murdering children — with no action taken by the mayor to stop it.

As for ageism, sexism, and bigotry, Hurley said he knew she was young, a woman, and a lesbian before he endorsed her candidacy for mayor last year.

A mayor in Belfast presides at city council meetings but has no veto and can’t vote unless there is a tie. Mayors are elected every two years.

“The Mayor shall be recognized as the official head of the City for ceremonial purposes, and for all purposes of martial law,” the city charter states.

Belfast is a city of about 6,700 people on Maine’s central coast.

City councilor Mary Mortier, who attended the chamber of commerce meeting, said the mayor didn’t react appropriately to funny comments made during a roast that singed several people in the room, not just the mayor.

“And that’s what disturbs me here:  A lack of humor, a lack of flexibility,” Mortier said.

Mortier said she has been stopped by residents at the supermarket pointing out the mayor’s speaking style at city council meetings – specifically, “how often you use the word ‘I’.”

Paradis declined to explain her column during the city council meeting. But she said she was surprised at the reaction, and she criticized city councilors for their actions against her.

“I find this very unfortunate,” Paradis said. “… I prepare extensively for every meeting, and I attempt to call on people as fairly as I can. It is my First Amendment right to share my thoughts and my experience. And I’m so concerned that this will negatively affect the business of the city. And I’m worried that this will end up with a public outcry that this is not the right course of action, and will continue to hamper and diminish our ability to do the business of the city. I request respectfully that you decline to vote on this motion. That you think of me with respect and dignity, and reflect on yes, what your own experiences are, what my experiences may have been. My writing to the newspaper is in no way a personal attack on any individual. It was a sharing of what it’s been like to serve in this role during the last year.”

But the council voted 5-0 to take away her ability to speak on behalf of the council.

Councilors also voted 3-2 to withdraw the city from a statewide Mayors’ Coalition on Jobs and Economic Development, which the mayor said she is a leader of and has used to push for action on climate change and education funding, according to the Bangor Daily News.

In the column the mayor hinted at running for re-election in November 2019, and she explained why:

“I am so proud of the work I am doing with the Belfast Climate Change Committee. The work that I am doing to inspire other young people, nurses, queer folks and climate activists to run for office both here and across the country. I look forward to working on our housing crisis so police officers, teachers and paramedics can afford to live in our community,” Paradis wrote.

“It is this work that keeps me going and inspires me to think about running for a second term. And I’m not going to let anyone get me down now.”

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