Monday afternoon, in Maine’s fourth largest city, Deqa Dhalac made history as the first Black Somali-American mayor in the nation’s history.
She was elected by her fellow city councilors, who are all White, in a unanimous vote after serving as a councilor for three years.
South Portland is the fourth largest city in Maine, the whitest state in the country according to the last census with 90.8% of the population identifying as White.
Dhalac, 53, said her election shows what is possible if people connect with one another rather than building walls.
“People will always have some kind of reservation,” Dhalac says. “But they will get to know you, listen to you and see who you are through that.”
Dhalac’s election is ‘an historic moment for America’
New American Leaders, an organization equipping immigrants to run for office, says Dhalac is the country’s first Somali-American mayor.
Ghida Dagher, the president of New American Leaders, calls this is an historic moment for the nation.
“Her leadership will certainly make a big difference not only in South Portland, but around the country,” said Dagher. “She’s going to serve an example for Somali Americans across the country to step up and step into their own leadership journey. … It’s about owning their own power and potential in our democracy.”
Abdullahi Ahmed, a local high school principal and community leader, delivered the opening prayer at the council’s inauguration ceremony. He congratulated Dhalac for demonstrating what the human spirit can accomplish with support from a welcoming city.
“You are here to build on the work that was ongoing,” Ahmed said. “We are so proud of you, Deqa.”
As mayor, Dhalac will run council meetings and coordinate citywide initiatives, all for an annual stipend of just $3,000.
Dhalac is a longtime advocate for social justice and human rights. She works as a specialist in family engagement and cultural responsiveness for the Maine Department of Education.