Last Friday evening started off with rushing home from a meeting to change into my attire for the event. I put on the stunning blue dress I found at a consignment store, some red lipstick, and pulled out my heels. My meeting commitments for the day spilled into the evening, as they often do, but I needed to get my laundry done. I stopped at the laundromat on my way to the Belfast Area Chamber dinner to fold my laundry.

You see, I’m a hardworking night-shift nurse, nurse practitioner student, and mayor of a small city in Midcoast Maine, who is committed to public service. My commitment to serving the community started at a young age and I came by it well, having grown up in The County. I started working as a nursing assistant at a family-owned nursing home in Frenchville at the age of 14. My commitment to service was fostered by the Senator George Mitchell Institute and the senator after I was selected as a Mitchell Scholar. It is this commitment to service that inspired me to serve in elected office in a city that I have fallen in love with, a city that I have found to be welcoming and inclusive. After knocking on 2,500 doors, I was elected the first queer, second woman, and youngest mayor of Belfast one year ago in November 2017.

It was my first time attending the chamber dinner; as a nurse who has always worked night shift, I had not had the privilege of being an active part of the business community before being elected mayor. But what a privilege it was to share in the happiness and excitement of the businesses that won awards! Congratulations to Bell the Cat, Belmont Boatworks, and Lincolnville General Store. The evening concluded with the presentation of the Citizen of the Year award, which went to Lee Woodward.

Mr. Woodward started off his remarks with a hurtful comment. He said he saw the Belfast City Council was in attendance but said he did not have the time to serve as a facilitator. And that anyone who needed to use the bathroom could get up and do so at any time and he would do the same. He mentioned if he needed to use the bathroom, Councilor Mary Mortier could take his place.

What his hurtful comment was getting at was my insistence on councilors participating in a facilitated process earlier this year. The need for a facilitated process was much more than the discussion of when to take breaks; it was necessary because City Council meetings had become unwelcoming to the public.

At one meeting a male council member addressed a female constituent from across the table with verbally aggressive behavior; this same council member frequently keeps an open switchback knife on his desk. This behavior is something that I cannot tolerate and at the time I was unsure of how to respond.

My barometer of taking action is whether I will be able to sleep at night if I do or do not do something. Knowing this was a part of a larger issue, and being a survivor of sexual and physical assault myself, I found it imperative for the council to move past this behavior to an environment that is welcoming and respectful.

There is no doubt that my leadership is different than the former mayor’s. I come with a public health lens and a rich life experience. I ran a campaign to bring everyone’s voice to the table and have found my own voice to advocate on the behalf of my constituents. I’m a nurse who knows the importance of self-care and movement. So when it became clear that the average council meeting lasts five hours, I instituted breaks every hour so that I could stretch my legs, practice meditation, or use the bathroom.

Unfortunately, it has felt like my fellow council members have preferred for me to be seen but not heard. They have attempted to limit when I can speak at meetings and limit when I can take a break. Our city attorney advised the council they can legislate how meetings are run and that the mayor serves at the pleasure of the council. Fortunately, the council backed down from original steps taken to limit when I can speak or how I can lead meetings.

You see, Mr. Woodward, your comments were inappropriate and not funny. 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. I left the Belfast Area Chamber dinner when everyone stood up to applaud for you and cried on my way home.

This week I will spend Thanksgiving working overnight at the hospital so that my colleagues with children can spend the holiday with their families. I will be away from my own family to provide a service to the community.

Someone today asked me if I am considering running for another term. 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.

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.

Samantha Paradis is the mayor of Belfast.