Guest column

Hurtful comment mars celebration of businesses

By Samantha Paradis | Nov 22, 2018

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.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Nancy E. Hinckley | Nov 25, 2018 15:53

I am interested in your ideas, your vision, your plan to keep this city on the right track.  And I am not interested in hearing about how our mayor can't handle the humor that comes with a Chamber of Commerce roast. You may have some good points, but these are overshadowed here by your lack of the ability to be self deprecating, which is a necessary tool for any good leader.  I think this quote from Maya Angelou is inspiring for anyone in a leadership role and perhaps applies here:  "My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style."

Posted by: Steven Hutchings | Nov 23, 2018 14:35

Dear: 1st queer, 2nd woman, youngest mayor ever elected, (this is how she refers to herself in the article) Sorry I only thought of you as mayor of Belfast and the fact that you are the youngest one shows not in a good way. Please get over yourself. You volunteered, ran and were elected. If you didn't understand the job, then suck it up and learn to get along.  I sense you think that all the other adults are picking on you and life is just so unfair.  As a life time educator I get this a lot from High School kids. They normally grow out of it.  You chose to be a very public figure and whatever accolades you have received in your youth doesn't seem to be what we need as a mayor.  If you didn't know what job and position was about, that is a fault of your youth, to constantly complain about it is the fault of your personality. My impression is that you expect the job and politics to fit what you need and want, versus what the job really is and how you can adapt to it.  The mayor ship of Belfast is not a podium to promote your personal beliefs or expectations or a stage from which you engage in self promotion. Past mayors have known that once you step up on that stage you make a good target for left over tomatoes. If you don't know how to dodge, then you might want to get some experience at laughing at yourself and throwing the vegetables back.

My apologies for appearing somewhat harsh, but I am talking to my mayor who doesn't seem to grasp the job versus a graduate student who just experienced small town politics for the first time and is shocked that as an elected official you are expected to be able to get along or at least be quiet long enough to learn the ropes.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Nov 23, 2018 13:21

It's called a "roast" in which many of the jokes were at Mr Woodward himself, and not the Mayor.  Isn't the State of Maine labor law six hours of work, then given a break?

I find your use of the words "queer folks" is far more offensive then anything Mr Woodward could say.  Mr Woodward's dedication to the City of Belfast and surrounding Towns proves his steadfast respect to the entire area.  Even to your place of employment he has given more then anyone over the years of his service on the Hospital Board. He has collected donation and distributed Thanksgiving meals to those that were in need.  Mr Woodward's service to the community far exceeds what most people even see!

I spoke these words to teach and not to "get you down".  You see, Ms Paradis, your use of the word "queer folks" is grossly inappropriate and not funny and mars your Guest Column.

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