Guest column

Paradis looks at life through different lens

By Valli Geiger | Dec 05, 2018

As the mayor of Rockland, I reached out to Mayor Paradis shortly after she was elected because I knew she was in for a rough time. She is a change agent, a reformer and they are never welcomed by those who hold power. I am writing today for the same reason.

Samantha was elected a year ago as the youngest mayor in Maine.  She was elected by the citizens of a progressive town but a town run by a small group of people who have held their positions for many years.

Maine and the nation are seeing a huge influx of young progressives, mostly women, running for elected office. The next story is what happens to them when they join a group of baby boomers who are not ready to give up power and who often look at life through a very different lens.

In Samantha’s case, she is discovering they do not share power easily. As a millennial, ardent environmentalist, a renter, struggling to earn a living while going to school full time, her perspective is foreign and unfortunately, unwelcome. Sadly, this unprecedented act of attempting to silence the mayor is just one in a long list of reactions to her election.

We have many rituals in our country for how power is handed over; it has been one of the things that makes our democracy strong. In Samantha’s case, those rituals were not followed. The former mayor refused to call her and concede. He did not attend her swearing-in ceremony.

Traditionally, the new mayor honors the old and, along with council, gives him or her a plaque honoring their service. Instead, the council asked that Samantha not come to the first meeting, so they could do this without her. From the very beginning of her service, she was made to feel unwelcome.

In Rockland, we hold tight and formal meetings, typically lasting two to three hours. If a councilor needs to step down or the meeting has gone on for over two hours, the mayor calls for a recess. The meeting is not continued until all councilors return.

In Belfast, council meetings typically last five or more hours and are much more casual. Councilors get up to take a call, use the bathroom, get something to drink at will, with no pause in the meeting. But the mayor leads the meeting; she cannot step down. So she gets to be uncomfortable and they get to suggest that she is treating them like school children when she proposes adding breaks that would allow her to also use the bathroom or stretch her legs.

When a councilor on a first meeting with Samantha says you have done nothing to earn my respect, when the city manager tells the new mayor he is too busy to meet with her, when the city attorney meets behind the scenes with two councilors to find a way to remove the ability of the mayor to speak at council meetings, you know the system is in full revolt against change.

Samantha was better prepared than most to run for City Council. She has been part of the Mitchell Institute for Young  Leaders and did the Emerge Maine training. She was already a national speaker when she ran. She knew it would not be easy, but thought the norms and processes would hold.

I think what has happened here is tragic and does not bode well for Belfast, Maine or the nation. This generation’s skills, talents and ways of seeing the world need to be welcomed in. They are ardent, impatient reformers. They see a burning world, with rising sea levels, the worst  income inequality in our nation’s history and injustice for the  marginalized. They are unwilling to be silent and unwilling to wait their turn because they feel an urgency to act.

Can we truly disagree?

I ask us all to step back from this piling on. The citizens of Belfast voted in a change agent for a reason. I ask the Belfast City Council and city administrators to pause and think deeply about how to welcome that change. I ask my generation to be humble, welcoming and kind to a generation that will need to fix that which we have failed to fix. I know Samantha Paradis would more than meet us halfway.

Valli Geiger is a Rockland city councilor and former mayor of Rockland.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Domenic Ruccio | Dec 14, 2018 12:32

Well I think we in Belfast can now all see quite clearly just how heartfelt the Mayor's "apologies" offered at the last City Council meeting really were.  This opinion piece was clearly written with the Mayor's consent.  It beggars belief that her friend would weigh in on this in so public a manner without the Mayor's endorsement.  Clearly this article is written by a surrogate of the Mayor and, as such, the opinions in it mirror the Mayor of Belfast's.  So much for letting sleeping dogs lie, eh, Ms. Mayor?  More career building going on here or just a naked need to win?  Regardless, you own the words in this piece.

So rather than let a contentious issue lie after all parties had agreed that the business of the city dictated comity - the Mayor stressed the overriding importance of putting contention aside to get the City's work done -  the Mayor of Belfast has now published through her surrogate yet another ill-considered, factually inaccurate and divisive commentary.  The mayor will now blame the reaction to those of us offended by this blatantly biased and dishonest commentary on the rampant ageism, sexism and bigotry existing in the City of Belfast as practiced by the very same people who a year ago elected her to office.   Because according to the Mayor and her surrogate, if you don't agree with the Mayor, you are doing so solely because she is young, queer and a woman, not because you simply disagree with her.  The Mayor has shown that she is quick to throw around charges of bigotry, sexism and ageism . . . but notably less quick to provide supporting evidence.

The people of Rockland should be ashamed that someone who so closely associates herself with Rockland would inject into a difficult situation for Belfast such a factually dishonest and blatantly biased piece.  You are wrong on the facts, clearly biased agains the City Council and just as clearly a cheerleader for the Mayor of Belfast.  You are not an honest broker and any value that your piece might have had is diminished by your demonstrable lack of credibility.  You should be ashamed for having published this.  And Rockland should be ashamed of you for having done so.

But we do owe you one debt of gratitude.  You have shown us just how divisive the Mayor's identity politics are.  The intended, though ham-fisted, take-home here is obvious: pure-of-heart young, queer girl vs. aging baby boomers resistent to her enlightened changes because they are desparate to hold on to the vast power that comes with being elected to the Belfast City Council.  Rather than strive to build consensus as a genuine leader would do, the Mayor of Belfast continues here to inject discord into our city and pit one group of Belfastians against another.

And that is precisely what the Mayor's brand of strident identity politics gets you. Identity politics is not about inclusion or building consensus.  It's about how one's identity in a group they choose to identify with confers special status.  It doesn't and it shouldn't.   And it is absolutely antithetical to the true values of Belfast.  Belfast is not about putting labels on people; Belfast is about ignoring labels to see through to the person.  At least it was until the Mayor came along.

So, Ms. Mayor if I can offer a helpful suggestion, please take your emphasis your youth, gender and sexual orientation as qualifications to participate in government, along with your sense of perpetual grievance and your inability to get along with co-workers, and go peddle them somewhere where people buy that sort of stuff.   It doesn't sell so well in Belfast.  And, by the way, I'd think long and hard about a career in politics were I you.   You quite evidently lack any talent for the work.



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Dec 05, 2018 19:52

The Council and Mayor have come to mutual agreements.  The Mayor has apologized to Mr Woodward.  I feel sorry for the Chamber of Commerce's 400 businesses who gave a once in a life time award to Mr Woodward and the Mayor crushed the value of the award.  Every time Mr Woodward looks at his award, it is not for the citizen of the year but rather the plaque that made the Mayor cry.

I hope she learns God gave her two ears and only one mouth and should use it proportionately.  The Mayor still has some of the 400 business owners upset which some voted for an honor which will always be shadowed by her actions.

Posted by: Steven Hutchings | Dec 05, 2018 11:05

Dear Valli:

I am a long time Belfast resident who just rolls on the floor laughing  at the inaccuracies and wrong assumptions in your column. The Belfast City Council for the last dozen years has helped shape the city into an incredible town perhaps one of the "greenest" on the East Coast. Their accomplishments include: a refurbished waterfront, re-building the walking bridge, establishing a 5-6 mile trail around the harbor with numerous spots that are now accessible to the salt water.. They have attracted major businesses of which Nordic Aquafarms is just the latest and you so easily call them a bunch of baby boomers who don't want to share power.

I didn't vote for Samantha because she was a self described agent of change, or as she described herself as a queer, 2nd woman mayor of Belfast in one of her articles. I voted for her because she was young and appeared competent enough to get along with the rest of the team she was now on.

I am totally confused when you refer to her as an agent of change and a reformer?????  So what has she changed or reformed???? Is it automatic now that if you turn 26 you assume titles that you as yet have not achieved. I know what the current city council had to go through to achieve the real change that occurred. The process took years, massive negotiations and getting along with all sides. The Council has done this time and again and have achieved major positive changes in Belfast but you dismiss this, give it no credit but applaud the mayor for accomplishing??????  I would say as a Belfast citizen she has accomplished major embarrassment and discord in town for no major reasons except personal ones. Maybe that is what you prefer for elected officials in Rockland, if so perhaps I can call on you to convince her to move there.

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