Lewiston state House candidate might change into Maine’s first Somali-American lawmaker

Democratic state House candidate Mana Abdi folds a marketing campaign flyer as she canvasses voters in Lewiston’s House District 95. Abdi says her prime priorities are rising funding for public faculties and bettering Lewiston’s housing inventory. She is considered one of two Somali-American state House candidates this yr, together with South Portland Mayor Deqa Dhalac. Ari Snider/Maine Public

On a damp July night in Lewiston, Mana Abdi knocked on doorways and handed out marketing campaign flyers.

“I’m out here introducing myself to the voters, saying hello and possibly handing out some literature,” she mentioned to considered one of the residents on her checklist, who got here out to discuss within the driveway.

Abdi is operating for State House District 95, a racially and economically numerous district. It contains elements of downtown Lewiston, suburban neighborhoods that sprawl out towards the Turnpike, and a industrial stretch alongside Lisbon Street. Abdi was born in a refugee camp after her household fled the struggle in Somalia. She got here to the United States as a baby. She attended center and highschool in Lewiston and graduated from the University of Maine in Farmington. She now works within the Office of Intercultural Education at Bates College.

As a candidate, Abdi mentioned considered one of her prime priorities is rising funding for public schooling.

“And the best way to make sure that we take care of our schools is to make sure that our teachers are properly paid, but also properly resourced in terms of the school itself, the infrastructure itself,” Abdi mentioned.

Abdi mentioned she additionally desires to enhance housing high quality and affordability, and was notably involved about rickety stairs and the final state of disrepair she’s seen whereas out working.

“It’s scary,” she mentioned, describing the situation of among the homes and condo buildings round city. “But people literally have no choice but to live in these conditions.”

If elected, she mentioned she would additionally deal with main paint remediation efforts.

Mana Abdi walks down a staircase as she appears to be like at voters in Lewiston’s House District 95. If elected, Abdi says her prime priorities will likely be rising public schooling funding and bettering Lewiston’s housing inventory. Ari Snider/Maine Public

Abdi’s marketing campaign has generated pleasure amongst some group leaders and native elected officers in Lewiston, together with the mayor, who has endorsed her candidacy.

Another supporter is Fowsia Musse, government director of the nonprofit Maine Community Integration, who spoke at Abdi’s marketing campaign launch occasion in Lewiston final month.

Musse, whose group focuses on empowering immigrant ladies, mentioned Abdi is an instance of how somebody can overcome their very own private boundaries after which converse up for others.

“So she’s symbolic of that,” mentioned Mickey. “When people integrate healthily, they try to fight for everyone else.”

Musse, who’s from Somalia, mentioned she has inspired Abdi to run since Abdi was in highschool. As a mom and member of the Somali group, Musse mentioned Abdi’s statehouse bid has private that means for her.

“I almost feel like her second mother,” mentioned Mickey. “Like seeing your child. And they get to where you — the destination you want them to be.”

Abdi is considered one of two Somali-American state House candidates this yr, together with South Portland Mayor Deqa Dhalac.

Abdi mentioned she is extra centered on the problems than on her personal cultural identification. But questions on identification have been inevitable on this race, partially as a result of of a remark posted two years in the past by Abdi’s Republican opponent, Fred Sanborn-Silvers. On her private Facebook web page, Sanborn-Silvers acknowledged, “Muslims should not be allowed to hold public office.”

Where I’m Muslim.

In an interview with Maine Public, Sanborn-Silvers tried to stroll again that remark.

Fred Sanborn-Silvers, Republican candidate for House District 95, poses for a photograph in Lewiston’s Kennedy Park. Sanborn-Silvers says his prime priorities are addressing psychological well being, substance abuse and homelessness. He has additionally drawn consideration to a Facebook put up he made in 2020 by which he wrote: “Muslims should not be allowed to hold public office.” He now calls that put up a “misstatement”. Ari Snider/Maine Public

“I just think it was a misrepresentation,” Sanborn-Silvers mentioned. “I think that you must have – that you must be a legal citizen in order to hold office.”

Sanborn-Silvers mentioned he can see how Muslim voters might see that put up as a drawback, however mentioned he does not suppose he wants to handle it additional, past calling it misinformation.

Sanborn-Silvers was considered one of the founding members of New Beginnings, a Lewiston-based shelter and outreach group for homeless youth. He now works for a neighborhood Meals on Wheels program.

If elected, Sanborn-Silvers mentioned his prime precedence can be to handle homelessness, substance abuse and psychological well being, partially by way of schooling.

“And that’s the bottom line is trying to make sure students stay in school,” he mentioned.

One strategy to try this, he mentioned, can be to fund higher entry to vocational coaching.

“So we can teach people trades and so they can go out and work,” he mentioned.

Sanborn-Silvers mentioned he plans to begin knocking on doorways quickly to get his message out to voters in House District 95.

Meanwhile, Mana Abdi was steadily shifting down her checklist of registered Democrats in a suburban neighborhood off Lisbon Street.

At one level, she bumped into an unlisted resident who turned offended when he realized Abdi was a Democratic candidate. Standing in his yard, he shouted expletives and known as her a witch, a socialist and different names.

Abdi shrugged and continued to the following home. She mentioned she would chalk it as much as the man simply having a dangerous day.

Maine Public’s Susan Sharon contributed to this report from Lewiston.

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