‘Amazing feeling.’ 1st Somali mayor in US shares her vision

Dec 8, 2021, 5:22 AM | Updated: 8:46 am

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Deqa Dhalac is the first Somali immigrant to become the mayor of a U.S. city, but she describes her rise in local politics as very old fashioned.

Dhalac, 53, became mayor of South Portland, the fourth largest city in Maine, on Monday. She fled Somalia in the early 1990s as war broke out and settled in the coastal city of about 25,000 in 2008 after finding a job in social work.

Voters elected Dhalac to the South Portland City Council in 2018 and the seven-member board this year chose her to serve as the city’s mayor. She said her election came after years of volunteering and building relationships in the community — the same kind of door-to-door campaigning that has launched the careers of countless politicians before her.

“It’s an amazing feeling, but I don’t think it’s a milestone you can get unless you build relationships with all kinds of people,” Dhalac said. “That contributed to where I am today.”

Jaylani Hussein, Minnesota executive director for CAIR, a Muslim civil rights organization, has tracked the rise of Somali politicians in the U.S., confirmed Dhalac is the first to become mayor of a city.

Her election follows a trend of increased political participation from Somali immigrants over the past decade, Hussein said. It is also significant that Dhalac was elected in a city that lacks a large Somali voting bloc, which has benefited some political newcomers in Minnesota, Hussein said.

“Her victory is extremely unique, and it also shows that Somali Americans are taking part in the democracy, not just voting,” he said.

There are now about 30 elected officials of Somali heritage in the U.S., though as recently as 2006, there were none, Hussein said. The highest to rise is Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who was elected in 2018.

Somali immigrants are slowly growing in influence in Maine, which has had a small Somali population for the last two decades. Currently numbering more than 10,000, the state’s Somali population is mostly based in Lewiston, where Dhalac lived for a few years, and Portland. South Portland, which is 90% white, has a smaller Somali community than those cities.

Safiya Khalid was the first Somali American elected to Lewiston City Council in 2019 and Pious Ali was the first African-born Muslim elected to office in the state in 2013 as a member of the Portland school board. Ali, who is originally from Ghana, is now a member of the Portland City Council. He said the steady growth of participation among Maine’s African immigrant community is inspiring.

“It’s a very good milestone, not just for the cities but the state,” said Ali.

South Portland is located across the Fore River from Portland, the largest city in the state. It was long a blue-collar community, but rapidly increasing property values have sparked fears that it is becoming unaffordable. It’s also home to the Maine Mall, the largest mall in the state, and a working waterfront.

As for her tenure as mayor, Dhalac said she plans to focus on diversity, environmental protection and affordable housing.

“We are an inclusive city and we want people to feel that way when they are here,” Dhalac said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at New York Supreme Court, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023...

Associated Press

Trump seethes through the start of trial in New York lawsuit accusing him of lying about his wealth

Former President Donald Trump spent a day in court Monday for the sometimes testy start of a trial in a fraud lawsuit that could cost him control of assets.

12 hours ago

FILE - Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves the chamber at the Capitol in Washingt...

Associated Press

McCarthy rejects Senate spending bill while scrambling for a House plan that averts a shutdown

A government shutdown appeared all but inevitable as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy dug in Thursday.

4 days ago

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)...

Associated Press

Kari Lake reportedly plans to launch US Senate bid in Arizona for seat held by Kyrsten Sinema

Republican Kari Lake will soon launch her campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by independent Kyrsten Sinema, a senior adviser said Thursday.

5 days ago

Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former New Jers...

Associated Press

3rd Republican presidential debate is set for Nov. 8 in Miami, with the strictest qualifications yet

The third Republican presidential debate will be held in Miami on Nov. 8, a day after several states hold off-year elections.

10 days ago

During the equinox, the Earth’s axis and its orbit line up so that both hemispheres get an equal ...

Associated Press

The fall equinox is here. What does that mean?

The equinox arrives on Saturday, marking the start of the fall season for the Northern Hemisphere. But what does that actually mean?

11 days ago

Ray Epps Ray Epps, an Arizona man who became the center of a conspiracy theory about Jan. 6, 2021, ...

Associated Press

Ray Epps, an Arizona man who supported Trump, pleads guilty to Capital riot charge

Ray Epps, the target of a conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Home moving relocation in Arizona 2023...

BMS Moving

Tips for making your move in Arizona easier

If you're moving to a new home in Arizona, use this to-do list to alleviate some stress and ensure a smoother transition to your new home.


Mayo Clinic

Game on! Expert sports physicals focused on you

With tryouts quickly approaching, now is the time for parents to schedule physicals for their student-athlete. The Arizona Interscholastic Association requires that all student-athletes must have a physical exam completed before participating in team practices or competition.



At Ability360, every day is Independence Day

With 100 different programs and services, more than 1,500 non-medically based home care staff, a world-renowned Sports & Fitness Center and over 15,000 people with disabilities served annually, across all ages and demographics, Ability360 is a nationwide leader in the disability community.

‘Amazing feeling.’ 1st Somali mayor in US shares her vision