Samantha Paradis is the Mayor of Belfast, Maine. We asked Mayor Paradis to talk to us about her community, why she ran for office, and what it was like to go down to D.C. during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in an attempt to speak with Senator Susan Collins.
Local Progress: What motivated you to run for public office?
Samantha Paradis: I’ve always been committed to public service. From volunteering at the newly formed library in the small rural town I grew up in to walking dogs at the humane society in college, I know the importance of providing service. In college I learned how few women hold elected office. As I worked on my master’s in public health, I learned about the concept of health in all policies, that every policy from the local to federal level affects the health of the community.
After falling in love with Belfast, Maine I chose to bring both my commitment for service and my knowledge of how policy affects health to a run for mayor.
In November 2017, I was elected the first queer, second woman, and youngest mayor of Belfast. I am the founder and Chair of the Climate Change Committee.
LP: Tell us about the community you represent. What should people know about it?
SP: I represent a city of about 6,600 residents on the coast of Maine. We are a year-round vibrant community with a working waterfront and active downtown. Belfast is a service center for all of Waldo County. Our city has a diverse economy comprised of healthcare institutions, manufacturing, tourism and much more! We have many public greenspaces including a beautiful harbor walk with connecting rail trail and hiking trails. Many visitors love Belfast so much they decide to stay.
LP: What are you most proud of from your tenure in office so far?
SP: I am most proud of the work that our Climate Change Committee has done. We are currently studying the effects of sea-level rise on Belfast. We envision Belfast becoming a center for citizen science to address all aspects of climate change. Fortunately, by the end of this year Belfast will have the most installed solar of any municipality in Maine, 90% of our municipal electricity will come from solar. Our energy committee continues to find ways to stabilize our budget and mitigate the risk of climate change.
LP: What are some of your upcoming priorities in office?
SP: Alongside climate action, my biggest priority is housing. We have a housing crisis in Belfast. In fact when I moved the city, for a short travel nursing contract, I was told that I might as well pitch a tent because it would be impossible to find an affordable rental. There have been no workforce apartment developments for quite some time here. Maine has one of the oldest housing stocks in the country. The city of Belfast owns a couple parcels of land that we hope to set up for housing development. My priority is to ensure that the development is inclusive and equitable.
LP: Why are you a member of Local Progress?
SP: I joined Local Progress in 2018, after hearing about the organization from members of the Young Elected Officials Network. Local Progress has helped me find inclusionary housing policy information and connect with other progressive elected officials.
LP: What was it like to go down to DC with a group of elected officials from Maine in order to speak with Senator Susan Collins during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings?
SP: I am a registered nurse and nurse practitioner student, currently finishing up clinical at a family planning office and abortion provider here in Maine. At the beginning of the semester I wrote an op-ed opposing the nomination because of the nominee’s view on abortion and reproductive justice. Access to abortion is an essential health service for people finding themselves pregnant.
I followed the nomination process closely and my heart broke as I watched Dr. Blasey Ford testify. As a survivor of sexual assault myself, I also have forgotten certain details and remembered others, but I will never forget the faces of the men who sexually assaulted me. A couple weeks before I was sexually assaulted, I was physically assaulted by a family member. When I told a trusted adult the response was, “Don’t worry honey it happens to all of us.” At 16, I felt like it wouldn’t matter if I told anyone about the sexual assault. I grew up in the same rural county that Senator Collins grew up in.
As an elected leader, I am a role model for people in my community. I find it imperative to be my authentic self, so that other people can see a young, queer woman in a leadership role. Growing up I did not know anyone in my community who openly identified as LGBTQ. Part of my story is being a sexual assault survivor and in sharing that story I hope to change the reality for other people. To both prevent sexual assault and ensure that people feel safe, supported, and heard when coming forward.
I helped organize a group of elected women to travel to DC to speak with Senator Collins about the nomination because I felt it was important for her to hear the voices of elected women in Maine before making her decision. Unfortunately, she refused to meet with us and had us meet with a staff member. I have gratitude for her staff listening to so many difficult stories during the nomination process. However, I cannot understand the Senator’s vote for the nominee. I returned the next day to Maine and watched her speech from the family planning office. It was extremely painful to hear her share her disbelief of Dr. Blasey Ford’s account and her enthusiastic endorsement of him.
I know that fight for reproductive, economic, and environmental justice continues and I am a part of the movement forward to justice. I believe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “ The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” With this I must continue with the hope that we are moving towards justice.