November 19, 2012

Burlesque dancer wiggles into seat on Portland school board

By Randy Billings
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Holly Seeliger, elected to represent District 2 on the school board, poses at the Reiche Elementary School Community Garden.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

A VIDEO of Holly Seeliger dancing at a Portland club can be viewed at

Seeliger said she blogged about her burlesque dancing in July to head off any media-generated scandals.

"I just wanted to be honest with people," she said. "I didn't want voters to think I was trying to hide that."

When it looked like Seeliger would run unopposed, the West End Neighborhood Association sent out an email seeking an opponent, to ensure that the seat would be contested, said President Rosanne Graef.

The email had nothing to do with Seeliger's hobby, said Graef, who was once a belly dancer.

Seeliger is originally from North Berwick, where she graduated from Noble High School. She moved to Portland in 2008 and graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a bachelor's degree in political science. She worked as an intern in U.S. Rep Tom Allen's office in Saco.

Seeliger got heavily involved in the Occupy movement last year, and she now produces content for Occupy Maine TV on the local cable access channel.

That background won the vote of Tabatha Woodside, a West Ender who believes that Seeliger can speak for immigrant students and families who are not represented on the school board or the PTO.

"That's my experience working with her in her political activism," said Woodside, who has an 8-year-old son who attends Reiche and a 12-year-old son at King Middle School.

The League of Young Voters endorsed Seeliger over Swanton, though it noted the experience that made Swanton a "strong candidate."

The progressive group chose Seeliger because of her support of art curriculum, green tech education and school gardens, and her involvement with the Occupy movement.

"We believe that she would bring fresh energy and a new perspective to the School Board," the league wrote. "As such, we're willing to take a chance on Seeliger."

Several school board members said the league's endorsement tipped the election to Seeliger.

"That carries weight, especially with all of the young vote that was out there campaigning for Obama" and the ballot initiative to legalize gay marriage, said District 2 board member Ed Bryan, who did not seek re-election. "The Green party really gets boots on the ground."

Seeliger will join a board with seven Democrats and one unenrolled member, Elizabeth Books. Her election could be proof that voters are willing to give Greens another chance on the school board, after a disastrous stint that largely ended in 2007.

In that year, when the district overspent its budget by $2 million, Green Independent Ben Meikelejohn chaired the board's finance committee. He also was charged with driving without a license, but the charge was dropped because he was never notified of his suspension.

Meikelejohn got only 13 percent of the vote in his re-election bid.

Jason Toothaker, another Green, resigned from the board in 2007 after he skipped out on a $4.65 cab fare during a drunken night in the Old Port.

When police found Toothaker hiding under a porch in Parkside, he was so drunk that he couldn't recall how he had injured his face and shoulder.

The board struggled in the years that followed to restore financial stability to the school district and restore its public image.

Bryan said critics may try to use Seeliger's background as a burlesque dancer to discredit the board, but he doesn't think most people will care about it, as long as she is a productive and professional board member.

Other board members said it will do nothing to sully their image or derail their agenda, as it might have in the past, thanks to comprehensive planning and multi-year budgets.

"It wasn't just age; it was party politics back then," board member Sarah Thompson said of the Greens who were on the board. "I think we all have the same agenda now. We have the same common mission and goals."

Seeliger's platform consists of beefing up garden-to-table school nutrition programs, increasing educational and career mentoring in high school, investing in school infrastructure, and supporting the arts and music at all grade levels.

The board meets weekly. Regular business meetings typically run at least four hours, while subcommittee work adds hours. Meeting packets are typically 50 to 100 pages long.

Seeliger said she isn't trying to use the school board as a springboard to higher office, since education is so important.

And she expects her new schedule may make it impossible for her to keep dancing.

"I definitely see myself being very busy," she said. "Some of my hobbies might need to go by the wayside."

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: @randybillings

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