CASCO–Mary Fernandes first gained attention in March after video surfaced of her demanding Barbara York’s resignation from the Casco Board of Selectmen over racist e-mails forwarded by York.

Now, the Quaker Ridge Road resident may get attention of a historic nature – she is likely Maine’s first black selectwoman.

According to “Maine’s Visible Black History,” written in 2006 by H.H. Price and Gerald Talbot, there have been two black women elected to Maine office. The first was Sallie Chandler, who was elected Lebanon’s town clerk in 1995, a post she held until 2000. The second black woman elected in Maine was Jill Duson, who has served on the Portland City Council since 1999. In 2004, Duson made more history by becoming the first black female to serve as mayor of a Maine city.

And according to Elaine Apostola, a reference librarian at the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library in Augusta, who researched the issue, it is likely that Fernandes is only the third black woman to hold elected office – and the first elected to a board of selectmen.

When alerted to the possibility that she could be the first black selectwoman, Fernandes redirected attention to Casco’s voters.

“It’s a testament to the town of Casco. They are a fine group of people,” she said. “I’ve always thought this. The people in this town are obviously able to see beyond race.”


Fernandes first became interested in town politics in March when someone tacked a hard copy of an e-mail sent by York depicting First Lady Michelle Obama in an ape-like pose. At the next selectmen meeting, York dramatically demanded York’s resignation. York admitted to forwarding the e-mail but never resigned. After a tense public hearing on the matter in early April, the board of selectmen censured the long-serving York.

Fernandes, who forgave York’s behavior, was nevertheless motivated to run for public office on account of the reception she and several others in town received. Jeannine Lauber Oren, who filmed Fernandes during a town meeting on March 23 as she demanded York’s resignation, is impressed that Fernandes got elected and will now represent the community.

“What we saw was a textbook example of good old-fashioned grass-roots political activism,” Oren said. “United by their individual feelings of being disenfranchised, these residents moved the decision-making process from the town meeting room to the voting booth. It worked. Mary Fernandes and Ray Grant, with the help of incumbent Selectman Carroll Morton, will begin the process to bring Casco into the 21st century. It begins with televising all meetings – unedited – from start to finish.”

But the historic nature of her election isn’t lost on Fernandes, or others in the black community.

“I’m happy that she ran and won,” said Duson, who said she had heard about Fernandes after news broke in March of the York e-mail controversy. “I sent her a quick note to congratulate her and told her I’d love to have coffee with her sometime.”

David Lourie, a Cape Elizabeth lawyer and chairman of the legal redress committee at the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Fernandes’ election is “probably a good step forward for the town of Casco.”


Lourie said he got to know Fernandes during the York e-mail controversy and believes “she will make a credible selectperson.”

Fernandes also sees her win as following in the footsteps of another electoral trailblazer: her mother, Mary Elizabeth Mazon, who is still living.

“My mother went to Bacon Academy, a public high school in Colchester, Conn.,” Fernandes said. “She was the only black person in her senior class, and she ran for class president against this white girl whose dad pretty much owned the town, and she won. My mom won! So, I guess you could say my being elected is sort of a weird parallel, these many years later.”

Fernandes moved to Casco in 2005 to escape the “hub-bub” in Connecticut where she lived most of her life. She said she visited the Kennebunk area in summer for 18 years prior to settling permanently in Casco, where she said she “enjoys the rural setting.”

Fernandes works with mentally and physically handicapped people as a direct support professional and decided to run for office after the York e-mail controversy, which garnered prominent regional attention earlier this year. Fernandes went door to door during the campaign advocating for televised meetings and a better town website.

She ended up second in a field of eight for two open spots on the Casco board. Ray Grant, a barber in Raymond, was also elected. They both ran on a platform to open up Casco government, even sharing space on a campaign flyer circulated to town residents prior to the June 8 election.


“The town has not been very forthcoming with information. You always have to ask,” Fernandes said. “We don’t even have our meetings on TV. I want to change that. We need to be more inclusive, more open with people.”

And whether or not she is truly Maine’s first black female selectwoman doesn’t really matter to her. That a black person was elected in a town that is 98 percent white tells more about the people of Casco, not the candidate, Fernandes believes.

“It’s all about the people, not me,” she said. “I said that throughout my campaign. It’s about the people.”

Some of those people who voted for Fernandes are now wanting to commemorate her historic win. Betty Glassford, a member of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, is designing an exhibit dedicated to Fernandes’s electoral victory. Glassford will affix a photograph of Fernandes to one of her roadside campaign signs for display at the society’s headquarters on Route 302.

“To me this is a great conquest, a great feat. People really like her. They have a lot of trust in her,” Glassford said.

Glassford sees Fernandes’ and Grant’s election as a new direction for Casco in terms of openness.

“The scales have tipped, I’d say,” Glassford said. “It always seemed things were already decided before they happened, all for those who had the most pull in town. Now, with (Fernandes) and Ray Grant, the scales are certainly a lot more even. There’s going to be more accountability.”

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