Biddeford City Councilors were among those taking their oaths of office during ceremonies Dec. 3. Courtesy photo by Joe McKenney

BIDDEFORD — In 1845, 19-year-old Israel Shevenell left his home in Compton, Quebec, Canada, and walked nearly 200 miles to Biddeford. He is considered the first French immigrant to arrive in the city, where work in the mills was plentiful.

Mayor Alan Casavant spoke of Shevenell and of other immigrants who made — and are making — their way to the city in his address after taking the oath of office as mayor for the fifth time at ceremonies on Dec. 3.

He spoke of other matters too — of work accomplished and work that needs to be done.

“So many wonderful things have been happening in our community. We have seen the opening of new businesses and restaurants, and new development,” said Casavant. “We have invested in a rejuvenated Main Street, with flowers, new lighting, new sidewalks, and a new ambiance. We have witnessed renewed community pride, as people brag about living here, while many eagerly want to move here.”

He pointed out that Biddeford is the youngest city in Maine, with a median age of 35.

Biddeford is a city on the move, Mayor Alan Casavant said at his inauguration Dec. 3, which also saw members of the city council, school committee, wardens and ward clerks take their oaths of office Courtesy Photo by Joe McKenney

Despite the city’s recent successes, Casavant said Biddeford still faces challenges.

“Affordable housing, for example, continues to be a serious issue, as do infrastructure needs, educational needs, and communication failures,” said Casavant. “There is never enough money to go around, and the refusal of the state to fully fund revenue sharing has triggered great pressure on property taxpayers. The loss of our local daily newspaper has compounded the city’s ability to provide timely and relevant information to residents, and tax pressures, the erosion of the middle class, and the polarized political environment emanating from our nation’s capital has frayed our sense of community.”

Also sworn into office by City Clerk Carmen Morris at the inauguration at the Little Theater at Biddeford High School were members of the City Council, School Committee, Ward Clerks and Wardens.

Taking the oath were City Councilors William Emhiser, John McCurry, Stephen St. Cyr, Robert Quattrone, Amy Clearwater, Norman Belanger, Doris Ortiz and Marc Lessard. Councilor Michal Ready was absent. School Committee members sworn in to office were Nathan Bean, Randy Forcier, Amy Grohman, Rebecca Henry, Karen Ruel and Lisa Vadnais. Member Dominic Deschambault was absent. Election wardens Tina Turgeon, Robert Cote, Colombe Cote and Kathleen Pinard, along with Ward Clerks Odette Gornick, Anne Strout, Lorraine Auger and Sterling Roop, also took their oaths of office.

There were musical selections as well. Bob Duquette and his daughter Stella performed“Lighthouse;” Joe Boucher sang a Schooner Fare song called “Quebecois;”  Zawadi Mwanyuke, a Biddeford resident originally of the Congo, sang “My Heart;” and Maisha Mustafa, a Biddeford resident originally of Birundi sang “We are Not Going Back.”

Monsignor Rene Mathieu gave the invocation and the benediction.

“This is America, (we’re) just regular people coming together to do the best we can,” said Mathieu. “Give our city officials the wisdom and the courage they need.”

Emcee was William Southwick, who pointed out that the night’s event was Biddeford’s 149th inauguration. Southwick introduced Casavant, a retired school teacher and former Maine legislator, whom he said he’d known for more than 35 years.

“He’s been a passionate supporter of the city of Biddeford,” said Southwick of the mayor.

In his address, Casavant spoke of the diverse nature  of the city that dates back many years.

He pointed out that recently people “from away” have purchased buildings, opened shops, and become more involved in politics.

“This demographic and political change has created an emerging sense of suspicion and concern,” said Casavant.

Long-time residents have complained about newcomers, he said, and the changes that they bring with them.

“This has sometime created a subtle us versus them mentality, as the fear of change has sparked a defensive, fearful reaction, not based on fact, but rumor.” said Casavant. “Social media is particularly vicious in its rumor mongering and its personal attacks. Such behavior fractures our commonality, as it pits different segments of our community against each other. People become stereotyped based solely upon issues, and their motives are generalized into wild conspiracy theories.”

Biddeford has always been a diverse city, he said, and spoke of discrimination against immigrants who arrived in the city years ago, to work in the mills.

“The mills demanded labor, and immigrants from many countries; the Irish, the Greeks, the Albanians, and the Francos, worked long hours behind the brick walls,” said Casavant. “Even the first mosque in America was in our mills!”

He provided an example of how some immigrants were treated.

“The KKK attempted to cross the Main Street Bridge, from Saco, to harass the French and Irish Catholics, only to be beaten back by ‘Irish’ confetti, also known as bricks,” said Casavant.

He said the reasons for people moving to Biddeford today are the same as they were “for our memeres and peperes.”

“Our goals and dreams are the same, and there is a commonality between us,” Casavant said.

Biddeford was on the move in 1845, and is so today, he said.

“When Israel Shevenell walked from Quebec to Biddeford, he did so with a purpose, and the recognition that Biddeford was a city on the move,” Casavant said. “Here, today, we are also on the move. Yes, the pressures are more intense today. Yes, the world is a different place. Yes, the viciousness of Washington politics affects us all, but, I believe, if we let our hearts lead, we can be better.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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