Portland welcomed three new members to the City Council on Monday as the city faces historic economic and social challenges related to the pandemic.

One of the new councilors, April Fournier, is the first indigenous person to be elected to Portland’s council and used the virtual inauguration ceremony to call attention to religious and social injustice by not standing for or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

April Fournier was inaugurated Monday as an at-large city councilor in Portland. She is the first indigenous person elected to the Portland City Council. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Mayor Kate Snyder lamented that the worsening coronavirus pandemic made it impossible to hold a traditional inauguration with friends and families watching as new members were sworn in. And she noted that the pandemic has upended life in the city and exacerbated racial, social and economic inequities, and that its impact will continue into 2021.

Over the coming year, city officials will continue to grapple with public health emergencies and economic and financial fallout from the pandemic. The mayor’s Racial Equity Steering Committee will issue recommendations for stemming systemic racism in policing. Homelessness is once again reaching record levels. And voters will head to the polls this summer to elect a Charter Commission, which will review the city’s constitution and possibly recommend fundamental changes in city government.

“From where I stand, we will exit one unprecedented year and head into another,” Snyder said. “The challenges and impacts are relentless and it’s our opportunity to work together and engage all voices and perspectives in order to serve our community well.

“Working collaboratively and respecting one another’s experience, frame of reference and unique perspectives, we yield good outcomes,” she added. “We won’t always agree on every decision. But if we’re committed to the work of the whole in service to our diverse dynamic community, I truly believe we will make our way to the other side of this virus and into stronger days.”

Advertisement

The new councilors were inaugurated via Zoom from their homes. Together, they stood, raised their right hands and repeated the oath of office, led by City Clerk Katherine Jones, and signed their oath cards.

April Fournier, who won election to an at-large seat, was sworn in as the first indigenous councilor in Portland.

Fournier did not stand or recite the Pledge of Allegiance along with other councilors, and explained later she has not done so since she was in eighth grade. Fournier said she respects other people’s right to recite the pledge, but will continue to abstain, regardless of whether people view it as controversial.

“It’s not something I feel comfortable with engaging in,” Fournier said after the ceremony. “When we talk about pledging our allegiance to something, it needs to be something we really fully believe and we believe the words we are saying. I certainly pledge my service to this land and to the people that reside on it. I’m absolutely fighting for liberty and justice for all.”

Fournier also had a red hand painted over her mouth, which she said represented missing and murdered indigenous women. She wore a colorful beaded necklace that her grandmother gave to her mother, who then passed it along to Fournier. And, beneath her red-and-black plaid blazer, she wore a T-shirt with “phenomenally indigenous” written on it.

“I don’t take this position lightly. I don’t take my responsibility lightly,” Fournier said during the inauguration. “I move forward with all of the strength of my ancestors and so many peoples on this land and all of Turtle Island.”

Advertisement

Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh gave the invocation and Maulian Dana, the Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador, gave the benediction.

Dana congratulated Fournier, a member of the Dine’ (Navajo) Nation, for being Portland’s first indigenous councilor.

“You might be the first, but you will not be the last, and that is because of you,” Dana said. “There are a lot of Wabanaki people living in and around the Portland area and feeling like they’re more represented now. (That) means a whole lot to myself and other tribal leaders.”

Andrew Zarro was inaugurated Monday as Portland city councilor.

Andrew Zarro, who represents District 4, is a small business owner and the first openly gay councilor in more than a decade. Zarro noted the importance of his and Fournier’s election in a social media post Monday morning.

“To minority communities, these are massive turning points for representation and equity,” Zarro said in Facebook post. “We see you, we hear you and now we amplify you! Today is an important day for our city.”

Mark Dion, a lawyer and former state representative and senator, was sworn in to represent District 5.

Advertisement

Councilors also said goodbye to three members, including Jill Duson, the first woman of color elected to the council. Duson didn’t seek re-election, ending a 21-year run serving on both the school board and council.

Mark Dion was sworn in Monday as District 5 councilor.

Other outgoing councilors were Kim Cook, who did not see re-election after serving a single term in District 5, and Justin Costa, who left his District 4 seat after two terms and ran unsuccessfully for Duson’s at large seat.

Councilors applauded Cook’s focus on land use and transportation issues during her one term and Costa’s ability to understand complex policy issues. City Manager Jon Jennings highlighted Costa’s leading role in establishing the Community Support Fund to support asylum seekers when they lost access to state aid under Gov. Paul LePage.

Portland City Councilor Jill Duson is stepping down from the council after 21 years of service. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Duson, meanwhile, was recognized for her decades of service, most recently her leadership of the Housing Committee.

To honor that work, Snyder announced that she would ask the council to formally name the city’s housing trust fund, which is used to provide incentives for affordable housing, in Duson’s honor. She said the request to call it the Jill C. Duson Housing Trust Fund will be reviewed by the newly combined Economic Development and Housing Committee.

“Councilor Duson, your contribution to so many things, including housing over the most recent years … is well-known, appreciated and will I am confident persist,” Snyder said.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story