City officials strongly criticized a member of Portland’s new Charter Commission for a social media post calling City Manager Jon Jennings a white supremacist shortly after she won her seat.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef, who was elected as an at-large commissioner Tuesday, posted a tweet shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday that said Jennings would soon be pushed out.

“Jon Jennings! You about to lose your job. We are going to make you the last white supremacist city manager. We are coming!” she said.

While the future of the city manager position is something Portland’s new charter commission is certain to discuss,  Jennings is already planning to step down when his contract expires next summer and won’t be affected by any recommendations of the 12-member panel.

The commission will discuss possible changes to the basic structure of city government for a full year before making any reform recommendations to city voters. A key goal for some members is to shift power from the appointed city manager to the elected mayor. Any changes to the charter have to win voter approval.

Jennings has been manager since 2015 and runs day-to-day operations at City Hall. Under the current charter, the elected mayor has no executive authority.

Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef

Sheikh-Yousef, 30, was part of the slate of four Charter Commission candidates who campaigned together on a platform of ushering in a new kind of politics, as well as changing the power structure in City Hall. The Rose Slate, which also included Shay Stewart-Bouley, Catherine Buxton and Pat Washburn, described itself as a multiracial and multigenerational slate of first-time, feminist candidates that was focused on inclusion and collaboration. It was called the Rose Slate because the rose is a symbol of liberation and a stereotypical symbol of women, they said.

Stewart-Bouley, who won the District 1 seat in a landslide, retweeted Sheikh-Yousef’s post about Jennings and added the comment, “Yeah we are. The Roses all won. A new way of politics.” Stewart-Bouley did not respond Wednesday night to a request to talk about the tweet and the response by city officials.

Sheikh-Yousef, in her previous role as an organizer of Black POWER, had called on the council to fire Jennings last year and has described the city manager position itself as inherently racist. While Sheikh-Yousef did not elaborate on her post Wednesday, she and others have blamed Jennings for policies that they say disadvantage the poor or lead to gentrification, among other things.

Sheihk-Yousef’s message drew strong rebukes from Jennings, Mayor Kate Snyder and City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who called on her to apologize or step aside from the commission.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“I am appalled by the hate filled tweet from a newly elected member to the Charter Commission,” Jennings said in a written statement. “This person does not know me or what is in my heart. To call me a white supremacist because of the job I hold is a disgrace and an attempt to assassinate my character. I created the Team Harmony Foundation when I was a coach with the Boston Celtics. The foundation still brings together young people to take a stand against hate and bigotry by empowering their voices. I’ve spent a lifetime on issues that bring people together to take a stand against all forms of hate. It is so unfortunate that hateful personal attacks that only seek to divide the city even further passes as political dialogue today.”

Snyder also provided a written response.

“I was shocked when I saw the personal attack tweeted, and subsequently retweeted, by newly elected members of the Charter Commission,” Snyder said. “The city manager form of government in Maine and elsewhere seeks to balance and separate politics from professional administration. That said, I understand that the commission will review, and possibly recommend changes to that management structure. But, hate-filled attacks on a person’s character have no place in our community as we embark on this important process to assess and improve how municipal government functions to best serve the citizens of Portland.”

Thibodeau issued a statement calling on Sheikh-Yousef to remove herself from the commission, but later added that she should apologize.

“Within two hours of being elected, Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef has demonstrated an inability to faithfully execute or perform the duties of the office entrusted to her by the citizens of Portland,” he said. “I believe she should apologize or step aside to preserve the integrity of the Charter review process. Portlanders expect a thoughtful and deliberative review of our form of government free of unnecessary and untruthful personal attacks.”

Sheihk-Yousef said in an email that she was not available Wednesday to discuss the election because she was attending a funeral for a family member.

She did not respond when alerted later that her tweet had sparked criticism that would appear in a news story. However, she posted a separate tweet later Wednesday afternoon, saying six times that “Jon Jennings is a white supremacist” and adding “Abolish the city manager position.”

City Councilor April Fournier urged Portlanders to show compassion for Sheikh-Yousef and use the moment to create a better understanding, instead of furthering divisions by engaging in a public back-and-forth. She said people need to make room for others to speak their truths, even if one disagrees.

“It’s an opportunity for a conversation – to be able to talk about assumptions and intent and transparency,” she said. “Instead of trading barbs or letting that get to me, I would want to have that conversation about why someone feels about me, or why does somebody characterize me in that way. We all come to this with very different life experiences and traumas, successes and challenges, we have gone through.”

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