Ashanti Dwight Williams is sworn into office as a Biddeford City Councilor by City Clerk Carmen Morris on Tuesday, June 15. Courtesy Photo/City of Biddeford

BIDDEFORD — When Ashanti Dwight Williams expresses how he feels about Biddeford, the words come quickly; there’s no hesitation.

“It is a magical, beautiful city that continues to give me opportunities I could only imagine,” he said. “I love this city like it was a living human being. If you take the time to get to know Biddeford, its history and potential and what’s on the inside, it will love you back.”

Williams was speaking from his seat on the dais in the council chambers at City Hall on Tuesday, June 15.

He had been officially sworn in by city Clerk Carmen Morris to fill the Ward 4 council vacancy just moments before, after Mayor Alan Casavant’s appointment was unanimously endorsed by the rest of the council.

Williams’ City Council term runs through early December. He is filling the vacancy created when Councilor Robert Quattrone, who was serving his fourth term, announced May 18 he was resigning because he was moving from the city.

Biddeford City Councilor Ashanti Dwight Williams Courtesy Photo/City of Biddeford

Now 45, Williams moved to Biddeford six years ago with his now former wife, who has roots in the area, he said in an interview on Wednesday, June 16. He became a fulltime corrections officer at York County Jail, where he now works as a reserve officer, manages Martini’s on Main (also called The Martini Bar)  in Biddeford, and is a working actor with Dirigo Talent Agency. He’s been featured in several commercials and has worked with the Good Theater Company in Portland — attendees may remember him from the production of “Boxes,” among others.

He lives downtown and likes it, and recalled how he felt when he took a trip to New Jersey, where he was raised.

“I couldn’t wait to get back home,” he said of returning to Biddeford. “There’s something about the salt air I can smell every now and then, and the people have interesting points of view, and the ocean is 15 minutes away; that’s just beautiful for me.”

Williams was born in Seattle, Washington, and raised in Englewood, New Jersey. He earned a bachelor’s degree in drama and a minor in mass communication from the University of Hartford, in Connecticut.

He caught Mayor Alan Casavant’s attention at a Black Lives Matter rally in Mechanics Park last year, before COVID. He had written a piece he’d posted on social media, and decided to read it at the rally.

Casavant heard him speak, and wanted to talk, so they did, said Williams.

“We talked about the future of Biddeford,” he said and the mayor asked him what he thought of the city, good and bad.

Williams said he’s been well received in Biddeford.

Biddeford City Council and Mayor Alan Casavant paused for a photo on Tuesday, June 15, following  the appointment of Ashanti Dwight Williams to fill an unexpired City Council term. Left to right, are Councilors  Marc Lessard and  Amy Clearwater, Mayor Alan Casavant, and Councilors Doris Ortiz, Michael Ready, Norman Belanger, Williams, Stephen St. Cyr, John McCurry and William Emhiser. Courtesy Photo/City of Biddeford

“The people are beautiful, they welcomed me with open arms,” he said, despite noting, “I’m not from here, I’m a Jets fan, and a Black man.”

He is believed to be the city’s first Black councilor.

Casavant told the council that when the vacancy arose, he gave a lot of thought whether to appoint someone with experience in the position — there were several former councilors he said he could call on — or choose someone new.

Casavant said he went to the Biddeford High School graduation and saw more people of color than he has before, in a city generally thought of as Franco-American.

“It dawned on me Biddeford had changed,” said Casavant. “So, Ashanti’s appointment would be not only an appointment of a talented and qualified man, but a symbol to all minorities that Biddeford was a welcoming place and one in which the doors were open for governmental participation. ”

During his years as mayor, Casavant said, he has appointed five council members. “I made my decisions based on qualifications, integrity and love of community,” he said.

Williams’ fellow councilors welcomed him.

Councilor Doris Ortiz said she was pleased with Williams’ appointment.

“When I joined the council 1 1/2 years ago, I was not only the first Hispanic woman but the first gender nonconforming member of the City Council,” she said. “It speaks to the community and the culture and inclusiveness here in Biddeford in that I have never felt unwelcome in this room and with my constituents in a city I love dearly.”

Williams said after the rally he and Casavant talked periodically, mostly through email, due to the pandemic.

Then, Casavant’s latest email arrived, asking if he’d be interested in filling the unexpired term.

“I had to read the email five or seven times,” said Williams.

As for issues, Williams said he’s interested in all of them.

“Housing is a given,” he said, as Biddeford and other communities across southern Maine struggle with a dearth of affordable housing and housing in general.

“I’m coming in open minded,” he said.

As to whether he’ll run for the seat in the November election, Williams said he’ll make that decision as the time grows closer.

After his appointment on Wednesday morning, Williams said he was a little apprehensive about going outside, wondering how he’d be received.

“This African-American woman was getting into her car. I put my hand out and introduced myself and let her know I was here for her,” he recalled. “She was so excited, she was talking to her mother (on the phone) and said ‘you won’t believe what happened.'”

He said he’s ready to listen, and pledged to work hard.

“Anyone who wants to converse with me, I’ll always be there, we’re all community here,” Williams said.

 

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