‘I'm Humbled': Former Somali Refugee Becomes South Portland's 1st Muslim Mayor

City Councilor Deqa Dhalac was elected unanimously by council vote to become the first Muslim mayor of South Portland, Maine — she is believed to be the first Somali-American mayor of a U.S. city

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In a historic first for South Portland, Maine, and likely the United States, City Councilor Deqa Dhalac has become the city's mayor.

Dhalac is believed to be the first Somali-American mayor of a U.S. city, as well as South Portland's first Muslim mayor.

The position is chosen by city council vote, and Dhalac was elected unanimously to the position on Monday night.

"I'm feeling absolutely grateful, and I'm honored, and I'm humbled for the people of South Portland to choose me and the councilors to choose me,"” she said to reporters during her first moments in office. "It says this city is an inclusive city, it's a city that welcomes folks who are, like me, coming from different countries in the world."

Dhalac's ascension to mayor is the latest step on a political journey she never expected to be on.

"Coming to America, I had never dreamed of running for public office," she explained during her first speech holding the city's top job.

After coming to the United States from Somalia, Dhalac became a U.S. citizen, a social worker with two master's degrees, and a mother to three children.

In 2018, she defeated a longtime local business owner for her seat on the South Portland City Council, receiving two thirds of the vote in a city's that's roughly 90% white, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.

"You are an example of what human spirit can deliver, coming to the U.S. as a refugee and making a new life, raising kids, enlisting to serve others and benefit humanity," said Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed, a principal at Deering High School in Portland, who is also from Somalia, during opening remarks before the vote to make Dhalac mayor.

As she explained on Monday, her top priorities as mayor are preparing South Portland for the impacts of climate change, increasing affordable housing in the city, and overall diversity in city government and other institutions.

Dhalac also said she wanted to become mayor so that "first-generation Americans and kids coming from refugee camps can look at me and say 'If she did it, I can do it.'"

Mayors in South Portland hold the office in terms of one year.

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