Somali immigrants eye Portland legislative seats

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PORTLAND — Dozens of city residents are running for the state House of Representatives this year, including the city’s first Somali candidates.

Mohammed Dini, a Bayside resident and student at the University of Southern Maine, is running for the District 119 seat and will face fellow Democrat Jill Barkley in a primary June 8. Rep. Herb Adams, D-Portland, cannot seek re-election due to term limits.

In District 116, which represents Riverton, Badr Sharif, also a USM student, is running as a Republican. He will face Kenneth Capron in a primary.

Dini, 24, moved to Portland in 1997 with his family after they fled from Somalia to Kenya and were eventually relocated to Roxbury, Mass., in 1996.

He has lived in Parkside and Bayside since moving to Portland, and attended Portland schools. He went to Portland High School, and later earned his General Education Development diploma.

Although a college student, Dini said he thinks he is the perfect age to run for state House.

“I can bring a new perspective to the table,” Dini said. “The young people’s perspective.”

Dini works as a tutor and mentor for at-risk youth in the Portland area, and said the work has opened his eyes to the needs of the city. He said Portland needs to increase basic literacy and learning programs for students so they can go on to a four-year college.

“I’m a person who grew up here in Portland and came here as an immigrant,” he said. “I know what it takes to struggle your way up.”

Once students get the basic education they need, Dini said the state needs to do more to attract well-paying jobs that will keep students here. There is no reason why tech companies should not want to locate in Portland, Dini said, where the cost of living is lower than in Boston or New York.

He said the state should also promote farms and local food production.

By offering a better education and good jobs, he added, Portland would see a reduction in crime.

“People are hurting and it is directly related to a lack of education and jobs,” he said.

Barkley is a Parkside resident and recently won an award as the city’s best activist from the Portland Phoenix. She works for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, and is an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people, who was active in the Vote No on 1 campaign.

Barkley and Dini are not the only pair in a District 119 primary.

Green Independent candidates Kris Eckhardt and Christian McNeil also face a primary contest. McNeil, an alternative transportation advocate and blogger, changed his name to MilNeil last year, a combination of his original last name, McNeil, and his wife’s last name, Milne. But the state has not officially recognized the change yet, so he’s on the ballot as McNeil.

Republican Megan Sanborn is also running in District 119.

In District 114, incumbent Rep. Peter Stuckey faces fellow Democrate George Vincent Jr. in a primary. Republican Patrick Calder will take on the winner in November.

District 120 also has a primary race, between Greens Charles Bragdon and Anna Trevorrow. The winner faces incumbent Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, and Republican Thomas Elliman.

State Rep. Joan Cohen, D-Portland, is running for re-election against Republican Charles C.S. Burns in District 113.

District 115 is shaping up to be a three-way race in November, with incumbent Rep. Stephen Lovejoy, D-Portland, facing Green Seth Berner and Republican Chase Martin.

District 117 also has three candidates. Democratic incumbent Rep. Anne Haskell, Republican Shawn-Elise Lapomarda and Green Bill Linnell.

In District 118, incumbent Democratic Rep. Jon Hinck will face Green Carney Brewer and Republican Mark Carpentier in November.

The winners of the Dini-Barkley primary and the McNeil-Eckhardt primary will be joined on the November ballot by Republican candidate Megan Sanborn.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected].

Sidebar Elements

Democrat Mohammed Dini hands out campaign literature at the corner of Mellen and Grant streets in Portland on April 16. Dini, a Somali immigrant and University of Southern Maine student, announced his candidacy in House District 119, representing part of the city’s Parkside neighborhood.