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1st Somali-American City Councilor Elected in Lewiston, Maine

Tuesday night was a historic local election in Lewiston, Maine.

The city elected 23-year-old Safiya Khalid as its first Somali-American city councilor.

"My mom, she was just so overwhelmed," said Khalid, who fled to the United States from Somalia with her family at age 7.

Her victory is symbolic for the thousands of Somalis and Somali-Americans in Lewiston who make up at least 20-25% of the city's population.

In the early 2000s, the first Somali refugees began arriving in Lewiston.

While many in the city welcomed or eventually welcomed the newcomers, some, including multiple mayors, did not.

In 2006, a pig's head was rolled into a mosque.

The city has even made news multiple times for mayors who said Somalis would hurt more than help.

"One of them sent a letter to the Somali community telling them to go back," said Khalid.

Yet more Somali businesses opened. People like Khalid went to school, graduated and found jobs.

Still, Lewiston's government did not adjust demographically at the same rate as the city.

"If you're not represented at the table, you feel invisible," said Khalid.

That's the reason why, after finding a passion for politics following the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, Khalid eventually decided she'd run for city council.

Her announcement and win on Tuesday by a large 70% margin sent a surge of excitement through the city's Somali community.

"She's someone who understands the real situation on the ground," said Muhidin Libah, executive director of the Somali Bantu Community of Lewiston.

Libah describes Khalid as someone who is already a role model, not simply a voice for a community.

"This is a door opening for us," he said. "She could be a mentor for all the girls and all the boys."

But Libah admits her new responsibilities come with pressure. Her constituents "have a lot of issues" with trash, cleanliness in her ward and a need for more public spaces like parks that families can safely spend time at," he said.

For her part, Khalid seems to realize tasks as big as the message she's sharing are expected of her.

"You can be anything you set your mind to do," she said.

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