Portland’s newly elected charter commissioner faces backlash over tweets calling city manager a ‘white supremacist’
Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef won an extraordinary seat on the Portland charter commission this week. Now she is facing calls to quit.
PORTLAND, Maine – A newly elected member of the Portland Charter Commission is facing calls for resignation, prompting several tweets this week calling Portland city manager Jon Jennings a “white supremacist.”
Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef took to Twitter early Wednesday morning to write: “Jon Jennings! You are about to lose your job. We are going to make you the last white supremacist city manager. We are coming.”
Sheikh-Yousef won a general seat on the Portland Charter Commission earlier in the week. Sheikh-Yousef campaigned on a platform that included the elimination of the post of unelected city manager.
In the wake of the tweets, however, she faces backlash from Portland city officials, including City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau.
“You may disagree with our form of government, and you may want to change that, and this is a discussion the charter commission will have and this is a discussion our community should have. I think it is. very different from a personal vendetta against an individual, Thibodeau said.
Later that day on Wednesday, Sheikh-Yousef took to Twitter again, calling Jennings a white supremacist.
“I think we have to ask ourselves whether we ran for this position to work on the charter, our foundational documents, or did we run to call people white supremacists?” said Thibodeau.
City manager Jennings was criticized at the Black Lives Matter events in Portland last summer. Many activists have claimed that Jennings supports and defends policies that negatively impact people of color in the city.
Thibodeau, however, defends his colleague. “It’s not who he is, and not who we are as a city, and we don’t talk like that,” Thibeau said.
On Thursday, Sheikh-Yousef said she would not apologize and resign from her post following criticism from Portland city officials.
Some Portland residents support Sheikh-Yousef and believe his words carry weight and should be taken seriously.
“When blacks, natives and other people of color call what they believe to be racism and white supremacy, our role as whites is to listen,” said Todd Ricker, a Portland resident.
Ricker says he understands comments like this can make white people uncomfortable, but it’s important to listen to someone’s experience of racism in the city.
“We don’t have a role in this conversation except to learn all we can and to embrace the voices that point out how things are wrong,” Ricker said.
Ricker adds that he hopes comments like this can create a dialogue about racism and white supremacy in Maine.
Sheikh-Yousef ran as part of Rose Slate, a group of first-time liberal and feminist candidates seeking to change the city charter. Rose Slate candidate, who won a seat on the Charter Commission, Pat Washburn, wrote to NEWS CENTER Maine in a statement: “I think it’s not my job to tell a black woman what is her lived experience or how she should communicate about it. “
Commissioner-elect Sheikh-Yousef and City Manager Jennings did not respond to NEWS CENTER Maine’s request for comment.