Less than three years ago, Pious Ali became the first African-born American Muslim elected to public office in Maine’s largest city by winning an at-large seat on the Portland Board of Public Education.
Now, Ali wants to become the first African-born American Muslim to sit on the Portland City Council, the legislative branch in a city nearly twice as large as any other in Maine.
Ali announced his candidacy this week to run for the at-large council seat currently held by Jon Hinck, a popular Democrat and former state lawmaker who has reportedly taken out nomination papers to run for state Senate.
In addition to the distinction noted above, Ali’s candidacy is notable in part because of how early he announced it. City Council elections aren’t held until November, and typically those races don’t pick up traffic until late spring or early summer.
It remains to be seen whether Ali will begin campaigning aggressively this far out, or if he just wanted to stake out his territory in a race that, as an at-large seat, could attract candidates from all over the city.
“As an elected councilor, I will advocate for deepening the engagement of all stakeholders,” Ali said in a statement. “By working with my colleagues to strengthen the successful practices already in place, I will develop a more engaging process between city officials and residents.”
Specifically, Ali said his priorities are ones common these days to elected officials in the city: rebuilding Portland’s aging schools, raising wages and addressing the shortfall of affordable housing.
Echoing the successful campaign message of new Mayor Ethan Strimling, Ali in his announcement talked up the need for inclusiveness and bridge building among disparate communities in the cities, to create a government in which all people feel as though their interests and concerns are listened to.
Again following the successful Strimling blueprint of this past fall, Ali also announced a handful of endorsements right out of the gate, with influential state Rep. Diane Russell, fellow school board member and former state lawmaker John Eder, and notable community organizers Adam Burk and Lisa Whited all trumpeting support for his campaign.
During last year’s campaign season, Ali publicly endorsed Strimling and current District 2 City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, both of whom obviously won their races.
Ali’s campaign announcement also comes just more than a month after the Portland Police Department swore in Zahra Abu as the state’s first Muslim female police officer.
Hinck, for his part, is competing with Russell and Dr. Charles Radis for the Democratic nomination for the Senate District 27 seat being vacated by term-limited Justin Alfond.
Hinck said Friday he’s focused on that race and his present work in the council, and not sure yet whether he’ll run for re-election against Ali if he’s unsuccessful in the party primary for Senate.
“We don’t always delay making decisions until the last minute, but in this instance, I haven’t been crossing that bridge,” he said. “Partly because we have a new council and a new mayor, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish on the City Council this year. A lot of what I think about the future and the Portland City Council has to do with what the landscape looks like with the new cast of characters.”
Whether he ends up running against Ali or not, Hinck spoke highly of the newly announced candidate.
“Pious is a really good guy, and he’s demonstrated that he contributes a lot on the school board, and I think there are almost no limits to what he could do for the people of Portland and the people of Maine,” he said.