The nine members of the Bangor City Council unanimously chose Councilor Sarah Nichols to serve as the group’s next chairperson during a meeting Wednesday night, marking a dramatic shift from earlier in the day when the group failed to agree on who should hold the position.
After the appointment, the audience of about 50 people gave a standing ovation to Nichols, a 28-year-old who was elected last week to a second term on the council. Nichols gave a short speech outlining her vision of Bangor as a place that is affordable and accessible to people from all backgrounds.
She mentioned several of her policy priorities, such as improving public transportation and making the internet a public utility. She also urged her fellow councilors to consider how their official decisions could affect all the city’s residents, whether they identify as transgender, Native American or are recovering from a substance use disorder.
“They all deserve to have a stake in how our community grows,” she said, before adding, “I want to thank you, sincerely. You also made me tear up a little bit.”
A Bangor native and registered Democrat, Nichols works for the Maine Education Association in Augusta.
On Wednesday morning, she was sworn back onto the council along with two others who were elected last week, incumbent Councilor David Nealley and a newcomer, Councilor Gretchen Schaefer.
After the swearing-in, councilors held an organizational meeting with the goal of appointing a chairperson — ceremonially referred to as the city’s “mayor.”
But after several rounds of voting, they couldn’t deliver a five-vote majority to any nominee.
While all four of the women on the City Council supported Nichols, the men on the council split their support among three nominees: Councilors Gibran Graham, Dan Tremble and Cary Weston.
In the first round of voting, Nichols received four votes, while Tremble received three and Graham received two.
The next three rounds were a deadlock, with Nichols and Tremble receiving four votes, but neither received a five-vote majority, as Graham continued to cast a single vote for himself. He did so even after Nealley suggested he could be “a swing vote.”
The morning meeting adjourned after Weston was also nominated for the chairmanship, but again no one received a majority in a final vote. The meeting ended so the Bangor school committee could swear in its own new members in the council chambers.
It was an unusual turn of events, as the Bangor City Council has often been quick to agree on a new chair. Graham also proposed that councilors delay the decision until later in November, but his motion was rejected.
Graham explained his actions during the meeting on Wednesday night, saying he disagrees with how the council chooses its chair and arguing that it can lead to decisions being made in secret.
“My actions were not to block anyone from serving as chair,” he said. “So much happens outside the view of constituents. If anything, I think our stalemate shows flaws. I think it’s high time we revise the process and find new and more progressive ways of choosing leaders. Perhaps that leads to a charter change, not to discuss just this issue but other issues as well.”
He added, “The gendered lines that seemed to divide the council really bothered me. That’s not who we are.”
Some council members seconded his thoughts on Wednesday night, though one of them, Councilor Laura Supica, said he could have raised his concerns at an earlier time.