Appreciative of Bangor voters for her election to the City Council on Tuesday, Dina Yacoubagha — the only newcomer chosen for the council — says she is excited to get to work putting her platform into action.
During her campaign, Yacoubagha, 49, and supporters consistently discussed her ability to work with various stakeholders to craft solutions. She often highlights her background as a licensed social worker and working with various nonprofits in the Bangor area.
She says she is a woman of strong convictions, having a firm belief in solving social ills and justice.
But she also sees herself as a problem-solver and someone who can bring people together. In her closing statement at a candidates’ forum last month, she quoted the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in saying that it was important to fight for what you believe in, but in a way that will encourage others to join you.
“I believe in teamwork and listening to people, to address what people want us to address,” Yacoubagha said.
She said her most significant priority now that she’s been elected is growing Bangor economically — developing city infrastructure and supporting the Community Connector bus program. She told the BDN last month that she hoped to expand the bus service.
She also wants to expand affordable housing and revive downtown Bangor as a cultural hub and destination.
Her victory on Tuesday comes one year after she narrowly lost election to the city council, coming in a close fourth in the three-seat race. Though she acknowledged that losing last year was not easy after a hard-fought campaign, her motivation to contribute to city government led her to announce a second run this year on Aug. 24.
Yacoubagha said she does not feel her message changed much from her 2020 campaign to her run in 2021. However, the first run likely gave her more name recognition among voters, she said, as had her role as chair of the Bangor Advisory Committee on Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Human Rights. Under committee rules, she will no longer be able to serve on the committee now that she has been elected to the City Council.
Yacoubagha, who has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maine, works with people with mental health problems at Higher Ground Services in Brewer and has volunteered with Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, Partners for Peace, the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, Food AND Medicine, and other groups.
During both campaigns, she said she spent a lot of time canvassing homes trying to figure out the most critical topics on people’s minds. She said she didn’t want people just to vote for her, but to believe in her and her platform.
Voters brought up numerous areas of improvement for Bangor. Many were bread-and-butter political issues, like fixing sidewalks or roads. Others were more complex, such as solving the city’s long-standing affordable housing crisis and homelessness problem. The latter was a subject that dominated the council campaign.
Yacoubagha, who was born in Syria, compared her election to that of Angela Okafor, the first person of color to serve on the Bangor City Council, and Marwa Hassanien, the first Muslim woman to serve on the Bangor School Committee. Both were elected in 2019.
“Bangor led the way,” she said. “Bangor voted in an immigrant Muslim woman to be on the council.”
She isn’t the only member of her family who has been politically involved. Her father was the former mayor of a town in Syria while her mother was director of a women’s group there during the 1970s.
Her family’s involvement in policy made it a frequent topic of discussion at the dinner table, bringing a political awareness to Yacoubagha that she would eventually bring to Bangor, she said.
She most looks forward to working with the eight other council members. She will be sworn in on Monday.
She also wants to be a councilor who is approachable to Bangor’s 32,000 residents.
“They put their trust and faith in me to work for them,” Yacoubagha said. “And that’s a huge honor.”