Refugee Elected Mayor In Montana Capital

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Helena, the capital of Montana, voted for a Liberian refugee as its new mayor in an election Nov. 7.

Wilmot Collins, who fled the civil war in Liberia in the early 1990s, defeated incumbent Mayor James Smith by 51 percent to 48 percent, according to The Associated Press. Smith was a four-term mayor.

The election in Helena is nonpartisan, but Collins leans towards the Democrats. He spoke to HuffPost about the significance of his victory.

"The country is still not what Mr. Trump wants it to be," Collins said, according to HuffPost. "The citizens of this state and this city where I have lived for the past 23 years have spoken and they are saying we want the best candidate. They're not looking at color, at background and creed."

Collins is a state child protection specialist and also an adjunct instructor at Helena College University of Montana. In addition, he is a member of the U.S. Naval Reserves.

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In his election campaign, Collins focused on combating homelessness among veterans and teenagers, providing more affordable housing, and increasing staff numbers for the police and fire brigade.

Collins is technically not Helena's first black mayor.

"For sure he is Helena's first 'official' black mayor and the first in Montana too!" local historian Ellen Baumler said, according to the Helena Independent Record. "However, when the city's bid for incorporation failed in 1874, incorporation opponents framed their own ticket and wrote in the name of E.W. Johnson for mayor. The ticket won by a substantial majority and the election judges issued Johnson a commission certified by the city clerk."

Johnson was reportedly known subsequently as "Mayor Johnson" and kept the certificate in his barber shop.

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Collins was not the only candidate making history on Nov. 7. Danica Roem, who won election to Virginia's House of Delegates, will be the first openly transgender state lawmaker. She beat Virginia Del. Bob Marshall, the Republican behind a state bathroom bill aimed at preventing transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice, HuffPost reported.

"No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship, who you love, how you identify or any other inherent identifier that you have, you should be celebrated because of who you are, not despite it," Roem told MSNBC.

Elsewhere, Andrea Jenkins became the first openly transgender African American woman to be elected to a city council in a major U.S. city. The transgender rights activist won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council.

Sources: The Associated Press via U.S. News & World Report, Helena Independent Record, HuffPost / Featured Image: Montanabw/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: National Archives/Wikimedia Commons, Antony-22/Wikimedia Commons

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