A South Portland school board candidate is facing scrutiny and has been asked to drop out of the race because of social media posts he made in recent years that made light of different gender identities and expressed Islamophobia.
But Adam Hamilton said this week that the posts do not reflect who he is now.
“I’ve evolved,” said Hamilton, who is running for the District 3 seat on the South Portland school board. “I wasn’t educated in some of this stuff and I’m still learning. It’s definitely not who I am today.”
Hamilton, 48, was responding to social media posts from 2019 that have been circulating in the community and drawn concerns from two elected officials who said they would like to see him.
Hamilton’s opponent, Hannah Bitjoka, said she was saddened and surprised to learn about the posts but stressed she does not want to run a negative campaign.
“A school board member should make students feel safe and welcome,” Bitjoka said in an email. “I am running to serve on the South Portland school board to listen to people and help make decisions together, so we can make any changes necessary to help every student have what they need to learn in the classroom and participate in our school’s activities.”
The Facebook posts from 2019 include a meme that says, “Women are from Venus and men are from Mars … and all the other genders you make up are from Uranus.” Another post that appears to have been shared by Hamilton says, “If you LOVE God and know that Jesus, a Jew, is your Savior … you also know Islam is a false religion.”
A third post is a meme of former President Barack Obama that reads, “This guy used American lives, finances, resources and influence to empower Islam around the globe and in the USA.” And another post shows Hamilton sharing a story titled, “Refugees sending ‘suitcases of welfare cash’ home to Somalia.”
The four posts have Hamilton’s name on them but he said he did not remember making them. “Even if I had posted something like that, it’s not who I am today,” he said. “I don’t feel like it’s something I’m going to spend a whole lot of time on, trying to defend who I was years ago. It’s not who I am now and anyone who knows my character would tell you the same thing.”
State Rep. Chris Kessler, D-South Portland, said in an email that he approached Hamilton privately about leaving the race in light of the posts, and he is now calling on him publicly to either withdraw or explain why he believes he is qualified to be on the school board. Kessler also raised concerns about Hamilton’s arrest record and said people in the community may not be aware of some of his past behavior.
“Everyone makes mistakes, and I believe that everyone deserves a chance at redemption when they own up to those mistakes and learn from them,” Kessler said. “I want to see Adam Hamilton serve our community in some capacity, however serving as a School Board member is not the appropriate venue for that service.”
Kessler said concerned residents had contacted him about Hamilton’s candidacy at a time when he was running unopposed. The residents shared screen shots of the Facebook posts with Kessler, which he shared with the Press Herald after a reporter contacted him about the race.
“When someone shares an article or a meme to their public profile, it communicates that the person shares the sentiment or belief of the content of the message,” Kessler said. “His posts demonstrated a disregard for transgender individuals, a disdain for Somali immigrants and full-fledged Islamophobia.”
Kessler said he believes Hamilton’s posts should disqualify him, or anyone, from elected office and that there should be zero tolerance for such attitudes.
“It has instantly broken trust that he would be able to advocate for all students to have an equitable opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment,” Kessler said.
Another official, City Councilor Jocelyn Leighton, also expressed concerns about Hamilton’s candidacy based on the social media posts. Leighton said Hamilton should drop out of the race and support Bitjoka.
“If he has had a huge change of heart and a huge shift in ideology then what one needs to do is repair the damage done by those ideologies,” Leighton said. “I think the best thing he can do for reparations is support someone like Hannah and not run himself.”
Hamilton pushed back at the notion he is unfit for office and said he would not bring preconceived ideas or biases to board discussions on issues such as the rights of transgender students or freedom of religion.
“I would treat those issues the same way I would if it was my own child,” he said. “I have no ill will towards any children of any race or religion … Some of it was just, I wasn’t educated. Looking back I can see it was insensitive and I think I have (learned a lot).”
Hamilton has convictions for criminal mischief in 2001, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct in 2014, operating under the influence in 2015 and violating conditions of release and refusing to submit to arrest in 2015, according to state criminal records. A criminal background check for Bitjoka turned up no results.
Hamilton said the incidents in 2014 and 2015 stem from a bad period in his life in which his mother was struggling with cancer and he was in a volatile relationship.
“I was, at the time, very hurt,” Hamilton said. “I handled it wrong. I did counseling. … and since then I’ve moved on and so has our family.”
He said he is running for school board because he wants to give back to the community, and with his life experience he feels he has a lot to offer. Bitjoka is running for similar reasons but said she feels “used” by the situation after community members rallied to try and find a candidate to challenge Hamilton. She agreed when approached about it by a neighbor, but said she has been disheartened by the negativity.
“The bottom line, at least for me, is Adam and I are running a clean campaign,” Bitjoka said. “That’s it. Everyone is different. Everyone has a history and a past, some negative and some positive. Everybody has something. That’s it. We are running a positive campaign.”
(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)