The 99 Years podcast, released this October by Portland writer and musician Samuel James, examines the origins of the council-manager form of city government adopted by Portland in 1923.
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Adding to the range of local Charter Commission content, a new local podcast dives into the history of Portland’s governance structure at the heart of the commission’s proposals put before voters on Nov. 8.

Released this month, the 99 Years podcast is hosted by local writer and musician Samuel James, who describes it as a “Black exploration of the deliberate creation of the whitest state in the nation.” 

The podcast explores Portland’s history of the council-manager system of government it has had for the last 99 years, and its ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

James, an internationally touring blues musician who has penned stories for The Phoenix, has written about racism in the state for several years in columns for the monthly newspaper Mainer and the blog Black Girl in Maine, run by former Charter Commissioner Shay Stewart-Bouley.

For the podcast, James said he wanted to explore why Maine was the whitest state in the nation. One of those reasons, he learned through research, was the Klan’s role in installing the city manager position 99 years ago. 

When the Charter Commission was formed after voter approval last year and its Black members started facing “public racism” for wanting to examine the city’s government, “it felt like the story needed to be told right away.”

“The wildest thing I discovered in researching this podcast is that the city manager form of government itself — the kind the KKK helped to install in Portland 99 years ago that still exists in the city today — was entirely an invention of white supremacists designed to subjugate Black people,” James said. “It shouldn’t be surprising that the KKK would want to install a white supremacist form of government, but what was surprising was just how easy it was to find that out.”

The podcast received support from Maine Initiatives, a philanthropic foundation that supports social, economic and environmental causes; the For Us, By Us Fund, which supports BIPOC projects and organizers through grants; the Maine Humanities Council and the Indigo Arts Alliance, a Black-led community-building initiative in Portland. 

The first episode of 99 Years premiered on Oct. 7, with a live event and voter information panel on Oct. 13 featuring James, his producer Flo Edwards, City Councilor Victoria Pelletier and former Charter Commission Chair Michael Kebede. The second episode was released on Oct. 17.

The 99 Years podcast is available at 99yearspod.com and platforms like Spotify, Stitcher and Apple.

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