Wilmot J. Collins, a Liberian-American, has now made history because he was elected as the first black mayor in the history of the U.S. State of Montana on Tuesday Nov. 7. Helena, the city of which he is now the Mayor-elect, is the capital city of the state.
“Though Helena had a black mayor before it was even incorporated, local historians say former Liberian refugee Wilmot Collins will be the first,” a Montana news oulet said.
Results will remain unofficial until provisional ballots are added and the election is canvassed at a Nov. 16 meeting. That’s when the state auditor, superintendent of public instruction, and attorney general meet, in the office of the secretary of state, to certify the election and enter the results into record.
The progressive Collins defeated incumbent Jim Smith, seeking his fifth term, 5,139 votes (51.28 percent) to 4,801 (47.90 percent). The two were separated by 338 votes.
Collins, 54, immigrated to the United States as a refugee during Liberia’s civil war in 1990.
He holds BA in Political Science/Sociology; MSc Human Resource Management; and has completed Course work for Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology.
Collins has worked in numerous places including the United States Dept. of Homeland Security: Immigration Service Officer; Lewis & Clark United Way Board of Directors and United Nations Refugee Congress Advisory Council an as logistics specialist in the United States Navy.
A former refugee himself, Collins in 2016 participated in the opening of a refugee center in Missoula, Montana and has played an instrumental role in helping Montanans understand the struggle that most refugees face.
Collins will be the city’s first new mayor in 16 years. He ran a long campaign based on progressive principles.
Joy Collins, sister of the mayor elect who lives in Monrovia, in a telephone interview last night described her brother’s victory as proof that the people of Montana are becoming more diverse and willing to elect people base on their comportment, not on race.
“My brother has always been a champion of people’s rights, and his track record speaks volumes. I’m very proud of him. I know and I’m certain that Collins will be a good leader. He will definitely keep the promise he made during the campaign,” Joy Collins added.
Wilmot J. Collins and his wife Maddie have two children, Bliss and Jaymie.
Speaking at the night after the announcement in Montana, the Helena Independent Record news website quoted the new mayor as saying, “The people of Helena have spoken, and I am honored to be able to serve them.”
He added, “I intend to work with commissioners, work for the people of Helena and find what is best for this city. The first step is to sleep all Wednesday. Then, listen to the people of Helena.”
It may be recalled that in 2011, another Liberian-born, Wynfred Russell, contested for a mayoral position in the City of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota which has the largest Liberian immigrant community living in the United States. While he did not win, he was one of the top contenders for the post rendered vacant by the death of the man he considers his mentor, Mayor Steve Lampi.
At the time, Minnpost.com wrote of him: “An independent-minded community activist, Russell worked on Lampi’s Community Engagement Initiative, which is credited with closing the gap between Brooklyn Park’s white, black, African and Asian communities. He has worked to help Liberian kids navigate the local public schools and has worked on HIV/AIDS education programs.”
Russell, who is a writer and a researcher, told Minnpost.com, “I’m not running as a Liberian mayor. I am of immigrant stock, yes, but I’m running to reduce crime and to bring this community together.”
“We are inspired! Congratulations, Wilmot J. Collins!” Russell said in a Facebook post.
On Collins’ victory, Helena Independent Record reported that he (Collins) commended the outgoing mayor Jim Smith for his work over the past decade and a half. The newspaper also said Collins received a call from U.S. Senator Jon Tester congratulating him on his victory.
“I commend Mayor Smith. He’s done a great job for the city, and I hope to work with him in the future,” Collins said.
Collins’ who ran as an independent candidate, according to Helena Independent Record newspaper said he would address teens and veterans’ homelessness, improve tourism and ensure access to clean water.