While we come up to a very-off year Election Day, there are two big elections. The NYC Mayoral, and the Virginia Gubernatorial. However, there is an interesting quirk of an election up in Maine, in Lewiston. One that got the BBC over in the UK involved.
Lewiston, may look like a normal American small city of 35,000. However, it has some interesting characteristics. For one, the Francophone population of Lewiston is about 25%. But more importantly, it is likely one of the most Muslim heavy population in the United States. Of the population of just over 35,000, Somalis make up about 5,000 of this population, and Bantus another 1,000. This means Lewiston, ME is unlikely competition for Dearborn, having a Muslim Population of around 17.15%
MacDonald, the current Mayor, is in the Background. Gilbert, his challenger, is in the foreground. Dadumo Musse, the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council chairwoman and moderator is in the Middle.
How did this happen? In 1999, the United States the US agreed to resettle about 12,000 Somalis and Bantus in the US. At first, many of these people were put into higher crime areas of the United States. Over time, these people were attracted into Maine by good schools, low crime, and cheap housing. Many of these people, obviously, ended up in Lewiston, though others are in Portland.
Which leads to today to an election that has become a minor circus. The current Mayor, Robert MacDonald, is up against Larry Gilbert for the race in 2 weeks.
There are two main bones of contention here. The first here is the fact that Gilbert, a former mayor, is contending that the town is getting a bad representation from MacDonald:
“So, who wants to come to a city that is divided, where all you do is talk about layabouts, morons, do-nothings and welfare collectors?” Gilbert asked. “Who wants to come to a community like that?”
Macdonald said he gladly discusses negative issues because that’s the only way to solve them.
“Maybe I do talk about layabouts and welfare reform, but maybe that’s what people are looking for,” Macdonald said. “I didn’t invent the ‘Dirty Lew.’ All the time (Gilbert) was in there, that’s what the city was called. So I’m divisive? You’re not divisive when you bring problems to the front.”
This has been the main bone of contention between these two. However, the Debate is more complicated. MacDonald asserts most of the trouble comes from “Outside,” referring to the efforts of the Maine People’s Alliance, separating them out from the locally heavy Somali residents. However, that is not entirely the case, as the MPA has outright stated they wanted to help out the Somalis.
The Audience at the Lewiston Mayoral Debate.
Another contention is the local economy. This also complicated by the fact that the town has seen a recent revival economically, with Somalis opening up new stores in the area. Aside from this, though are two new visions for the town. MacDonald, is wanting to continue the current growth pattern with things like call centers. However, the challenger has different ideas:
Gilbert said the city can do better than call-center jobs such as Argo Marketing.
“We need jobs that pay a living wage, and marketing jobs, telephone jobs, don’t pay very well,” Gilbert said. “They say they have access to health benefits, but they don’t provide them. So we need to drive jobs in here from outside that pay a good, living wage and provide benefits.”
However, there is agreement between the two that there needs to be a question on a future ballot about a proposed merger between Lewiston and Auburn, a neighboring city across the Androscoggin River. The question for the future is whether the 2 communities will in the future work collaboratively, or as one.
And how did the BBC get involved, you ask? Well, last year they had a documentary on this town and it’s Muslim Community in the whitest state of union. During the making of the Documentary, the BBC caught this, which was included in the final televised version. This then made it’s way back Maine, where a scandal occurred.
Mayor Robert Macdonald’s comments to the BBC earlier this year have again put the city in the spotlight — and not in a good way.
In a documentary on America that aired Sept. 11, Macdonald told the BBC: “You (immigrants) come here, you come and you accept our culture and you leave your culture at the door.”
Those comments came up again last weekend when the Maine Global Institute played the segment during a workshop in Portland.
Macdonald attempted this week to clarify the statement, telling WGME television: “When anybody comes here from any country, they have to embrace our culture. Now, do they have to give up their own culture at home? No. If they want to carry on you know, the Irish St. Patrick’s Day, the French, the Italians, everybody, they all keep their culture, but we all practice a unique culture, and that is an American culture that over 200 years has been developed.”
He also dismissed concern from the immigrant community that the comments apparently aimed at Somalis were divisive and hurtful.
“If you believe in (Somali culture) so much, why aren’t you over there fighting for it?” Macdonald said in the WGME interview. “If you believe in it so much, why aren’t you over there shedding your blood to get it? Why are you over here shirking your duties?”
He has said his statements to the BBC were taken out of context and used as a political weapon against him by former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert.
It also needs to be noted that the French-American and Somali-American contingents of Lewiston get along cordially. Likely because both have and continue to face pressure from the softer headed in the community.
So, while everyone wants to watch NYC and Virginia, I will watch a bit up the coast. To a small city up the Androscoggin River, with a large number of Francophones and Muslims.