LEWISTON — The political views of mayoral candidates Shane Bouchard and Ben Chin have been made pretty clear by now.
Asked during a debate Monday to name a politician that inspires them, Chin said Theodore Roosevelt; Bouchard said Gov. Paul LePage.
But, despite the differing ideologies of Chin, a self-identified progressive, and Bouchard, a Republican, the candidates for mayor largely avoided confrontation during the debate at the Lewiston Public Library.
At one point, when asked to compliment their rival, both said this year’s campaign has focused more on issues, largely avoiding the negativity of a similar runoff election two years ago. A few weeks ago, the pair shared a “hot dog handshake” at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston.
Lewiston voters will decide between the two candidates on Dec. 12. Chin and Bouchard finished with the first- and second-most votes in a five-way race on Election Day.
Chin came out on top of the field of five candidates looking to replace Mayor Robert Macdonald, receiving 42 percent of the vote. Bouchard followed with 29 percent, besting Mark Cayer who had 24 percent.
In Lewiston, a runoff between the top two candidates occurs if no candidate receives a clear majority of votes — 50 percent plus at least one vote.
It was the first time the pair shared the stage since the first mayoral debate in October, which featured all five candidates.
During that debate, Chin and Bouchard rarely addressed each other directly, and Bouchard mostly took aim at Cayer over his pro-merger stance.
The candidates spent most of Monday’s debate fielding a broad spectrum of questions and offering specific ideas for their tenure at City Hall.
Chin’s focus is on the opioid epidemic, immigrant integration, and housing. Bouchard wants to address Lewiston’s image, housing and high taxes.
Bouchard, the Ward 4 city councilor, spent both his opening and closing remarks telling the audience that he understands how city government operates. He understands what the city can control, and what it can afford, he said.
“I understand our assets and our limitations,” Bouchard said.
On top of some specific ideas for tax rebates for seniors and a rental licensing program, Chin also played with more emotion. He said if he was in the mayor’s office, the “spirit and attitude” in Lewiston would become more positive.
“Either we believe we can complete this process of restoring our city, or not,” Chin said in his opening statement.
Lewiston High School students Matt Hird and Maya Letourneau served as moderators, as a group of students prepped questions and the format for the debate, which was also sponsored by the Sun Journal and the library.
Chin’s biggest talking point has continued to be the opioid crisis, which he said must be addressed from a public health perspective – not by simply “locking people up.”
He also said “addiction springs from deeper causes,” referring to the city’s own economic issues stemming back to the mills closing.
Bouchard said his approach to opioids would be to “support all the actions of our Police Department,” saying he is the only candidate to have met with the police chief. He said the city also needs to make sure that its annual grant funding is getting to area nonprofit groups.
Chin said he recently met with the head of the police union, where they discussed Chin’s approach to the crisis, which he calls the “Belonging Agenda.”
Outside of the drug crisis, Chin said he’s confident the city can “align on policies we can all agree about,” including new approaches to code enforcement, the rain tax and free trash pickup for some landlords.
“Regular people can accomplish what the old guard thought impossible,” he said, describing a “culture change” at City Hall.
Bouchard said Lewiston’s image has “held us back for very long time” but that it needs to leverage assets like affordable rental space in the former mills. He agreed with Chin that housing is a major issue, but, in perhaps the most direct criticism of his opponent, said “we can’t demonize our landlords,” referring to Chin’s use of the term slumlords.
They addressed other issues that normally divide political parties, like immigration and the environment.
Asked how they plan to embrace Lewiston’s cultures, Bouchard said “anyone who wants to work, and be a productive member of society is welcome to come here.”
The candidates agreed that language and workforce training are key. Chin also pitched his idea of reforming welfare around public work.
On the environment, Chin said there are things individual cities can do to meet carbon emissions goals, while Bouchard said the city needs to ramp up recycling efforts.
As for the tax rate, the pair were at odds over a particular Chin proposal that calls for using a state education subsidy earmarked for property tax reduction toward a tax rebate for seniors. Bouchard said using the subsidy for anything but education is illegal, but Chin disagreed.
Bouchard also directed a jab at Chin when the conversation turned to campaigning. When the candidates were asked how they would represent all of Lewiston, not just their voters, Chin said you “try to find common ground with people” and that it’s possible to have the vast majority of residents feel represented.
Bouchard responded, “I knocked on all doors. I didn’t use an app (on a smartphone) with an ideology score so I only talked to people that agree with me. I want to talk to everyone.”
The candidates fielded questions on the crime rate, how to attract young people, and political polarization.
Chin said Lewiston’s reputation isn’t driven by statistics, it’s from the feeling people get when they drive through the city. He said his “real revitalization programs are what’s going to be the fundamental things that change people’s feelings when they walk through the city.”
Bouchard repeated an idea for a civic arena or concert venue in the area of Exit 80 off Interstate 95, comparing its potential to what Bangor has seen.
The candidates were also faced with a question about the importance of the role of mayor, although it is largely seen as the ceremonial head of the city.
Chin said, “Setting a vision matters,” adding that thousands of people vote for the mayor. Bouchard said while they disagree on mostly everything, both candidates have “bold, new proposals” that would challenge the new City Council.
On the local level, Bouchard said, “We deal far more with potholes than politics.”
“We need to be out there for the entire community,” he said.
Chin argued that he does spend time listening to people who don’t agree with his policies. He said at the root of the political divide today is mostly the feeling that elected officials aren’t taking citizens’ concerns seriously.
“What do you believe is the power of symbols?” Chin asked. “We can’t keep having the same arguments; we can’t keep electing the same folks.”
One question wasn’t asked Monday: will the two meet for a hot dog after Dec. 12?
The Lewiston mayoral runoff election:
• Tuesday, Dec. 12, polls open 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
• All voting at Longley Elementary School, 145 Birch St.
• Deadline to order absentee ballots is 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7.
• Voters may cast absentee ballots in person at the City Clerk’s office, second floor of City Hall.
• To have an absentee ballot mailed to your home, call the City Clerk’s office at 513-3124.