Mayor won't apologize to Somali community; says statements taken out of context

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LEWISTON — Mayor Robert Macdonald hoped to smooth his relations with the Somali community Monday, inviting them to meet with him next week to talk about jobs, business and development — everything but his controversial comments from the last few days.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald, flanked by councilors Nathan Libby, left, and Doreen Christ,  reads a statement Tuesday evening at the commencement of the City Council meeting. "As mayor of Lewiston, I want to clarify my previous comment I made, 'Leave your culture at the door,'" began Macdonald. "What I meant by that comment is that I believe that when people come to the city of Lewiston from other countries, they need to assimilate into the American culture. I did not mean that they have to abandon their religion, their tradition, their language, nor their style of dress."

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Lewiston community members listen to a prepared statement by Mayor Robert Macdonald during a City Councilor meeting Tuesday night. In the statement, Macdonald clarified his statement "leave your culture at the door" aired in a documentary by the BBC is September but stopped short of apologizing.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"What I said was taken out of context," Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald said Tuesday night during a City Councilors meeting where he attempted to clarify his earlier remarks that aired in September on the BBC. "Anybody could have said to me, 'What do you mean by that?' But they didn't."

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"You are our mayor, the mayor of everybody," Garaad Dees said Tuesday night after he felt compelled to speak. "Antagonizing the community is not going to help."

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Centered under a 2007 banner that proclaims Lewiston an All-American city, Mayor Robert Macdonald listens to people as they comment on his statement explaining comments he made in a documentary aired in September by the British Broadcasting Corp.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"Lewiston has a bad reputation today," said Mohamed Abdilahi during the City Councilors meeting Tuesday night in Lewiston that was heavily attended by members of the community. "Everywhere in the nation, everybody is talking about you."

But the soothing words came after more than an hour of tense lectures — some coming from Macdonald seeking to explain his controversial words and some from Somali community leaders.

"Several times you have been given time to apologize to the Somali community," said Mohamed Abdillahi of Lewiston. "We are here tonight. We want you to apologize now, in front of the cameras, for what you said."

Macdonald drew sharp criticism last week for urging new immigrants to ". . . leave your culture at the door" when they come to the U.S. in a British Broadcasting Corp. documentary aired in September.

Macdonald spoke first, clarifying his earlier statements but stopping far short of issuing an apology. Macdonald read calmly from a prepared statement.

"I did not mean they had to abandon their religion, their traditions, their language nor their style of dress," he said. "Lewiston has a long history of immigrants settling here, such as the French and the Irish. I fully recognize that, as individuals, we are all products of our experiences in our cultures, which makes up the very fabric of who we are."

Macdonald said he was simply urging immigrants to become part of American life, not asking them to abandon their culture. Macdonald blamed much of the current controversy on the news media, eager to divide the community and make a name for themselves.

"What I said was taken out of context," Macdonald said. "Anybody could have said to me, 'What do you mean by that?' But they didn't."

Abdillahi said that was not enough, and he urged to Macdonald to apologize. Abdillahi said he knows Macdonald and has talked to him numerous times and was surprised at his words.

"When a leader sends this message, what about the guy on the street?" he asked. "How can I feel safe on the streets? I want to feel safe because of your comments, but now everyone can have the confidence to attack me, to attack my children."

Lewiston resident Garaad Dees said he is a voter and claimed Macdonald as his mayor.

"You are our mayor, the mayor of everybody," Dees said. "Antagonizing the community is not going to help."

Lewiston resident and Lisbon Street store owner Hussein Ahmed said the controversy was not symbolic of Lewiston today.

"We are not defined by what is wrong," he said. "We are not defined by one or two words. We are a far stronger community than that."

It's not the first time a Lewiston mayor has courted controversy.

Mayor Larry Raymond kicked off a storm of controversy exactly 10 years ago when he penned an open letter to the Somali community asking them to direct their friends and relatives away from the city.

The letter, released to the public on Oct. 2, 2002, drew international media attention and culminated in dueling rallies in January 2003 — one featuring a group of white supremacists from out of state and another community rally supporting immigrants.

Raymond finished out his term, and didn't seek re-election in 2003.

This is a very different time than that was, Ahmed said.

"I am here to say we need to come out of this united, one community and a community that defines ourselves as residents of this city, the All America City of Lewiston."

Macdonald offered to meet with Somali residents in his office next week, along with economic development staff.

"Next week, make an appointment," he said. "Bring some business people, and we'll talk. If it takes one hour, two hours, eight hours, I don't care."

Mayor Macdonald clarifies by CityNewsSJ

Lewiston City Council Oct. 2, 2012: Mayor Macdonald and the Somalis by CityNewsSJ

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Richard Begin's picture

Mayor Macdonald

The Mayor is completely accurate and Please Mohammed spare us your Impassioned Details. we just don't care what you think. Shut up and pay Your faire Share

Steve  Dosh's picture

Mayor won't apologize to Somali community . . ..

Mayor Mac ? 12.10.03 11:11 am ish HST fall break ( for the kids )
Apologise already . Stop with your ƒoolish pride . They vote , also ? They have memories , too , eps. about Travis Spoule
It's E Z to forgive. .hard to forget
Learn some Somali and Arabic, too : En'sha'Allah ( God ) O'Ja'la ( God WIlling ) Did you realize that David Bowie is maried to a Somalian woman and they have kids ? Iman means " Godess ' and yes she is a super model
Love means having to say you're sorry and are wrong at times . Suck it up . Nobody's perfect except for that one guy who d i e d ? 2 0 1 2 years ago . Being polite and contrite simplly means you are l i s t e n i n g and u n d e r stand •
Everyone else? \/olunteer in you local communities . Great Falls ! You will be enriched • /s , Dr. Dosh and ohana Hawai'i •

 's picture

English already

Why don't you post something that people can read and understand instead of all the hieroglyphics.
They do write and speak English in Hawaii the last time I was there.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The people of Lewiston were

The people of Lewiston were sold out when the City leaders of that particular time thought it would be a good idea to bring hordes of Somali immigrants to Lewiston for the purpose of what? Picking a few extra Federal dollars? The people have been duped. And now, those who voice their displeasure of this duping are being labeled as bigots and racists. Nice.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

These immigrants didn't just

These immigrants didn't just happen to 'come' here. They were sought out, gathered and brought here with a purpose.

GARY SAVARD's picture

This is a PC witch hunt with

This is a PC witch hunt with Bob Macdonald as the target and the media leading the way, nothing more. Randall and Wilma got it 100% right. The Somalis know how to play the race card BS to their advantage as well as anyone. They are pros at that with a lot of experience . Don't like it? Leave, that simple.What a bunch of BS.


A safe bet

I think it's a safe bet, by now, that the immigrants who are here are here to stay and moreover with the Arab Spring going on in the Middle East creating "hordes" of refugees it's very likely there will be many many more immigrants resettled here by the federal government. What was it you said? "Don't like it. Leave?".

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You may wish to put your

You may wish to put your eagle eye to work and show me exactly where it was that I said that.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Population statistics

Population statistics indicate people have been leaving Lewiston at a pace slightly faster than the Somalis have been coming in and growing their families over the last 10 years, Claire. That's not good news, because SOMEONE has to stick around to pay the bills. Tipping point?

 's picture

They need to at least learn to speak the language

It seems to me that most of them don't care to even learn to speak our language. They came here - at least embrace the community you live in

Seems to me they expect an apology from everyone, every time something doens't go their way.

I think on this day in particular - we should be considering the losses Ameicans have taken to defend these people

On the anniverary of losing a brave, young, local soldier in the battle of Mogadishu...

I wonder if any of the Somali community would care to say how they feel about that..... just wondering


learning English

If you cared to look you would see hundreds of immigrant children in the public schools studying the English language. You would also see immigrants in Adult Ed and in various community centers throughout the city not to mention the ones learning English through Literacy Volunteers. Perhaps you think a foreign language can be learned in a few months. Try learning Japanese and see how long it takes you to be fluent. As for the young men we have lost in the wars, it is certainly a terrible thing but immigrants serve in the military also and the immigrants in our local community had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. If you don't want to be blamed for the holocaust in Germany, the genocide in Serbia, the witch burnings in Mass. and the horrors of the Inquisition because you are a Christian then maybe you should not be painting people with so wide a brush. Some of us would like to think that as a community we have learned something from the way immigrants have been treated here in the past.

 's picture

re: Randall Pond

I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly and could never have put it better. To those that see these new immigrants to be the same as when they french, italians and canadians came here to this country to WORK apparently live in a cave or have met one person and they were nice. All other immigrants came here for freedom and a chance to work and make a good life and never once asked that we support them, hire translaters, free medical and be given 5 mins. every hour whether working or in school to go and pray. For the most part its ignorant groups in this country that think they are making all immigrants more welcome and comfy if we don't say Merry Christmas, put a manger in the town square, take down the 10 commandants, prayer in school and saluting the flag.We are the ones that have had to check our cultures at the door and I am sick of it. If you care to read up on THEIR LAWS(sharia) then ask if you want them to check their cultures at the door and you might agree as it will frighten you to death and to all those that say "oh that will never happen" check Minnesota and a once nice little village in France where the police or any emergency personel won't even enter. Am sure no one expected the Twin Towers to be hit by planes either and guess who was behind it? The more we give the more they take and when it is all gone then its to late. I am not saying that like any other bunch of people there aren't some nice ones and I am not singling out Somalian's. I am saying Muslims and their cultures are just not the way America as we knew it treated other people foreign or domestic. Some are inhuman to say the least. As for the media and all you do gooders leave the Mayor alone and let him do his job which is trying to protect you instead of always being called out by idiots that just hang on every word so they can make a federal case out of it. GOOOO MAYOR. Wish you were ours.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Great post, Wilma. You are a

Great post, Wilma. You are a breath of fresh air. You have the courage to say what many think but won't dare say for fear of retribution. Good job.

Jason Theriault's picture

Oh wow.

1. Again, formatting.

2. While Northern Somalia has mountains and terrain favorable for caves, Southern Somalia, where the Bantu's are from, does not. More likely, you are confusing the Bantus with the population of northern Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan because both groups are not white and muslim, and you couldn't be bothered to learn any more about them.

3. It isn't about not celebrating Christmas. It's about not ignoring Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanza, festivus, ect...

4. They were not living under sharia law. They were an ethnic minority, evicted from their lands and threatened with ethnic cleansing. If you were curious(which I know your not) I would say read up on Darfur to see what they had to look forward to.

5. Again, the Bantus are not from Afghanistan. They have no connection to the terrorists responsible for 9/11.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Your point#3 Are you saying

Your point#3
Are you saying that it's come to the point that for Christians to celebrate Christmas they must now acknowledge and "not ignore" all of these other non-Christian holidays you mention? You mean the same way that our muslim brothers and sisters go around wishing us Merry Christmas during our Yuletide season? How PC. When and how do we as Christians get our employers to grant us prayer breaks 5 times a day throughout the workday?



Everybody is entitled to their opinions, even their bigotry. But when you are a leader you speak for a community not so much for yourself. Lewiston is blessed with an abundance of amazing leaders in the business, arts, education, political, veteran, senior and health care communities. All of these people are working so hard to bring our community forward and to create a wonderful place for people to live in and work. It's really sad when a few ill thought out comments, not particularly reflective of our community, undermine their work. When leaders speak they have to take into consideration the effect their words will have on the public in general. Some folks are not playing with a full deck and unintended consequences can be dire. I'm glad the mayor will meet privately with leaders in the Somali community but private meetings will not fix a public black eye.

Jason Theriault's picture

Out of context

Also - How were his comments taken out of context?

His explanation:
"I did not mean they had to abandon their religion, their traditions, their language nor their style of dress," he said. "Lewiston has a long history of immigrants settling here, such as the French and the Irish. I fully recognize that, as individuals, we are all products of our experiences in our cultures, which makes up the very fabric of who we are."

does NOT explain this:
"When you come here you accept our culture and leave your culture at the door. I don’t care if you’re white, you’re black, you’re yellow. I don’t care what color you are, when you come into the country, you have to accept our culture. Don’t try to insert your culture into ours."

Put it this way - pretend we are talking about the sweet little old french ladies that go to Ste. Peter and Paul at 4pm Saturday for french mass. Would you say the same thing to them? Would you tell them "Why haven't you learned english yet?".

No. You wouldn't

 's picture

out of context

This culture that is being talked about now is not which church any immigrant attends but their barbaraic laws which I don't think if you read them you would be quite so gung-ho about either. For the most part when the italians and the french came and the older ones that never learned English didn't expect us to pay for a interpreter for them nor did we pay for their medical treatments. Its not what every immigrants culture is its being expected to change ours thats happening and I know its some of these idiot civil liberties do gooders that are 'trying to make them feel more at home" Well excuse me I thought it was "home" they were trying to get away from. Its "ONE FLAG UNDER GOD" and if you don't like it then leave and no matter how nicely it is said there will be more idiots making a mountain out of it and its something that should be said before any of them leave their country to come here. Ask Japan how they manage to do it and Australia is starting to do it as well as after being over run with these people they have taken over and will here while everyone stands by listening for the Mayor to say something they can run with. The media is more whats wrong with this country then anything other than politicians

Jason Theriault's picture


1. Formatting. Things are way easier to read when you break them up into paragraphs.

2. If your going to quote the pledge of Allegiance, at least, I dunno, GET IT RIGHT.
"One NATION under God."

3. Oh, and you're wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

Randall Pond's picture

you all


If the Somalis are that Offended by what was said, MOVE THE HELL OUT OF LEWISTON AND WE WILL GLADLY HELP YOU PACK AND MOVE!


If ANYONE Wants to compare the French Canadians and Irish Immigrants that Settled hear almost 100 years ago, YOU'RE NUTS! THERE IS NO COMPARING APPLES TO ORANGES! The French and The Irish came here to Work, not Sponge of the Damn State and Local Government Services, They Found Jobs, Built Houses of Worship, Homes for their Children and the Orphaned, Built Hospitals, They Worked, And They Helped the Community! THEY DIDN'T CRY DISCRIMINATION NOR, DID THE ASK FOR SPECIAL NEEDS FOR THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS!

They Didn't Demand Places to Pray, They didn't Fight With the Police and Local Government, They Came here and Made a Better Lives for themselves.

If the Somali's Can't do that, than I'm Sorry for them. But, Lewiston, Maine or any other City or Town Should have to Bend over and Kiss anyone's Butt to make them Happy! If you're Truly that Unhappy, MOVE OUT AND ON WITH YOUR LIVES AND LEAVE US TO LIVE OUR LIVES!

 's picture

Actually, Randall.. the

Actually, Randall.. the French-Canadian immigrants did clash with the government a fair amount.. they tried their best to seclude their community from the rest of the city. They wanted to govern themselves and have little to do with the rest of the city. It took decades for them to "assimilate" (to use one of the mayor's favorite words), and you could argue that once a group becomes a majority, assimilation isn't much of a challenge. You can do a lot to compare the different immigrant communities through history.. there are always differences, of course.. but these cycles tend to happen with any new group coming into a new place.

Randall Pond's picture

Shannon I am

sure there were issues when the French Came to Town but, NOTHING at all like these immigrants are Pulling.

I'm Sorry but, I'm not going to Bend over and Kiss Anyone Rear End, Period. This a Free Country and we are all entitled to our own opinions whether we are or we disagree. The Point I am trying to make is No One Ever Gets treated Fairly and we all have our Issues with Lewiston in our own ways and No Mayor MacDonald isn't a Perfect Man Nor, is Governor LePage but, for people to Blame The Mayor for Expressing his opinion as he said, the Media Took it and Ran with Half Truths of What They Wanted to make themselves Look Better and make a city official look bad. We've Whined about his Long Enough. Move on with your lives.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Look at what they did to

Look at what they did to Mayor Raymond when he tried to get them to slow down the rate at which they were coming to Lewiston. The national media demonized him and mischaracterized him as a racist bigot. Which, of course, they do to everyone who happens to disagree with their views.

Jason Theriault's picture

You had me until

You had me until "the Media Took it and Ran with Half Truths of What They Wanted to make themselves Look Better and make a city official look bad".

What half truths? Did they change what he said, cut him off mid quote?

And I have no problem with people expressing themselves. EVERYONE has that right, and that is critical to our society. However, everyone calling for his head ALSO have the right to state their opinion. You can't have one without the other.

Jason Theriault's picture


First off- They are responding to the mayor calling them out. The mayor started this, not the Somalis.

Secondly - The French and Irish they came here had three distinct advantages over the Somalis in regards to joining the community: They are white, European and Christian. They already looked and acted like those here, so assimilation was easier. And there was TONS of jobs for unskilled labor in the mills, so they hit the ground running.

Put it this way - Did a mayor ever send a letter to french and irish communities asking them to stop coming here? Did anyone ever roll a pigs head down the isle of Ste Peter's and Paul's?

So give them a break. Or you could move.

 's picture

I don't agree with what the

I don't agree with what the mayor said, but I want to set some things straights.

First off- The mayor didn't mean to start this he was being interviewed and answered it in the way he felt. He wasn't maliciously attacking the Somalis or "calling" them out.

Secondly- No one cares if they are Muslim or the fact they are black (this isn't the 1950's), the problem that people have voiced is that quite of few (last study done in 2007 said around 50% in the Twin Cities) were unemployed, which means they are on some type of assistance. One of the biggest reasons was lack of knowledge of the English language. Another thing other citizens have voiced is the lack of respect and hospitality of those who already resided here (Granted no all Lewiston residents aren't peaches themselves). To be far I know a quite a few Somalis, one who is close to me and like my brother and actually have a cousin who is half Somali, I know they aren't all rude, disrespectful or "lazy" (as some would say), but people like that are less noticeable. Also, there are jobs out there, you just have to have the ambition to go out and get them (that goes for everybody Somali, French, Irish or whatever).

Lastly- No mayor of Lewiston has ever done that to any French or Irish communites because by the time the city had a mayor Lewiston was predomentaly Franco-American and Irish anyways (actually the Irish showed up prior to the Franco's). Lewiston's population was roughly 7,500 and continually growing (only 20 years later it would be over 19,000). The role of mayor never showed up until 1863, in fact straight out of the history section in the cities website "After Lewiston became a city, Jacob Barker Ham took office as the first mayor in 1863."

Again, I don't really agree with what the Mayor said, but that is his opinion. I just wish/hope that he makes sure to mention that this is his opinion and doesn't reflect how the city and its citizens feel. I defiantly have no quarrels with Somalis, I rather have enjoyed my expriences with a majority of them. It is just like anything else in society, one bad apple ruins the image of any group. Just like how everyone looks poorly on Lewiston because of a few bad apples.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"Or you could move". Whatever

"Or you could move". Whatever you perceive yourself to be, that one line makes you as much a liberal as anyone out there.
This is our country, our land, our home, and you suggest that if we don't like them being here, we should move? Outlandish. Most of them who come here do not come directly from Somalia; they come from Ohio, Georgia or other states. Why do you suppose that is?

Jason Theriault's picture

I only said that

I only said that because HE said it. I think there is room for everyone here, we just need to remember to be neighborly to each other

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I grew up in a neighborhood

I grew up in a neighborhood which consisted of Greeks, Syrians, Lebanese, Irish, Poles, and a handful of blacks, and French, most of whom were American born except for maybe some of the Greeks, Syrians and Lebanese. Enough diversity to make a liberal's eyes glaze over with euphoria, but I'll tell you; it wasn't easy. You learned how to fight at a young age or you became a track star.

Jason Theriault's picture

Never is

Being the fat kid, I learned how to fight early on, and I don't think that was a bad thing. However, this is beside the point. It's one thing for people to be rude and inhospitable. It's another when the city government is being rude and inhospitable.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

A fat kid that could fight?

A fat kid that could fight? Cool... usually they allowed themselves to get pushed around. Commendable.
City government also is made up of people, and they will often have differing and opposite views on matters. Being humans, they will not always have their views expressed in the best words at that time. I'm not defending MacDonald anymore than I'd attempt to defend Gov. LePage. They've got to stew in their own broth, but I can see where they're coming from. They're just not as gifted with words as you and I might be.

Jason Theriault's picture

It is happening...

"I am here to say we need to come out of this united, one community and a community that defines ourselves as residents of this city, the All America City of Lewiston."

Oh, I think that's happening. Everyone is uniting against you, so the community is coming together.

 's picture

The man just simply doesn't

The man just simply doesn't get it. He is scrambling hard, and it is easy to see through that. Even when he tries to compliment the Somali community, he does so in a decidedly patronizing manner. This rhetoric will only divide Lewiston.. there is no sense that the mayor has the slightest clue how to move on from this and unite the city.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"This rhetoric will only

"This rhetoric will only divide Lewiston."
Lewiston is already divided and has been ever since Tara and Catholic Charities of Maine got the ball rolling.

 's picture

"I know you're working down

"I know you're working down at LL Bean. I know you're working down at.... several other places."


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