Look below the story for more videos and sound bytes.
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.
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."