Group delivers petition, demands Lewiston mayor apologize, resign

LEWISTON — Nimo Yonis moved here as a freshman in high school in 2002. It was hard at first, she said, but now, this is home.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Nimo Yonis of Lewiston leads a chant with about 40 others in front of City Hall in Lewiston on Thursday morning. It was organized by Maine People's Alliance, who delivered a petition asking for Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald to apologize to the community and step down from office.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Nimo Yonis of Lewiston leads a chant with about 40 others in front of City Hall in Lewiston on Thursday morning. It was organized by Maine People's Alliance, who delivered a petition asking for Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald to apologize to the community and step down from office.

Her family fled Africa when she was 6.

"The Somali community appreciates the chance offered to us to live in the city," Yonis, 26, said, standing in front of City Hall's steps in the rain. "Mr. Mayor, we are an example of the American Dream."

Behind her, signs read, "We want a sincere apology," "You're everyone's mayor" and "Lewiston is better than this."

The Maine People's Alliance led a rally and delivered a petition to City Hall on Thursday morning with about 200 handwritten signatures and 1,200 others online asking for Mayor Robert Macdonald to apologize to the community, then step down.

He's under fire for a series of remarks aimed at the city's immigrant population, capped with a comment aired on the BBC in September to "leave your culture at the door."

In the last decade, thousands of Somali immigrants have settled in Lewiston.

"Mr. Mayor, this remark was painful, hurtful and displayed your ignorance about our community," said Jama Mohamed, communications director for Somali Bantu Youth. "You need to own your own mistake and to be a responsible leader and to come out and accept you made a mistake."

"We want to work with you," he said. "We consider ourselves Lewistonian."

Confronted at a City Council meeting Tuesday, Macdonald said his remarks had been taken out of context. He declined to apologize and said he wouldn't be talking to the media about the topic further.

On Thursday, he couldn't be reached for comment.

Louis Morin, whose parents emigrated from Canada, said Somalis have shown a willingness to adapt and open businesses. He pointed to the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, built and paid for by French-Canadian immigrants.

"Who's to say what similar contributions to Lewiston our Somali neighbors might one day make?" he asked.

City Councilor Craig Saddlemire said he wished he could apologize on behalf of the mayor.

"I do want to apologize that we still have to deal with this in 2012," he said. "Statements from public officials should not be making any member of the community feel excluded, feel bad about who they are, about who they are because they are different. This is something we should be beyond."

At a news conference inside the City Council Chamber after the rally, President Mark Cayer read a statement supported by all seven councilors. Macdonald's comments don't represent the council or Lewiston, he said.

"People are people, period," Cayer read. "There is no room for separation of us or them."

Asked whether the mayor should resign, he said, "That is a decision that needs to be made between the public and Mayor Macdonald. ... The Lewiston city charter has no recall process. The way you get recalled in Lewiston is the next election."

Macdonald, elected in a runoff race after he beat a candidate who died, is one year into a two-year term.

Cayer said he had "encouraged (Macdonald) to keep the community as a whole in his thought process when he's making comments directed toward any specific group."

One elected official should not tell another what to do, he said, but if Cayer were faced with a similar situation, "regardless of whether I felt I was right or wrong in that position, if I knew I offended or hurt somebody's feelings, I personally would apologize."

Yonis, a community organizer with the African Immigrants Association, said she wanted an apology to move Lewiston forward.

"I'm very glad that I'm here," she said. "I'm not going anywhere. We're not going anywhere."

kskelton@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Catherine Pressey's picture

Video

Wow! from the young Somali Woman Speaking in the last part, Nimo Yonis What on earth is she talking about, no one is putting them in harms way. We American speak our minds and do not try to harm others, and the protest in a witch hunt. No one not the Mayor Times story or otherwise has shown any hateful or hate remarks and I for one would stand up for you safety. Let this go people move on the Mayor explained his comments were taken out of context. MOVE ON for the love of what ever God you follow MOVE ON. LET IT GO. You make me sad for the America that has opened the doors to you. And you do not understand, what your trying to do is repressive. That is my opinion, and my right to say it.

Catherine Pressey's picture

Glad they are here:

Words and opinion are rampent in Amercan culture, everybody has them as they say. Maybe they should not worry so much about a word or mention in a article, if the Mayor said his comments were taken out of context than that should be enough. As he said enough is enough. I was glad to read in the Twin City Times article and I personally could not see what the awful offense was. I though the Mayor was venting and communicating his opinions. DO NOT RESIGN MAYOR! FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND FREEDOM OF SPEACH AT WORK. Many of us Americans get insulted or feel we are misunderstood, put upon or what else. Glad to know the girls in the Somali Family's are doing well. According to the story. Think that this is a Mayor and this is a human being and can be misunderstood or misquoted. Only my opinion

Susan Patneaude's picture

A quote from Pastor Martin

A quote from Pastor Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out
because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

When powerful people speak they can incite the masses to action, positive or negative. Our Governor has put us front and center on the national news. Now the Mayor of Lewiston has done the same. I'm embarrassed, aren't you? How proud we would be if we were being recognized for something good and positive and enlightened.

It is incumbent upon us to recall how our ancestors got here. The Statue of Liberty in NY City proclaims our open arms saying:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

What do you suppose Americans were expected to do once they arrived at our shores? We can't expect immigrants to "be American" when they get here from other countries. What we all want is for them to "become American", while also keeping their individuality. If we put our energy into helping immigrants become successfully American we will be much rewarded. Despite the short sightedness of our leaders we, the citizens, can create a positive wave of acceptance. It's the right thing to do. It's the American thing to do.

Andrew Jones's picture

Anyone else notice that

Anyone else notice that "better" was spelled wrong on one of the protest signs?

Susan Patneaude's picture

Spelling

When you can spell in Somalian you will have earned the right to criticize.

Andrew Jones's picture

It was an observation, not

It was an observation, not criticism. Although you do bring up an interesting point; maybe if they would like to be taken seriously, they should proof-read their signs.

Also: Somalian isn't a language. Are you thinking of Somali?

Tony Morin's picture

Statler and Waldorf

I have to admit, I've felt like I have been living in some kind of bizarro Maine since LePage and Macdonald were elected. It seemed so impossible to me that people from here would vote in these two negative Nelly's. Lewiston and Maine in general have so many positives that could be focused on to promote progress and growth. People voted them in, so they will remain, but as I've written before, hopefully this terrible experiment gone wrong will be corrected at the polls at the next elections.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

How about this....why is it

How about this....why is it such a big deal when a politician makes a statement against the Somali population and yet when any other group is put down nothing is said? We have politicians (i.e. the mayor and the governor) who have been negative towards many different groups and yet all we seem to hear about is what is said about the Somali. Get over it already. If the politicians are wrong then prove them wrong...don't keep going on asking for an apology because it isn't going to happen. Haven't people learned yet....politicians do not apologize.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

More of the "THEY, "THEM.........

I'm going to go out on a limb here, I'd be willing to bet that just about everyone here, at one point in history was a "THEM", or "THEY". I was, well my ancestors were, they were criticized right off the boat. They had the audacity to come here just because they couldn't feed their families. I had an old uncle who was convinced it had nothing to do with the potato blight, it was actually the cost of beer. Well old Uncle Duane always was a little of center.
Many nationalities have come here, and very few got everything right the first week. It took awhile. My ancestors have been here for many generations, and I still don't have it right, but I'm working on it.
As for "beating the drum to long", or being a drain on DHHS. Thats just plain "CRAP". I have worked with many people who need to do their jobs, it has to be done. If I have to keep waking people up at two in the morning to get the job done, that person is gone. I have no tolerance. Guess which group I have never had a problem with. I'm speaking from first hand experience. Not speculation. People should take the time to learn what their complaining about before they open their mouth. Then again, these posts wouldn't be half as entertaining if some people, thought ahead of time......

Catherine Pressey's picture

if your on a limb

Hello Frank, it me yep! I was not only on a limb but someone cut the darn thing off. However gosh I wish the Somali's would have accepted the Mayors statement that his remarks were taken out of context. And understood though he may have said something a word or two could have been left out in the editing or one or two put in. I have no knowledge of any drain on DHHS that is between them and each person. So if you are saying it is not true or someone took a crap. lol I think when this Group bring any attention to this kind of thing, it shows some of us the understanding about FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND OF SPEACH, is what is really at issue. Not the comment made we all have opinions and some like me might be a wee bit off bubble. lol Comments or opinions are many and they would in my opinion been better off working this out on a quiet conversation with the Mayor himself. What light yawn there is in the window now bringing this mess blown up and out of proportion, if one loves the City let it go. and remember the next election and judge he at that time. Just kidding. But gosh, poor Mayor open his mouth and put his foot in it with or without the help of the person who wrote the story and forgot that darn word, or sentence. Bye Frank

Melissa  Dunn's picture

we have every right to be

we have every right to be angry, upset, hurt, and sad. be it the mayor having little to no control over the politics of the city, he represents the city-this has made national news because of the hurtful and harmful comments that he has made. not only does it make our city look bad or give us a bad rep-by comparison that is relatively minor compared to the effect that it has on this community and our new mainers as well.

his comments have been excusable up until this point. when is enough really ENOUGH! we should be past the days of bullying others. before the mayor was elected he was had made daring comments about our city and our new mainers. we need to place blame where it lies, that is true and that is with our city officials, especially the ones long before this term-however i can say that there are city officials that do give a damn about this community. that is quite assuring to me that people do care about this city.

there is a misperception about new mainers, even about downtown lewiston, and those who are poor. its easier to place blame rather than look at the facts of what has led us to where we are today-and it certainly is not the new mainers and it certainly is not downtown-some people who we let make choices for us has let us down, yes.

nonetheless people of all colors, diversity, nationalities, sexual identities, cultures, classes-everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect. just because of the mayor's comments, does not mean that we don't have a sense of community. our community is here and now, united, and building strength.

ive learned that people fear what they do not know and they're too consumed in their bubble to actually learn a few things and meet people. like native mainers, new mainers have great leaders, great conversation, they work hard, they want to provide for their families and love their families, they have a profound love for america and the very city that they work and live (in fact more than most people that i know).

i am sick and tired of those who have not made an effort to meet a new mainer use them as a scapegoat for lewiston's problems or issues.

Sandy Mabry's picture

i think we should all protest

i think we should all protest them to leave our city but i know we would be called racist but when they protest and complain no one calls them racist it always awww no one here want's to accept our culture and you know what there more racist then anyone they hate it here and they hate our ways of life that's why there trying to change us little by little and you know the mayor's not a bitter man you people are the one's who are bitter
anyway i don't know about anyone else but i am sick to death of it

Catherine Pressey's picture

Sick to death too!

I do I do agree, only hate I read in any of the comments were those from the group, Hey I for one have protested about many things and don't see the news people standing by my side. Of course I dress different i blend in. All kidding asside Wa wa wa is so true, wish they would just let it go and speak their piece and move on. Maybe the Mayors last name is a problem here. Sure not French or opps anyhow. I agree with you. Sandy. If we protest yes we are called racist, if we become afraid to open our mouths we will loose what our country is all about FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND FREEDOM OF SPEACH. HEY! it is just a comment and the Mayor said it was taken out of context. So let it go right, they want us Americans to be afraid to speak out. or speak up. They would repress us, would they not be glad to know how I feel rather than for me to shake their hands and really want not to. That is my opinion

Abdi Hassan's picture

You're a bitter man with full

You're a bitter man with full of hateful toward EVERYONE. Get a life!

Catherine Pressey's picture

Get a life,

Abdi who is a bitter man, you sure sound like one, what i read in your short comment is hate and bitterness. Those are strong words you are using, am I taking them out of context. I am a American Woman and I bet this will not suite you well. Get real.

Randall Pond's picture

You know Really

You People Have Beat this Drum Far Too Long! If you're That Unhappy in Lewiston, PLEASE LEAVE! I am Tired of hearing How the Somalian Community has been Hurt.

How about How the city of Lewiston and the State's DHHS Services have been over used by the community? Really? Seriously? I'm sorry but, you people had a fit when the last mayor asked if you were going to get General Assistance that you learn English and go to school to get your GED and A Job! Damn Sam People!

I am Really over this and Way Too Much is being Said on this Subject. Drop It and MOVE ON!

Jason Theriault's picture

Lol

For someone who is really over this, you certainly post alot on them.

How about this - if you sick of people expressing their first amendment right, either stop watching the tv or reading the article. You have every right to say your sick of hearing the complaints, but they are just as free to complain, or in my case, point out flaws in your argument.

Catherine Pressey's picture

Flaws

Hi! Jason, yep! its me. get a life yourself and coming from you who must be the expert on flaws, Mr. Know it all yes Jason many of just plain old Americans are sick to death about the attack on our FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND FREEDOM OF SPEACH. HAVE A good day. And the thought that we should shut up about what we think. Only through interchange will acceptance come good bad or indifference.

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