LEWISTON — Mayoral candidates Robert Macdonald and Larry Gilbert will square off Thursday, Oct. 3, at a live public forum hosted by the Sun Journal and the Lewiston Public Library.
The forum is the first of three opportunities for Twin City voters to meet the candidates this fall.
The event will be moderated by Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison and is scheduled from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Callahan Hall, upstairs in the Lewiston Public Library. A live video feed of the debate will be shown on www.sunjournal.com and recorded for later viewing on Great Falls TV.
Sunjournal.com will also host a live blog during the debate where users can discuss the debate as it unfolds.
City voters will go to the polls to elect a mayor on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
"This debate offers a chance for voters to ask questions and to hear directly from the candidates," Rex Rhoades, executive director of the Sun Journal, said. "The two candidates are very different and this is a good opportunity for our community to see these differences on issues that are important to Lewiston."
Macdonald has been mayor since January 2012. During his time in office, he has developed a reputation for cracking down on welfare fraud and speaks openly about the need to improve the city's reputation.
Last March, after 84 people were removed from the General Assistance rolls, 50 of whom were accused of fraud, Macdonald said, "We're not going to be known as a welfare town anymore," warning people considering a move to Lewiston that "If you want to come here, don't come here for welfare, because if we catch you, you will be prosecuted."
During his first year in office, he defended a controversial statement he made in a BBC documentary suggesting immigrants moving to Lewiston should better assimilate with the local culture, and then later met with Somali leaders to talk about ways to improve community relations.
Macdonald has defended his outspoken nature, saying he speaks for Lewiston residents and is willing to say things others are afraid to say.
A Marine Corps veteran who served with the First Marine Division during the Vietnam War, Macdonald serves on the board of directors of Safe Voices, coaches youth basketball and is active in the United Way and Special Olympics. He is also a member of seven veterans groups, including Franco-American War Veterans.
Gilbert, who is co-chairman of the Coalition for a Safer Maine, served two full terms as Lewiston mayor. He completed the final year of Lionel Guay's term in 2007 and was re-elected to the job twice, serving until January 2012.
When he announced his candidacy last June, he criticized Macdonald's public service as too negative and pledged to be more upbeat.
"We must be a positive force to attract the attention of businesses, families and others looking for a community with an outstanding workforce and excellent public schools," he said.
A veteran of the U.S. Army who also served during the Vietnam War, Gilbert is a Lewiston native and recently retired as the associate director of the Maine Community Policing Institute at the University of Maine at Augusta. He serves on a number of community organizations, including many affiliated with the Catholic Church.
Both men are former Lewiston police officers; Gilbert is a former chief and Macdonald was a detective, working in Boston before joining the Lewiston Police Department.
During next week's forum, each candidate will get three minutes for opening presentations, followed by a question and answer session. Each will take turns answering questions from Morrison and from the audience. Each candidate will be given a minute to answer; his opponent will get 30 seconds to reply or rebut.
Finally, each candidate will get two minutes to make closing statements.
Voters may email their questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, with "mayor debate" in the subject line, to have them included in the forum. Questions may also be submitted by postal mail to Sun Journal, Mayor Debate, 104 Park St., Lewiston, ME 04243.
Lewiston mayors will be the focus of a second debate sponsored and moderated by the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, in the Lewiston City Council chambers.
In addition to the mayoral election on Nov. 5, voters in Lewiston and Auburn will go to the polls that day to elect new City Council and new School Committee members.
All candidates in both Lewiston and Auburn are invited to a candidates forum sponsored by the Young Professionals of Lewiston Auburn at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn's Great Falls Plaza.
Organizer Chantell Pettengill said all candidates for City Council, mayor and School Committee in Lewiston and Auburn — 49 in all — have been invited to attend.
So far, Pettengill said she has confirmed 21 candidates for the forum.
Each candidate will get two minutes to make opening statements. Questions will then be directed to the candidates in contested races. It's the second time the group has hosted the candidates forum.