LEWISTON — Mayoral candidate Robert Macdonald drew grumbles from the audience when he blamed the city's problems on welfare and immigration during a debate at city hall Thursday night.
Macdonald, one of five candidates for the mayor's seat, said he would refuse federal or state aid that promoted expanding welfare, would call for a 10-year moratorium on Section 8 housing and would seek to demolish old downtown tenements.
"People from two continents and several states to our south flock to our city," Macdonald said, referencing news articles about new residents and migrants.
"Many are unemployable, as they are unskilled, illiterate and speak little or no English," Macdonald said. "And what is the response from our city leaders? Avoid confrontational issues and encourage more of these layabouts to settle here by providing new and more spacious Section 8 housing."
Candidate Stanley Pelletier disagreed with Macdonald about demolishing old buildings. He preferred auctioning the buildings and letting the new owners decide their fate.
"This is developing Lewiston, not tearing down the building because it's ugly," Pelletier said. "It's making livable, low-income housing responsibly."
Pelletier also made a pitch for easing city regulations for new developers.
"We must back off just a little bit, sometimes, when we have people who want to come in," he said. "We need to a be a little lax with some of this, not let them have the city, but work with them to develop something."
It was a mostly mannerly evening, with candidates avoiding political swipes. Candidates Mark Paradis, Macdonald, Ronald Jean, Pelletier and Walter M. Hill answered questions posed by members of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council.
Jobs, economic development and helping the city realize its full potential were the top civic dreams of the five men seeking to be the city's next mayor.
Development is important for all of the candidates, especially as a way to lure more young college graduates to the city.
"We need jobs, but it's not just that," Paradis said. "You need education for their kids, activities that they want to participate in — theater, movies, walking trails. But the most important thing is the necessary housing for them."
Jean, incumbent city councilor for Ward 4, said creating jobs is one of his main goals.
"It's an old, old story," he said. "To keep people here, you have to have jobs for them. If there's nothing to keep them here, they're simply going to go away."
Hill said he would use Lewiston's culture and history to appeal to young adults.
"This whole city is a resource, and we don't showcase it," he said. "I bristle when I see cities that are 100 years younger than us luring people to their cities and towns to spend money with their heritage. We have heritage: the Stanley Steamer, the Liston-Ali fight. This was the birthplace of the unions here. I'm proud of the heritage in this city."
All five said they would support a casino in downtown Lewiston.
"A casino would bring jobs," Jean said. "People may be for or against it, but if they realize what kind of jobs would be coming here, I think people would be very much in favor of that."
Paradis said his only concern would be providing infrastructure for the casino.
"I want to make sure we can pay for what we need to support this, whether that's train service downtown or work at Exit 80," Paradis said. "But, if you build it, they will come, and that's the greatest thing in the world."
The candidates, as well as the City Council candidates from Lewiston and Auburn, are scheduled to meet Wednesday, Oct. 12, for the Candid Candidates forum, sponsored the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce and the Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area. It's scheduled to take place from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Voters in Auburn will get a chance to listen to the city's at-large City Council candidates at a more traditional forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11, at Auburn Hall. That event is sponsored by the Auburn Democrats.