LEWISTON — After Monday's standing-room-only debate between mayoral candidates Robert Macdonald and Mark Paradis, 77-year-old Pauline Rancourt said she agreed with Macdonald about limiting welfare and immigrants in Lewiston.
“The city is going to pot with that welfare," Rancourt said. "Immigration is out of hand; it's too much.”
Immigrants have “overtaken Lisbon Street. Now they're going up Main Street,” Rancourt said. Of the two candidates, “Macdonald has a better view of the situation we have here.”
Macdonald and Paradis are the choices in a runoff election set for Tuesday, Dec. 13. According to those interviewed, Macdonald seems to be popular with senior citizens. Others say Macdonald, if elected mayor, could not change welfare rules and would be too negative to be the face of Lewiston.
Two city officials, including the current mayor, said they're afraid of what would happen to Lewiston if Macdonald becomes the next mayor.
“This is such an important election. It will either move Lewiston to a future or set us back 30 or 40 years,” said Jim Handy, a Lewiston School Committee member. “I have great fear about someone who wants to become our mayor who has never said anything good about our city.”
On Monday night, Macdonald said he likes Somali immigrant ZamZam Mohamed, that she and other female Somalis have come to Lewiston to work. “The others, they didn't want to learn,” Macdonald said.
On Tuesday, Handy said Macdonald paints people with a broad brush. “He needs to realize he's from away. He came from Massachusetts.”
Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert said during the debate that Mark Paradis offered reasonable approaches to issues.
“He carried the debate on every point," Gilbert said. "Bob Macdonald only presented unrealistic and hateful approaches to the issues. I would hate to see him as the face of Lewiston. I know him very well, having served with him on the Police Department.”
Gilbert, a former police chief in Lewiston, added, "He's preying on people's fears.”
The mayor of Lewiston cannot create a moratorium on Section 8 housing, Gilbert said. It's a federal program run by the Maine State Housing Authority. The Lewiston mayor cannot change welfare, he said. “General Assistance is a state-run program the city administers for the state. So he can't do any of that.”
Paradis, who ran against Gilbert for mayor, would offer a more reasonable approach, Gilbert said.
During the debate, the candidates agreed on several issues. One they disagreed on was tax-increment financing, which gives new businesses tax advantages in exchange for locating in the area.
Macdonald is anti-TIF; Paradis is pro-TIF.
Lucien Gosselin, president of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, said TIFs are “an essential development tool. Like it or not, there's stiff competition for economic development projects.”
The Walmart distribution center, which employs 700 and pays $2 million a year in taxes, would not have chosen to locate in Lewiston in 2002 without the TIF, Gosselin said.
Operating a business in Maine is challenging, and Lewiston-Auburn is competing with states that have lower costs, he said. The TIF is one of the few tools to help level the playing field to attract jobs, Gosselin said. “It does make a difference in siting a project.”