LEWISTON — Mayor Robert Macdonald spoke out Friday against opponents of the proposed Lewiston-Auburn consolidation who are calling for boycotting local pro-merger businesses.
It appears the controversy was sparked via social media, when a supporter of the Coalition to Oppose Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation posted on the group’s Facebook page Aug. 8.
“If business(es) are funding One LA, can we get a list together. I have no problem taking my money elsewhere,” said Douglas McIntire, an Auburn resident.
Since Tuesday, McIntire’s post has received hundreds of comments, while those on both sides of the issue have continued to trade barbs online.
Macdonald, like many speaking out against the idea of boycott, said impacting local businesses is counterproductive.
“We live in the United States of America, and all are free to share their viewpoints and participate in the arena of public opinion. However, boycotting a business or a store that has taken a position favoring OneLA is not a positive reflection of our community,” he said in the statement. “We are adults who should be able to discuss the merger — pros and cons — and make our own educated decision at the ballot box. Taking our opinions and impacting the success of local entities is not productive, is not responsible, and it’s not welcome in Lewiston.”
Many other city officials have also weighed in on the matter, including members of the executive committee of the Coalition to Oppose Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation, who say the group has never discussed boycotting businesses.
Some however, including Lewiston Finance Committee Chairman Robert Reed continually defended such a boycott, sparking Macdonald’s response.
On McIntire’s Facebook thread, Auburn City Councilor Bob Stone, a member of COLAC, said “The COLAC board has never discussed, nor has taken a position on, a ‘boycott’ of businesses whose owners support merging.”
Jim Howaniec, president of the group, went a step further.
“COLAC of course supports all businesses on both sides of the river, whether they are with us on this issue or not,” he said. “Anyone who is trying to spin it otherwise is just desperately trying to overcome their low poll numbers, which, as far as we can tell, are down in the 20% range.”
Many business leaders in the area have publicly spoken in favor of the merger during previous forums and public hearings. During an Auburn public hearing last week, business leaders from Lamey Wellahan and Thayer Corp. spoke in favor. The co-chairman of OneLA, the campaign in support of the merger, is Carl Sheline, who co-owns Center Street Dental.
Those speaking on the COLAC Facebook thread named businesses like the restaurants Fuel and 84 Court. (The ownership at Fuel has since said they’ve never publicly taken a stance on the merger.)
In response, Lewiston police officer Joe Philippon, whose wife works at Fuel, posted online Thursday that some were boycotting the restaurant just for suspecting it was pro-merger.
“This is disgusting,” he wrote. “People like my wife work at these targeted businesses to support themselves and their families. You can’t claim to love your community when you advocate for injuring your neighbor.”
On his post, McIntire even suggested that businesses that don’t disclose their stance on the merger issue “proves a level of deceit.”
Lewiston City Councilor Shane Bouchard, who is on the executive committee for COLAC, told people, “I’m not boycotting anyone. That being said, as a business owner myself I understand that there is a price to pay when you take a stance on an issue. Business and politics don’t mix well. Not saying it’s right, but it is reality.”
Later, on the same Facebook thread, Bouchard said, “If someone is boycotting it is not a representation of the (COLAC) group, it is the opinion of that individual.”
In response to Macdonald’s statement Friday, City Councilor Michael Lachance said people in Lewiston and Auburn have the freedom to decide which businesses to patronize.
“This is America. It is every citizen’s right to boycott whichever business they so choose on any side of any issue,” he said. “That the mayor has chosen to once again pillory those who ruffle the feathers of the good old boy network is irrelevant. The mayor will be happy to become just another good old boy come January. In the meantime let’s let the people do what they wish regarding the free exercise of their opinion be it with their words or wallet regarding the merger issue.”