LEWISTON — Low crime, support for professional hockey in Lewiston, a positive view of the city’s rain fee and admiration for the city’s immigrants and Somali business owners were issues on which mayoral candidates Bob Macdonald and Larry Gilbert agreed Thursday night.

Welfare, cleaning up downtown trash and publicly supported housing projects were some of the issues on which they disagreed.

Macdonald is seeking a second term. Gilbert is seeking a return to office. Voters will select one of the men at the polls Nov. 5.

It was a good-natured, polite evening between two former Lewiston police officers with differing philosophies of government. Gilbert is a proud liberal who supports public involvement in rehabilitating the downtown.

“I believe in inclusion, not exclusion; construction, not destruction; progression, not regression,” Gilbert said in his closing statement. “Most importantly, I believe in people and the potential and value of every person in this city.”

Macdonald is a proud conservative who said he’d turn down more public money for downtown housing if offered.


“When I ran for office, I set two goals for myself,” Macdonald said. “I would confront head-on the issues that many would not bring up for fear of public pillaging. I ran to represent the taxpayers, not the tax takers.”

Their differences were most stark when talking about paying General Assistance. Gilbert said Americans can’t stop providing public help to the needy.

“Once you demonstrate a need, you should get it,” Gilbert said. “In America, we take care of our people. We are not a Third World country; I’ve been to Third World countries and I appreciate America. We are better than that and it only takes a half of a percent of our budget.”

Macdonald said he had no problem helping Lewiston’s needy.

“But why should the people of Lewiston have to take care of people who come in here from out of state and sit there and collect assistance for months?” Macdonald said. “We have older people out here struggling, but I guess they don’t come into play in this. Every day, they worry about the taxes they have to pay. So there should be some kind of time element before they can collect welfare.”

They continued arguing that point after the discussion had moved on to other topics. Gilbert noted that cities are required by law to pay General Assistance. Macdonald said much of the money comes from local property taxes.


Publicly supported housing was another issue. Gilbert said he would have supported a plan by Volunteers of America Northern New England to build housing on one of the lots left vacant by fires this past May. Despite a 4-3 vote of City Council support, the group withdrew the plan.

“And now we are left with a vacant lot for at least another year, where we could have had something that fit right into the neighborhood,” Gilbert said.

But Macdonald said Lewiston landlords deserve more support.

“I believe they should be looked after first, as opposed to these people coming in and developing these apartments using federal and state dollars,” Macdonald said. “(Local landlords) can’t compete with these projects and the next thing you know, they are giving us their keys and walking away.”

Both took some credit for a program to demolish failing downtown tenements and leading a rebirth of business along Lisbon Street.

Both also professed their support for the Pirates professional hockey team playing at Lewiston’s Colisee and said they have enough faith in Lewiston police to walk through Kennedy Park at night.


“I would be more afraid walking in Portland, or Westbrook or Bangor or Waterville and Augusta than I would be walking around in Lewiston,” Macdonald said.

More than 120 people filled Callahan Hall in the Lewiston Public Library to watch the forum — with more than 1,000 watching a live video and comment stream on www.sunjournal.com.

It was the first of three candidate forums scheduled for this fall. Macdonald and Gilbert will be back before voters at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at a forum sponsored by the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council at Lewiston City Hall.

The Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area has scheduled a forum for all candidates to all elected offices in Lewiston and Auburn at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn.

Thursday night’s debate was sponsored by the Sun Journal, the Lewiston Public Library and the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce.


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