LEWISTON — During a standing-room-only debate between the two mayoral runoff candidates, incumbent Robert Macdonald was asked what he would do to improve headlines that have shown a divisive city.

“I’m not going to do anything,” Macdonald said. If he were to start treating certain people special, “you start having friction.”

Macdonald said his words have been taken out of context, his words have been twisted.

During a debate sponsored by the Facebook group “Lewiston Rocks the Vote,” moderators said the question wasn’t intended to be about immigrants but about the whole city. 

Lewiston’s reputation is important, challenger Ben Chin said. If a business were thinking about investing in the city and Googled “Lewiston,” headlines would come up that would make one think twice about leadership. 

Diminishing divisiveness starts with listening, soliciting feedback, he said.

Asked to identify his weaknesses and strengths, Macdonald expressed disappointment with not getting welfare reform passed.

“It’s my biggest frustration,” he said.

He has made progress in improving the city, the riverfront, taking down condemned houses and bringing in some businesses, he said. But welfare reform was what he ran on.

“I haven’t done what I said I was going to do,” Macdonald said.

Chin said his strengths are new ideas and energy. “I want to come in and shake things up, to move our city in a positive direction and have some fun,” he said.

His weakness was not being able to fully share ideas he has heard that are worthy, he said.

During the two-hour debate, Macdonald and Chin sparred on how to improve the city’s reputation, and about spending and taxes on housing.

Asked whether he supported an idea that Section 8 housing and code enforcement should be made public records, Macdonald said he’d have no problem with that, but he defended landlord Joe Dunne, whom Chin has called a slumlord.

“Joe Dunne has been raked over the coals, his name dragged through the mud,” Macdonald said. “Joe Dunne has helped a lot of people. He takes people in he doesn’t have to take in.” Without him, many would be homeless, Macdonald said.

“Does he have the nicest apartments?” Macdonald said. “No, he does not. He has a big heart. He helps people. He’s guilty of not being a good businessman.”

Chin said he’s met with tenants whose safety is threatened because of slumlords.

One woman showed him marks on a wall where in the winter she hangs a blanket “to huddle by her oven to get warm when the heat is turned off. It’s simply not true we need to accept this,” Chin said. “I’m not sure what your definition of slumlord is, but that certainly meets mine.”

Lewiston must work to discourage a housing market “dominated by a business model that the only way to make money is by not filling their oil tank in the winter,” Chin said.

More than once, Macdonald said the power of what the mayor can do is limited. He doesn’t have a vote on the budget.

“The mayor cuts ribbons,” he said. “Represents the city at some places, and runs the (City Council) meetings. That’s all I can do.”

Chin saw the role differently.

The mayor is the only person who’s in a position to listen to a large group, talk to the smartest people about a problem, then “articulate that into a vision, a plan and make an election about something that’s bigger,” he said.

Asked about how they would decrease property tax burdens, Chin said there’s no magic solution, that one-third of Lewiston’s downtown is underdeveloped.

The long-run solution is building well-paying jobs, such as those in solar energy, he said.

“The short term is to continue to grow the property tax base,” he said, “hit the gas on everything we’re doing on economic development.”

Macdonald said Lewiston’s tax rate “is killing businesses.” One of the reasons he’s been villianized “is because of welfare laws.” Much of the city budget goes to special education, he said.

“These people, because of our lax laws, are coming into Lewiston,” he said. “These kids have real problems. Why is it the duty of Lewiston to take these people in? There should be some sharing here.”

Macdonald has served as mayor for four years. “You know what I’ve done,” he said. “If you feel that that’s the direciton you want to go, I’d appreciate your vote on Dec. 8. I don’t really know anything else I can say. I’m not going to sit up here and keep you here for another 20 minutes.”

Chin said he’d work to bring the city together. “Division, and politics based on it, are our great enemy,” he said. “If we come together and find common ground, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.”

Live Blog Lewiston Mayoral Runoff Debate
 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.