Robert Reed, chairman of the Lewiston Finance Committee, addresses a campaign rally held by the Coalition Opposed to Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation, at the Sixth Street Congregational Church in Auburn on Wednesday evening. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — At an event Wednesday intended to be a final rallying cry for the anti-merger campaign, Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte didn’t shy away from things he might have been reluctant to say in the past. 

He told the audience of about 40 people gathered at the Sixth Street Congregational Church that the anti-merger group has stood up to people who have been in charge of both cities for the past 30 years.

Referring to Joint Charter Commission members Chip Morrison and Lucien Gosselin, who are former city administrators, he said the group has drafted a charter that purposely gives more power to city officials, taking it away from citizens. 

He said the commission’s resulting product, which goes to voters Nov. 7, demonstrates “either a lack of creativity, competence or both.”

He went on to address the Lewiston-Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, which recently endorsed One LA and the pro-merger effort. 

He referred to it as the “echo chamber of commerce,” and said many of its members who are merger advocates are “people who surround themselves with people who only think like them.”

“I’ve been a tireless champion of Lewiston and Auburn,” LaBonte said during the speech. “We are a community, but that doesn’t mean we need to be one city.” 

The hourlong rally Wednesday served as a recap of the group’s campaign thus far, whose members and supporters believe there’s a substantial grass roots opposition to the consolidation effort. 

The merger opposition has manifested in Auburn, where members of the Coalition to Oppose Lewiston-Auburn Consolidation believe there’s a common sentiment that the merger amounts to a “takeover” from its larger neighbor. 

A table at the church had free anti-merger T-shirts and signs that read: “Vote No Merger. Auburn & Lewiston. Vote Now – Don’t Wait.” 

LaBonte also used the rally to officially endorse Auburn mayoral candidate Jason Levesque and Lewiston mayoral candidate Shane Bouchard. 

Levesque made a splash last week when he told an Auburn debate audience that if he was elected, and the merger passed, he would relinquish the seat. 

On Wednesday, he and LaBonte told the audience members to make phone calls to at least 10 people about the upcoming vote. Levesque said the job won’t be done on Nov. 7. 

He said on Nov. 8, the merger “will be defeated,” but he said the next job will be to make sure it doesn’t happen again, while reconciling differences with merger proponents. 

Bouchard also took the moment to address his campaign in Lewiston. He told the crowd of mostly Auburnites that he’s been anti-merger since the beginning, unlike his campaign rivals. 

COLAC Chairman Jim Howaniec said the group is up against a well-financed pro-merger campaign that has paid campaign workers canvassing neighborhoods. 

“We’re going to win this race as long as we get out and vote,” he said. “We are still operating like we’re 20 points behind.” 

“All I’m going to ask you for is your vote,” said Matt Leonard, who represented COLAC during one of the three debates. “They can spend $30,000, but they can’t vote 30,000 times.”

COLAC member Robert Reed, who has been in a monthslong back-and-forth with One LA over disputed financials regarding the merger, said of his efforts, “I have become public enemy No. 1 to the pro-merger group. I’m pretty happy about that. I say, bring it on.” 

Auburn City Councilor Bob Stone said he’s upset with comments he’s seeing about the ballot wording, which he called a “blatant attempt to prey on the senior citizens of Lewiston-Auburn.”

At the same time in Lewiston, One LA was hosting a competing event. 

LaBonte guessed that those in on One LA’s community planning discussion occurring at the Franco Center were using “big syllable words to drive down why we should be one city.” 

“This issue is going down,” Jan Biron said. 

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