Ben Chin of Lewiston speaks during a community dialogue on racism and sexism at St. Mary’s Nutrition Center in Lewiston on Saturday. Chin announced that he would not be running for Lewiston mayor in November. (Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover)

LEWISTON — Racism here is real, former mayoral candidate Ben Chin told the dozens of residents Saturday who took part in a community dialogue on standing up to racism and sexism.

The event, hosted by Maine Community Integration, came on the heels of Lewiston Mayor Shane Bouchard resigning after a woman unexpectedly announced at a City Council meeting last week that she had given Bouchard internal emails from Chin during the 2017 campaign, in a covert effort to boost Bouchard’s chances of winning. 

Heather Everly Berube also released more than 150 texts between her and Bouchard, including one in which he told a racist joke and one in which he seemed to compare a meeting with his fellow Republicans to a Ku Klux Klan gathering.

At the start of the dialogue, Chin, now serving as deputy director of the Maine People’s Alliance, said that he would not be running for mayor again in November.

These things take a toll on you,” Chin said. “I want to spend the next couple of years healing and using whatever I have to help leverage the voices of others, especially young women of color. There are so many talented leaders in our city, and I cannot wait to work with all of them.”

Chin said that “this week, to me, wasn’t about politics. It’s about the fact that racism and sexism, particularly sexist violence, is shockingly pervasive in our society, and that the cost for discussing these things is very, very high, especially for women of color.”

In one of the Chin campaign’s internal emails shared with Bouchard, Chin wrote that he had encountered racists in Lewiston. This angered some voters.

Yes, I did write some e-mails saying that racism is real here,” Chin continued. “I’ve experienced it personally. I’ve heard people say things similar to the jokes that were written in the newspaper recently. They happen all the time.”

Chin said that anybody thinking of running for office in Lewiston should “reflect on how many of the highest elected leaders in Lewiston in the 21st century have made wildly inappropriate remarks or done terrible things that perpetuate these forms of oppression in our society.”

Lewiston resident Safiya Khalid said the comments Bouchard made referring to a GOP meeting as a Ku Klax Klan gathering was “so disrespectful and hurtful in so many ways.”

Khalid added, “I thought he was looking out for my interests. In our recent history, we have been unable to elect a mayor who is representative and fights for the interests of all their constituents.”

She said Lewiston residents are tired of the racist rhetoric, tired of elected officials who do not stand and fight for their communities.”

We need unity,” Khalid said. “We should never stay silent in times of bigotry. We should support, uplift and rally behind one another, because we are a community.”

Much of the event centered on residents sharing their thoughts on how Lewiston can move forward and address issues of racism, sexism and gender-based violence.

One resident said that elected officials are “making decisions behind the scenes without a person of color at the table,” and suggested that the city’s boards and organizations “show more inclusiveness.”

Khalid said that people should vote at the November election “for someone who looks out for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin or nationality, and shows love for all.”

That’s the kind of person I want at the State House, in the mayor’s office, and on the City Council,” Khalid said. “Someone who advocates and fights for everyone.”

City Councilor Jim Lysen agreed, adding, “The people most affected by decisions (we) make should be involved in the decision-making process.”

Lysen said he believed “people most affected” by decisions should be part of the decision-making process moving forward.

As the community dialogue came to an end, Bates College student Isa Moise said, “Real change takes real work.”

If you all really care about the issues talked about today, don’t leave without a thought of what your next step is going to be,” Moise said.

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Mohamed Ali moderates the “Elevating Girls’ Voices” event at the St. Mary’s Nutrition Center in Lewiston on Saturday. (Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover)