LEWISTON — The race for Lewiston’s Ward 1 council seat has become a nasty outlier in an otherwise low-key municipal election season.

While one candidate says he was repeatedly threatened and harassed to drop out of the race by members of his own party, the other has allegedly been subjected to racism and threats of violence.

What began as party infighting has now spiraled into public view just days before the election, as audio of an alleged encounter between Lewiston Democratic Committee leaders and Ward 1 candidate Walter “Ed” Hill, also a Democrat, has been posted to YouTube as a series of videos.

The audio, which Hill said he recorded at his home on Aug. 28, begins with minutes of furious knocking and ringing of Hill’s doorbell. Then, a second doorbell begins to repeatedly chime, and eventually voices calling Hill “cowardly” and “pathetic” for choosing to run for the Ward 1 seat and not answering his door when confronted to talk about the race.

The audio released so far totals at least 20 minutes, with activity coming in waves — knocks, doorbells and then voices, accusing Hill of “ducking calls” and prodding Hill to face them regarding his decision to run. The audio includes obscenities calling Hill “chickenshit.”

Hill is running against Safiya Khalid, who if elected, would become the first Somali-American to be elected to the Lewiston City Council.

Hill says the voices belong to Lewiston Democratic Committee Chairman Kiernan Majerus-Collins and Treasurer Owen Cardwell-Copenhefer, who are also candidates for the Lewiston School Committee.

When reached at his room at a Lewiston rehabilitation hospital Friday, Hill said the audio is authentic, and that he feared for his life during the alleged incident. Hill has been between surgeries for a few months, and he said he was recuperating at home and was asleep when the encounter began.

He said his cellphone was charging in another room, so he picked up another phone he uses for gaming and began recording.

“You got a right to run for any office you want to, but if you think it’s going to help you to hide, if you think it’s going to be helpful to not talk to me, you have no idea what’s coming,” Majerus-Collins allegedly says.

Majerus-Collins would not confirm Friday whether it is his voice in the videos, stating he has not watched them. He called the series of videos “a last-minute smear campaign” by Republicans frequently involved in Lewiston politics.

“The videos are being put out because there are people in Lewiston who don’t want a Somali person on the City Council,” he said. “This isn’t about me, this is about Safiya. She has been the victim of torrents of death threats throughout the entire campaign.”

He said he believes those behind the videos could be “taking advantage of Hill in a weakened state in order to peddle their smear (campaign).”

Majerus-Collins said the name of the YouTube channel created to host the videos, “Lewiston First Media” reminds him of the Lewiston mayoral race in 2017, when anonymous websites like Maine First Media and the Maine Examiner meddled in the race between Ben Chin and Shane Bouchard.

“Why, if this alleged incident is such a huge deal, are we hearing about it two months later?” he said.

Hill, 51, said Friday that he decided to run because he felt it was important that Lewiston voters had “a choice,” not because of Khalid’s ethnicity. The two Democrats have similar stances on issues, he said, but he decided to run because he believes Khalid is too young for the role.

At one point in the audio recording, one voice apparently outside Hill’s door refers to another person as “Owen.”

“Yeah, Owen, the thing is, as soon as you drove away, he stopped pretending to sleep,” the voice says.

When reached by phone Thursday, Cardwell-Copenhefer said, “I have no comment at this time.”

Khalid said Friday that she recently found out about the allegations against her fellow Lewiston party members.

“I made it very, very clear that such behavior is completely unacceptable,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s turned into a negative campaign.”

She said Majerus-Collins is not involved in her campaign, but that Cardwell-Copenhefer has been her treasurer.

Khalid, 23, said she’s been trying to focus on the positive aspects of the campaign, and “hearing from Lewiston people about the issues” they are facing.

“What you might see on social media is completely different from what I’m hearing at the doors,” she said. “I’ve been very pleased with the reception I’m getting. I’ve met the most welcoming people at the doors. That’s what I want to focus on.”

A quick look at Khalid’s campaign Facebook page shows comments like, “She is a Muslim whose aim is to take over the country a piece at a time — anybody who thinks there is any good in any of them is really ignorant;” “That’s why I don’t live in Lewiston anymore;” “They want to run our country;” and, “Probably endorses sharia law, and lies like a rug. Does anyone want to make a bet that somewhere in her past she’s been radicalized?”

Some comments are too graphic and inappropriate to be published.

When asked about the comments on social media, Khalid said, “I don’t have time to worry about what people are saying on social media. If I stay focused on the negative, my energy would be drained.”

Khalid said she’s always had pleasant conversations with Hill.

“I know he’s having health problems. I wish him the fastest recovery,” she said.

Lewiston resident Maura Murphy, who wrote an account of the alleged incident at Hill’s home on the blog site Medium before the videos were released, said she found out about the incident through an “offhand” comment from Hill on social media, and then decided to ask Hill for his account.

When asked, Murphy declined to say who created the YouTube videos, but said the audio is authentic.

Hill said Friday that he didn’t initially want to release the recording, partly because he was ashamed of how it might make him look and partly because he wanted to “protect the party.”

But, after Murphy’s account began circulating, he said people doubted its legitimacy and that he received his own threats. He said he wanted to defend himself.

“People were saying I was racist and that none of this happened,” he said, at the same time he was dealing with major health issues. “I’m fighting for my life up here. I see people threatening my daughter.”

Hill said he takes issue with some of the content in the videos, including photos of some Lewiston Democrats who he said had “nothing to do” with the harassment.

He said he spoke to a Lewiston police officer Friday, with hopes that police will open an investigation into the August incident.

Majerus-Collins claimed that between the alleged incident and when the videos were released, he’s spoken to Hill half a dozen times, and that “it has been nothing but pleasant.” Hill disputes this.

Majerus-Collins said Hill called him in early September to ask him to drop Khalid from the race, but that he declined. Hill also disputes this, and said Majerus-Collins has blocked him from running for other seats in the past.

Editor’s note: Kiernan Majerus-Collins is the son of a Sun Journal employee.


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