Lewiston mayoral candidates spar on immigrants, housing in radio interview

The two likely top-tier candidates in Lewiston’s polarizing mayoral race faced off on a city radio station on Wednesday, just ahead of a debate next week.

The race between conservative Mayor Robert Macdonald and liberal activist Ben Chin figures to be one of Maine’s top political races in November. Three other candidates, Luke Jensen, Stephen Morgan and Charles Soule, are also on the ballot.

So far, Chin has set the race on fire, raising nearly $34,000 for his campaign through June 30. Macdonald made national headlines last week when he called for a statewide, online registry of welfare recipients, a proposal that failed to get a legislative sponsor for the upcoming session.

The Sun Journal is hosting a debate with all hopefuls on Oct. 5, but their differences shone through in a joint interview on WEZR, where Chin and Macdonald were asked questions about economic development, immigrants and housing policy.

Most notably, Chin outlined a plan for a city-level “Office of New Americans” that would “make sure that people are learning English, entering the workforce and becoming citizens,” which Macdonald disagreed with. He said “everybody should be treated equal” and that when you treat groups of people differently, “it creates a lot of dissension and bad feelings.”

They also diverged on housing. Chin wants to build 100 resident-owned apartment units in the city’s downtown, saying Lewiston’s market is run by “corporate slumlords.” Macdonald seemed to disagree, saying he’s “more capitalistic.” Earlier, he said the city has demolished many blighted buildings on his watch and touted his role in helping Argo Marketing set up a call center in a formerly boarded-up Lisbon Street building.

They agreed on some economic development issues, including bringing rail service to Lewiston and getting the Maine Turnpike to remove toll plazas around the city, which is somewhat isolated and not accessible by the free Interstate 295, which links Portland, Augusta and Bangor.

The race should be pretty tantalizing. Macdonald is a retired police detective, while Chin works for the liberal Maine People’s Alliance, which the mayor has called “the enemy of Lewiston.”

It’s a pretty clear battle over what type of city Lewiston is going to be. The debate and campaign will illuminate the hopefuls’ differences even more.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.