By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
I came to Lewiston 37 years ago. At that time, the major area employers—the mills—were shutting down and moving south. At the same time, the benevolent federal government partnered with developers, dotting Lewiston’s landscape with housing for the least (the elderly and disabled) and the lazy amongst us.
Centrally located with easy access to I-95, Lewiston had the potential of becoming a lucrative hub for the trucking industry. This would have substantially increased our excise revenues. But this never materialized.
Instead, we elected to become a poor, struggling service center community. To celebrate this achievement, an opulent fortress was erected on Main Street to house the Department of Health and Human Services.
Today, we have the energy to move our area forward. A multitude of small, diverse businesses continue setting up shop in our area. Passenger train service is being worked on. Our city administration and staff are working with local landlords to stabilize, upgrade and increase our housing stock.
Money is being invested into parks, the river, trails and bike lanes in order to improve and grow our area’s fiscal health and livability.
Today in America, we have two visions of the American Dream. The first is the original dream that made us a great country. It encourages people to leave their old life and prejudices behind, come to America, work hard and prosper.
Then we have the new progressive liberal Democratic dream, which assures you that your wants will be met by the government and paid for starting with middle-class taxpayers and progressing upward. After all, it is not necessary for you to prosper in order to meet your basic needs.
On top of this, we have become a lawless nation. Lawmakers fail to uphold their oaths of office. We live in a society in which there is no justice for many of its victims. Instead, their misfortunes are twisted to make the perpetrator look like the real victim and society responsible for the thug’s actions. Stories are used by activists to bring tears to your eyes, all to excuse illegal behavior.
When Somali refugees came to Lewiston, I was working as an educational technician at Lewiston Middle School. With a few exceptions, Somali students were polite and had a thirst for learning. They worked hard and excelled in academics. Many had a better command of the English language than those who had been born here.
Since their arrival, they have created new businesses and bought houses and shown their commitment to this community.
During my tenure as mayor, I have met with them on several occasions. The focus of their conversation is always about jobs and living the original American Dream. Within the next five to six years, their children will return from college and assume professional positions in the Lewiston community. Many of these students express the desire to give back to the community for helping them succeed.
Now, however, voices from inside and outside Lewiston’s African community may threaten the progress made over the last 12 years.
Last week, a contentious meeting between myself and self-appointed leaders of the various groups in our African community took place at City Hall. The meeting was to discuss Governor Paul LePage’s efforts to enforce existing federal law, which prohibits giving general assistance to illegal immigrants.
I told them I stood firmly behind the Governor. I further rebuffed their suggestions that I not use the word “illegal,” telling them this accurately described the current situation.
They asked—and I agreed—to seek outside help from charitable organizations if and when the existing law is enforced.
There were threats made by an individual somehow affiliated with the Maine People’s Alliance. He threatened to set up a tent city in Kennedy Park to house those who will be displaced by the cuts. I informed him this would be an unwise move. The police would remove them from the park, and people may be arrested. He retorted that such action would be looked upon as a human rights violation, making a good news story.
The meeting ended when I pointed out that the French, Irish, Italians and other groups came to this country prior to public welfare, and their needs were met by their own. I asked these leaders if their communities would help these displaced individuals or turn their back on them.
They had spent two hours demanding that I secure help for these illegal immigrants. I asked them what help they were going to provide. This was met with silence, then the meeting ended.
I would remind our Somali community this fight does not involve you. You are and continue to be part of the Lewiston community. You stand on the cusp of no longer being looked upon as outsiders. Don’t let misplaced emotions cancel the great progress you have made.