By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
It takes vision to create a desirable city—vision in the form of young entrepreneurs: young entrepreneurs who have a dream, drive and a can-do attitude; entrepreneurs who can successfully navigate all obstacles before them. To the women and men that subscribe to this world, “quitting is not an option.”
You also need well-versed, seasoned business people—business people who have knowledge and understand the workings of commerce, business, industry, banking, local, state and federal government operations; business people who know how to get things done; business people whose advice and counsel will almost surely guarantee success.
Then you have the city fathers and mothers (aka politicians): city councilors and town selectmen working with their city/town administration to oversee and guarantee that their communities run smoothly and to the satisfaction of those living there. Their efforts determine the livability of their domain. Will they create an atmosphere that will attract residents and businesses—or keep them away?
Prior to being sworn in as Lewiston’s mayor, I met with Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonté to formulate a plan that would address the future of both cities, overcoming the barriers preventing growth and expansion of our Sister Cities—barriers such as two toll barriers and a toll-free highway running parallel to the Turnpike, helping to isolate us from the rest of Maine. Unlike Southern Maine, we have no public transportation connecting us to cities to our north and south. We also have a reputation as a welfare kingdom and a crime center.
Mayor LaBonté’s signature project was to create daily and affordable bus service from L-A to Portland (and possibly Augusta). He pursued this quest and obtained a resolution from the Portland City Council, which bought into the idea. Then, in one brief conversation, the deal went south.
He informed Portland Mayor Michael Brennan that the bus service would be used to transport many of our less-desirable residents to Portland (an idea that sounded good to me) and bring Portland’s young professionals to L-A hoping to get them to relocate here (again a great idea). This left Mayor Brennan furious and vowing that the bus service would never happen. Mayor LaBonté failed to learn from his elders: loose lips sink ships.
You may not realize this, but my signature issue is welfare, particularly welfare fraud. On Monday April 15, the Sun Journal printed a column critical of my views and methods of dealing with welfare criminals, which was written by Charles F. Dingman, president of the Board of Directors of Maine Equal Justice Partners. The group defends what they refer to as “the poor” and what the rest of us sometimes refer to as criminals and layabouts.
Mayor LaBonté commented on Facebook that he concurred with Dingman’s column writing, “Let’s focus our energies on supporting Mainers getting out of poverty and not stigmatizing them.” Yes, calling those who steal public funds “thieves” stigmatizes them the same way it does calling a terrorist a “terrorist.”
Without turning a blind eye to fraud and laziness and without guaranteeing $35,000 in cash and benefits, perhaps they could enlighten us to how they would get these folks off the dole and make them productive.
This is a pressing problem in Auburn. Several weeks ago, the city had to pump thousands of dollars into its welfare department to keep it afloat after its budget was exhausted. I think now would be a good time to detail how to get Auburn’s poor out of poverty and end its stigmatizing effects once and for all.
The Lewiston City Council, school committee, city administration and the mayor want to work with our counterparts in Auburn to create a community second to none in Maine. This will not be achieved through headlines, individualism or stealthily injecting oneself in others affairs. It will be done through cooperation and working together for the betterment of both cities.