October 5, 2012

Bill Nemitz: Mayor should reconsider where 'trouble always starts'

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com

Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald needs to get out more. Starting with a short trip south to Maine's largest municipality.

click image to enlarge

Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald speaks at a City Council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 in an attempt to clarify comments he made about the city's Somali immigrants.

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Tune in to NewsRadio 560 WGAN at 8:08 a.m. today to hear columnist Bill Nemitz talk about this column and other issues.

Macdonald, in case you haven't heard, has created a bit of a mess for himself up in the city by the Androscoggin.

First, resurrecting a local tradition started 10 years ago by his predecessor Laurier Raymond, Hizzoner Macdonald insulted Lewiston's sizable Somali population for no apparent reason.

Then, rather than tamp down the ensuing controversy with a heartfelt mea culpa, he threw more fuel on it.

And finally, at a Lewiston City Council meeting Tuesday evening, Macdonald topped it all off with a question that, at least in his world, gets right to the heart of the problem.

"Why," he asked the crowd in the packed council chamber, "does the trouble always start down in Portland?"

Umm ... come again?

Let's recap:

Back in June, a crew from the British Broadcasting Corp. interviewed Macdonald for a documentary on the impact of immigration on the United States.

Clearly, the BBC chose Lewiston because it attracted worldwide attention in 2002, when Mayor Raymond wrote a letter to the city's growing Somali community asking that they "exercise some discipline" and stop moving to Lewiston.

In the BBC documentary, which aired on Sept. 11, Macdonald stopped short of demanding that the Somalis simply go elsewhere. Rather, he said, those who do touch down in his fair city need to "accept our culture and you leave your culture at the door."

The mayor's unannounced trip to xenophobia might have gone unnoticed if not for the Maine Global Institute, which showed the documentary on Sept. 22 at the University of Southern Maine in (you guessed it) Portland. That gathering was organized by the institute's founder, Ralph Carmona, who lives (where else?) in Portland.

Naturally, more than a few people who attended the event at USM were upset that Lewiston's Somalis, who have done quite well since the last controversy died down, were once again taking it on the chin from their own mayor.

Enter WGME-TV, which asked Macdonald on Sept. 24 for his reaction to those who loudly complained that he was out of line. The mayor, apparently unaware until then that the BBC had mastered transoceanic transmission, responded by invoking his role model for all things controversial.

"As Gov. Paul Lepage has noted, you get into a (p___ing) fight with a skunk, you both come out smelling bad," Macdonald said a written statement to the TV station.

"That's all he said," WGME anchor Adrienne Stein reported that evening. "Mayor Macdonald has not responded to our request tonight for an interview to clarify what he meant by the comment."

Last week, the station finally caught up with Macdonald and, well, let's go to the tape:

"If you believe in (Somali culture) so much, why aren't you over there fighting for it?" he snarled. "If you believe in it so much, why aren't you over there shedding blood to get it? Why are you here shirking your duties?"

He continued, "These people that are yelling about I'm insensitive to their culture -- well if it's so great, why aren't they back in Somalia? Why are they here?"

Little wonder that by this week, the Maine People's Alliance and other groups were clamoring for Macdonald to resign. Which, at this week's City Council meeting, he most definitely did not.

First, like all these guys who crave the taste of their own shoe leather, he lamely blamed the media for taking his remarks "out of context."

Macdonald insisted that his crack about "shirking your duties" by not going back and "shedding blood" in war-torn Somalia wasn't aimed at Lewiston's 6,000 Somali residents.

(Continued on page 2)

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