Immigrants say new Lewiston mayor’s apology for election-night comments not enough

Posted Dec. 16, 2011, at 5:02 a.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — Mayor-elect Bob Macdonald apologized to the city Thursday for his election-night comments — but his apology wasn’t enough for some members of the city’s immigrant community.

Abdifatah Ahmed, a local landlord and pharmacist, said Macdonald ought to apologize for his tone throughout the mayoral campaign, not just his election-night comments.

During his campaign, Macdonald said he wanted to make the city less attractive to layabouts and deadbeats, many of whom didn’t speak English.

“Enough is enough,” Ahmed said. “Very few people in our community get assistance, but when we get selected and called names, enough is enough.”

Macdonald must stop such talk and explain himself, to go forward with healing, Ahmed said.

“There was a lot said, and a lot of it was on camera,” Ahmed said. “You said people like me are great. But there are old people and children, and you’ve said to them that you have a problem with their fathers. As the mayor, how can you be a role model to those young children?”

Macdonald said his target was not immigrants but welfare recipients.

“If you are working here, I was not talking about you,” Macdonald said. “I was talking about the people that take money, money, money — and they come in all colors.”

Afterward, Ahmed said he and other members of Lewiston’s immigrant community believe they still deserve a more thorough apology from Macdonald.

“There are many, many people in this community who work, but that gets ignored,” he said. “It seems people would rather believe the stories than the truth. But we can’t let that happen. We can’t go back to the way things were in 2000 and 2001.”

Somali immigrants, refugees from the civil war in Somalia, began arriving in Lewiston 10 years ago.

Macdonald called Thursday’s news conference to announce a surprise for his opponents after he was elected mayor on Tuesday. He beat opponent Mark Paradis, who died unexpectedly last Friday, by 70 votes in a special runoff election.

Macdonald spoke to reporters and television cameras immediately afterward, promising payback for Paradis’ campaign staff. Macdonald accused them of starting rumors and of running a sleazy campaign.

Macdonald backed off of those comments Wednesday, saying he planned to go ahead with his Thursday surprise.

That surprise turned out to be a full apology for his election-night comments. Macdonald said he had spent the entire day Tuesday at the polls and was tired and overly emotional.

“This is Bob Macdonald, happy face,” he said Thursday. “And from now on, until I end my time in office, it will be Bob Macdonald, happy face, the face of Lewiston.”

Macdonald said Lewiston residents must come together to make the city a better place.

“Let’s work together, instead of sniping,” he said. “That doesn’t do any good. We can go back and forth, but that doesn’t help the people of Lewiston.”

He said he considered himself a transitional leader between Lewiston’s senior citizens and up-and-coming young adults.

“What I hope to do is set a foundation and then, when we have that foundation, we let the younger people come in,” Macdonald said. “Let them do what they know has to be done. Their needs are different than ours. ”

He said he wanted to see the city’s riverfront developed and hoped to steal some business from Portland — and possibly Bangor.

“I want to be a destination, but we’re not now — people bypass us,” Macdonald said.

He said he hoped Lewiston professionals would volunteer to help make the city better and he made a pitch for better treatment of veterans.

To see more from the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.

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