February 20, 2018
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Rights group suggests using Lewiston mayor’s remarks as an opportunity for learning

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Mayor Robert MacDonald of Lewiston needs to recognize that his constituents include people of many backgrounds, religions and cultures, and there are encouraging signs that he may be open to that.

This was the message of the Holocaust & Human Rights Center of Maine, in the wake of several remarks made by the embattled mayor of Lewiston in recent weeks critical of the Somali community in his city, and the calling of some groups for his resignation in response.

Rabbi Hillel Katzir, director of the Center’s Hate Crimes Response Project, had severe criticism for the mayor’s remarks that began this exchange. “Mayor MacDonald appears to have forgotten some basics of American history,” suggested Rabbi Katzir. “The vast majority of people in this country, this state, and the city of Lewiston, are people whose ancestors were at one time in exactly the same position as the mayor’s Somali-born constituents are today: coming here to seek a better life, finding and accepting elements of the existing American culture, while enriching that culture with elements of its own culture. I’m sure that must be true of the mayor’s ancestors, as well.”

Rabbi Katzir said that he understands the call of some groups for Mayor MacDonald to resign as a way of getting past the mayor’s remarks in order to improve life for all in the city of Lewiston. But since that is unlikely to happen, and since there is no provision for voters to recall the mayor, the next best thing for moving on constructively may be to use this disagreement over culture as a learning moment.

“At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor MacDonald announced his willingness to sit down with members of the Somali community in Lewiston that he has been criticizing, and listen to their point of view, no matter how long it takes,” Katzir noted. “This is encouraging. I hope it is taken at face value, and that the mayor’s critics take him up on the offer. We all need to learn more about each other, about our respective cultures. Whenever we do, we always improve things for everyone.”