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Infighting at the Lewiston Democratic Party spilled into public view this week as audio depicting a bizarre alleged confrontation between party leaders and a Democratic candidate for Lewiston City Council was uploaded to YouTube just days before the city’s municipal election.
The uploads contain audio that Ward 1 city council candidate Walter Hill said he recorded at his house on Aug. 29, while he was recovering from back surgery.
On the audio track, loud knocking, repeated ringing of Hill’s doorbell, and name calling continued off and on for roughly 25 minutes. A voice Hill alleged belongs to Lewiston Democratic Party Chair Kiernan Majerus-Collins called Hill a “coward” and “pathetic” for not coming to the door to explain his decision to run against a fellow Democrat.
Hill is running for the Ward 1 city council seat against Safiya Khalid, who would be the first Somali-American to win such a post. A day after Khalid’s opponent dropped out, and it appeared she would run unopposed, Hill entered the race Aug. 20.
Majerus-Collins said he had not listened to the audio and wouldn’t say whether he was at Hill’s home on the day in question. On Friday, Khalid said she had only recently heard about the incident and that she would never condone the behavior heard in the recording.
In the recording, Majerus-Collins appears to repeatedly demand to know why Hill is running.
“You have no idea what’s coming,” the voice allegedly belonging to Majerus-Collins, who is also running for Lewiston school committee, said at one point.
Hill said that Lewiston Democratic Party Treasurer Owen Cardwell-Copenhefer was with Majerus-Collins. One of the voices refers to the other as “Owen,” in the recording. Cardwell-Copenhefer is the treasurer of Khalid’s campaign.
Reached on Friday, Majerus-Collins said he didn’t know if the recording was “100 percent real or 100 percent false,” adding that he wouldn’t listen to it. But he considered Hill a friend, he said, and had been to his house several times.
“This alleged incident took place two months ago, and we’re just hearing about it now,” Majerus-Collins said. “This is nothing more than a smear job. … It’s dedicated to defeating the first Somali woman to run for city council.”
He added that Khalid, who is the vice chair of the Lewiston Democratic Party, had been receiving death threats. Hill had pledged his support for Khalid, only to “stab her in the back” by running, Majerus-Collins said.
Khalid said she only “recently become aware” of the incident in question. “Of course, I don’t condone such behavior from any of my volunteers,” Khalid said. While Majerus-Collins is a friend, he is “in no way involved in my campaign.”
“But Owen is my treasurer,” Khalid said. “And when this came to my attention, I spoke to him and the parties involved and made it clear that it was unacceptable, if he was involved.”
Asked why the incident emerged days before the election, Hill, a longtime Democratic activist, said he hadn’t raised it earlier because he’s been suffering complications from a series of hip and back surgeries over the last few months.
Hill said he woke up to the knocking and rapid-fire doorbell ringing that can be heard in the audio. On painkillers and unable to get up, Hill said he “just hoped it would end.”
“I was scared and pretty vulnerable,” Hill said. “They just kept needling me … I was trying to pretend I was asleep so they would get the hint.”
Hill said the two men eventually went to different doors and rang both doorbells simultaneously. They also looked in his windows and saw him, according to the audio.
“Is he dead?” the voice Hill said belongs to Cardwell-Copenhefer asked at one point.
“He’s not dead,” the other voice replied. “He turned over and looked at his phone.”
“Hiding in your house. Hiding from phone calls. Hiding from messages. Hiding, hiding, hiding. You don’t want to have a 90 second conversation and say ‘Hey! I’m running for city council?’” Majerus-Collins allegedly said.
Hill, who was alone at the time, couldn’t reach his cell phone, he said, but he did have a non-working phone he used to play games near him, which he used to record the encounter.
Hill, who is a former chair of the Lewiston Democratic Party, eventually gave the audio to Maura Murphy, who, with Beth Matthews, made the videos and uploaded them to YouTube under an account named Lewiston First, she said.
Murphy said she is a Democrat and became interested in the incident after she saw mentions of a confrontation at Hill’s house on social media. She sought him out and interviewed him about the experience, which she turned into a post on the self-publishing platform Medium.