In the past few days, Lewiston has made national headlines—including coverage in the Washington Post as well as on Facebook as a trending news story. Unfortunately, however, the news isn’t something we ought to be too proud of.
Our infamous mayor, Robert Macdonald, isn’t new to making national headlines. Back in 2012, Lewiston’s mayor gained widespread attention after making a controversial comment during an interview, telling immigrants coming to America, “You come here, you come and you accept our culture and you leave your culture at the door.”
To top things off, during a clarification, Mayor Macdonald actually made things worse by refusing to apologize for his previous comments and actually inciting more outrage by saying, “If you believe in [Somali culture] so much, why aren’t you over there fighting for it?”
These sorts of blatantly xenophobic remarks cannot be undone by generalized political rhetoric intended to sweep away all of the damage. In an effort to wrap up this debacle in 2012, the mayor stated, “As mayor, I value every person in the city of Lewiston.” These sorts of comments fall flat when these words are not backed by action.
Then on September 24th of this year, Mayor Macdonald wrote a piece for the Twin City Times, a weekly newspaper for Lewiston-Auburn. In the piece, the mayor starts by pointing out how there exists a website with the pension amounts received by anyone who receives this monthly check from the state of Maine. In an attempt to stretch that logic, the mayor called for all taxpayers to know where their money is going. That seems fair enough. People ought to know what departments and which services their tax dollars are funding. Instead, however, Mayor Macdonald is calling for a similar website that would list the “names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual” on welfare.
There are a number of issues with this sort of proposal. First, this is an incredibly targeted attack on one group of individuals, especially given that if the mayor’s motives are truly to expose how tax money is spent, the way to go about that would be to include all forms of governmental spending allocations. Furthermore, this is a disturbingly invasive suggestion. Consider the following thought experiment: is it outrageous to inform the public what percentage of taxpayer money is spent on public health services? Not necessarily. This type of information could lead to greater insight into how to better gain an understanding of the services used by citizens and what the government may want to focus more on. But to seriously suggest, for example, that the names, addresses, and types of illnesses, diseases, and conditions, of all patients on any type of public health service be revealed to the public would be an overt breach of privacy. Trying to drag this private information into the public sphere is, fundamentally unnecessary, and if anything, can actually set the stage for more harm than good.
Finally, Mayor Macdonald’s notion of “outing” welfare recipients is a targeted attack, one that will only add to the stigmatization of those individuals receiving any form of welfare benefits for any given number of reasons.
Call it what he may, this political tactic reeks of classism sprinkled with hints of xenophobia and topped off with arrogance.
After his inflammatory remarks in 2012, a petition was circulated calling for the resignation of Mayor Macdonald; however, Lewiston’s city charter does not have measures in place for the recalling of a mayor. However, the mayor is up for reelection this upcoming November. And with the upcoming election there exists a sliver of hope, an opportunity for change. This change requires votes to progress the place we call home towards being represented by someone who isn’t going to shame people for their culture or for their socioeconomic status.