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Lewiston Mayoral Campaign Rallys Ahead of Run-off

Ben Chin unity rally in Lewiston, Maine.
MPBN/Patty Wight

The runoff election in the hotly contested Lewiston mayoral race is next Tuesday. Democrat Ben Chin will face off against incumbent Republican mayor Robert Macdonald.

The winner will take the helm of a city council that ushered in progressive candidates in November's election and remains almost evenly divided politically. Some voters say the future path of Maine's second largest city - a city in search of a renaissance - is at stake in the election.

Ben Chin secured the most votes in November's five-way election, but he was still six points shy of the necessary 50% needed to win. To claim ultimate victory this time around, a diverse group of supporters held what they called a unity rally in Lewiston on Thursday to offer rapid-fire endorsements. There was teacher Brian Banton.

"I'm a member of the Lewiston Education Association, and I'm proud to say teachers are united for Lewiston and support Ben Chin for mayor," says Banton.

There was Richard Grandmaison of the Western Maine Labor Council, "workers are supporting Ben because he has a track record of getting things done for working people. He has fought for a state budget that works for everyone- not just the wealthy few."

There were students, like Meg Lynch from Bates College, "Ben has allowed Bates students to see that they can and should care about the future of our city."

Also among the crowd were senior citizens, new Mainers, members of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, and Franco-American Denny Breau, "Franco -Americans did a great deal of work to build Lewiston, but we suffered discrimination when we first immigrated here."

Chin - who was born in the US, but has Chinese heritage - was himself the target of controversial signs - posted by a local landlord in October - that said, Don't Elect Ho Chi Chin. And last month, Republican state lawmaker Lawrence Lockman posted on Facebook that Chin was "an anti-Christian bigot" who "hates America, hates Americans, and hates Christians." In the rally, Chin seized on those attacks to create a campaign message, "division and politics based in it is our great enemy."

Chin says Lewiston voters have two paths to choose: to either remain a weak, divided city, or to unite and make big changes - by improving city housing and attracting businesses.

"I think there are a lot of folks who see a young person and think that maybe someone with new ideas and new energy could actually help shake things up a little bit and actually do things the old guard hasn't been able to accomplish so far," says Chin.

Chin has been able to raise an unusually large amount of money for a local Maine election, $87,000 since he kicked off his campaign last March. Incumbent mayor Robert Macdonald has raised less than $6,000. And unlike Chin, MacDonald has no formal spokesperson or campaign website. Still - in November's f

ive-way election, MacDonald trailed Chin by less than 600 votes. And some say MacDonald is focused on what really matters to constituents.

"Hi I'm Steve Morgan, former mayor candidate or the city of Lewiston," says Morgan, he was the third runner up in the mayoral race.

He says there was one issue he consistently heard about while campaigning. "Probably seven out of ten people that I knocked on the door on wanted to talk to me about welfare," Morgan says.

Lewiston has a higher-than-average rate of poverty according to the US Census Bureau: 23%, compared to the statewide average of 14%. Welfare has been a primary focus of MacDonald in his two terms as mayor. Most recently he made national headlines when he suggested that Maine should create an online registry of welfare recipients. Macdonald did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, but in an October interview with MPBN, Macdonald said Chin - who is the political engagement director for the Maine People's Alliance - doesn't represent the interests of most Lewiston voters.

"The biggest reason I'm running is that for four years, he has killed all the welfare legislation that we have put in," Macdonald said in October.

Steve Morgan calls Chin bright and well-spoken, but he's throwing his support behind Macdonald.

"I got 1276 votes, and if those votes were all shifted to Macdonald, which would be my hope," Morgan says.

If that happens, then that's potentially enough to push Macdonald over the edge to victory. But there are still a few days before the election, and Chin says he plans a sprint to the finish.

Disclosure: Ben Chin is married to Nicola Chin, who serves on MPBN's Board of Trustees.