September 27, 2012

Lewiston mayor's Somali comments criticized

The Associated Press

LEWISTON — Lewiston's mayor is drawing criticism for remarks he made in a radio interview about Somali refugees in his city.

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Mayor Robert MacDonald

Photo courtesy of city of Lewiston

Robert MacDonald told the British Broadcasting Corp. this month that immigrants are costing the city a lot of money and that they should "accept our culture and leave your culture at the door." The BBC's segment focused on the resettlement of nearly 6,000 Somalis to Lewiston over the past decade.

Those comments are disturbing and divisive, said Houda Daud, a 23-year-old who was among the first Somalis to arrive in Lewiston a dozen years ago. She told Maine Public Broadcasting Network that the Lewiston community has been welcoming — except for the mayor.

"If he's the mayor and he's representing us as a community, he needs to represent us as a community. He cannot divide us," she said. "We've been here for long. We feel like we belong here. We work hard, pay taxes as anybody that lives in Maine, so being pushed aside is not OK."

Mohammad Muktar said religion is a big part of people's culture, and no one should ever ask someone to leave their religion at the door.

"So if I tell you right now to leave your religion, I don't think you're going to accept, you know," he said.

MacDonald said he has a good rapport with the Somali community and that his comments were being overblown.

"I don't care if you're European, Asian, South American, Australian, whatever, OK?" he said. "We have a unique culture in this United States and we have prospered by it. We don't need people coming in here tinkering with it."

MacDonald's comments rekindled memories of a decade ago when then-Mayor Larry Raymond wrote a letter asking Somali leaders to discourage friends and family from relocating to Lewiston, saying the city's resources were "maxed-out".

The subsequent uproar from the letter spurred 4,000-person rally at Bates College urging Mainers to embrace the new wave of immigrants. A small number of white supremacists who called for the expulsion of the Somalis gathered elsewhere in the city at the same time to express their views.

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