Lewiston, Maine mayor under fire for comment

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September 26, 2012, 6:20 pm
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(NECN: Amy Sinclair) - Historically a city of French Canadian immigrants, Lewiston, Maine is now also home to some 6,000 Somalis, including shop owner and father of five Mohamed Heban, who moved to Lewiston in 2002.

But in a recent BBC documentary, Lewiston's mayor, Boston native Bob Macdonald, sounded less than welcoming.

"When you come here, you accept our culture and leave your culture at the door," he said in the documentary.

Mayor Macdonald's comments were brought to light by the non profit Maine Global Institute.

"The purpose was simply to show it and get some response because people felt that it needed to be shown," said Ralph Carmona, the executive director of the Maine Global Institute.

In his office on Wednesday, the mayor stood by his comments, saying while he welcomes all newcomers, the Somalis have been slow to assimilate.

"If you want to come in here and you want to celebrate your holidays, I don't care, I don't care," said MacDonald, "Just don't try to insert your culture, which obviously isn't working, into ours, which does."

This isn't the first time City Hall has weighed in on the influx of refugees. Back in 2002, then-Mayor Laurier Raymond asked Somalis to stop relocating to Lewiston because he said there was too much pressure on the city's social services.

While in the minority, that sentiment can still be found on the city's streets.

"They've never paid in at all," said a man who only wished to be identified as Scooter. "We give them everything, it ain't right."

Heban says despite the mayor's comments, he does feel welcome in his adopted city.

"America is a collection of different cultures, that's why they call it the United States of America," said Heban.

Hoping to continue the conversation, the Maine Global Institute has asked the mayor for a meeting, but Macdonald is not interested.

"If you think I'm an extremist, then I consider you the enemy, not the Somalis, but that group," said Macdonald.

But now that the subject is back in play, the conversation about the changing face of Maine is likely to continue with or without him.

Tags: maine, Lewiston, Amy Sinclair, Bob Macdonald, Mohamed Heban, Somali refugees, assimiliation, multicultural, Maine Global Institute
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