The Coastal Packet: Lewiston mayoral election gets some national attention

Tuesday, December 8

Lewiston mayoral election gets some national attention

According to the New York Times, the number of refugees has nearly doubled in [Lewiston, ME,] a working-class city of 36,000.

Demographically speaking, Maine is the least ethnically diverse state in the U.S. It is 95 percent Caucasian, 1.4 percent Black, and 1.2 percent Asian. It is considered a battleground state, as it voted twice for Obama yet also twice elected a Tea Party governor, Paul LePage... What tourists mostly see is the blue version of the state, because the Maine vote splits along the old rural/urban divide. ... Basically, the state gets more Republican the further north you go...

Give that the entire population of the state (1.3 million) is smaller than that of the borough of Manhattan (1.6 million), why should anyone care about a runoff mayoral election between Democrat Ben Chin and Republican incumbent Robert MacDonald in Lewiston next week? As Maine goes, so goes the nation, the old chestnut states... The steady influx of students and Somalis into white working-class Lewiston has turned it into a window into America’s soul writ small...

Somalis stand out against the frozen landscape. It’s because the refugees come from a climate so pointedly unlike Maine that their attraction to the city seems a puzzler... "Many Somalis,” explained a thorough report in Mother Jones, “who are Muslim and tend to have traditional, tight-knit families, found American urban life too violent, too drug-ridden, too infused with consumer culture.” They left those locations in favor of Lewiston, which they chose for its low crime rates, small town values, and affordable housing. Somalis came to Maine because it’s culturally conservative and resistant to social change. Lewiston now has a resident population of over 3,000 Somalis, and a mosque.

... The two men now in a run-off for mayor of Lewiston perfectly encapsulate opposing political responses to issues forcing this country into a collective existential crisis. But in Maine, Somalis aren’t philosophical abstractions. They’re next-door neighbors.

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