LEWISTON, Maine — There were a few moments Monday night that demonstrated just how much the city’s mayoral candidates differ — Ben Chin and Steve Morgan using the last few seconds of ongoing questions to snipe at each other, for example.
A standing-room-only crowd attended the mayoral debate Monday evening.
“Mr. Chin, if I hear the words ‘corporate slumlord’ one more time, in the paper here or whatnot, I’m going to cringe,” Morgan said midway through the Sun Journal’s forum at the Lewiston Public Library’s Callahan Hall.
“I’d just like to define the term,” Chin said a few minutes later. “These are folks that hide behind 29 different shell companies, and they have dozens of violations at all their properties in the last five years: slumlords. Sorry if you cringed.”
Topics ranged from taxes to welfare to schools to consolidation with Auburn for the five candidates: Chin, Morgan, Mayor Robert Macdonald, Luke Jensen and Charles Soule.
More than 200 people filled Callahan Hall for the debate, taking every available seat and standing in the aisles. Many more stood in the entrance to the hall.
Voters will select a mayor Nov. 3. If a single candidate is unable to get 50 percent of the vote, it will trigger a run-off election between the two who received the most votes.
The winner, and the winners in Lewiston’s City Council and School Committee races, will be sworn into office in January.
At times Monday night, there were agreements. One question from the audience read by moderator Shane Wright of law firm Norman, Hanson & DeTroy asked candidates for a strategy to help immigrants settle in Lewiston.
All agreed it was a tough situation but one worth fixing.
“I just want to point out something I think is remarkable and makes me really proud to be on this stage with all these candidates,” Chin said. “In that question, around creating a diverse integrated immigrant community, there is unanimous opinion that it’s an important, valid thing. That says something about our city and it says that if you are not on that same page, there is no one for you to vote for this year.”
But there was plenty of disagreement, too.
Chin’s strategies revolved around his four-point plan, all paid for by getting more money from the state.
“If I’m there, I’m not going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, picking favorites among programs,” Chin said. “I’m going to be hustling to make sure that the millions of dollars our city is owed is given to us.”
Jensen and Morgan said that was unrealistic.
“It is a fairy tale if you think you are going to get more money from the state,” Jensen said. “You can ask the former and current legislators in this room who worked very hard for Lewiston. What makes you think that you alone will be able to get this money that we are somehow owed, that the state is just going to give it to us?”
Jensen’s economic development efforts involved attracting new, younger families to Lewiston’s rural neighborhoods, putting back three fire department positions cut from last year’s budget and promising to spend more time lobbying for the city at the state Legislature.
Macdonald said his main effort would be to work with state and federal legislators to cut people who can work off welfare, preserving it for the elderly and those who really need it.
“It’s a short-term thing, and it should not be generational,” Macdonald said.
Morgan called for robust development around the Exit 80 Turnpike interchange.
“You have to build the tax base,” Morgan said. “It bothers me when I get up on a Saturday and I have to drive across the bridge to Auburn to go to Home Depot. I think you need to bring businesses into Exit 80, and all you need to do is trigger it.”
Chuck Soule had his own ideas, which included relying on the area’s Franco-American heritage.
“I believe we should be moving into a global economy,” he said. “Why aren’t we tapping our French heritage and building French automobiles here, making wine? Why aren’t we touching our French roots?”
Candidates split over parking and downtown road issues, with Jensen opting for fewer bicycle lanes and more diagonal parking spaces, Chin favoring more informative parking signs and Soule and Morgan calling for better use of the city’s parking garages.
Most agreed a paid trash collection system was a bad idea, with Macdonald urging residents to attend meetings and to be informed about the idea.
“Before we make a judgment on this, listen to what the facts are,” Macdonald said. “People are sitting saying it’s going to raise their taxes. I just ask you, when we have all these get-togethers, attend them and ask your questions there.”