By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
I am appalled that I feel compelled to write this week’s column on civic pride. Lewiston is a city on the move. But many residents, especially those in their 20s and 30s, have come to expect instant gratification.
Creating a desirable city is not like popping a piece of dark chocolate into your mouth. It takes hours, days, weeks and years to design and implement a city that is not only livable, but also a destination.
It’s time for area residents that have a stake in our community to become ambassadors and start talking up what a great place Lewiston is becoming. We are being given an opportunity to productively grow. The costs of homes and a renaissance of quality apartments in our downtown area have made us a desirable destination.
In 1977, I was part of the great Massachusetts diaspora. The trust-fund crowd had taken over the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Although they had never spoken or shook the hand of a single member of the great unwashed, they felt comfortable that discussions in classrooms, academic exchanges and frequent banter at cocktail parties had given them sufficient knowledge to realistically address their problems.
Once people who possessed no concept of money started setting policies, it was time to flee.
Arriving in Lewiston I found a depressed mill city populated with hardworking industrious people. Rain, snow, heat or cold meant nothing to these hardy souls who were seldom absent or late to work. Honest people doing an honest week’s work.
When the weekend arrived, the hardworking population would descend on the bars and clubs of lower Lisbon Street for stress release. Weekends on the strip brought the usual drinking, fighting and language so foul it would make a French sailor blush. Unfortunately, with this understandable activity an urban legend grew that equated lower Lisbon Street with Boston’s Combat Zone.
Although financially poor, the community was rich in pride. Renting an apartment was not an excuse to let your neighborhood fall into disrepair. Pride kept the neighborhood vibrant. People knew that poverty was not an excuse for living in filth.
The advent of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s brought Santa Claus cloaked as a federal government employee who dangled federal dollars in front of Lewiston politicians, setting the stage for 30 years of downward spiraling. Not only did property dilapidate, but the money also acted like an opiate, taking Lewiston’s character and soul.
Lewiston always seems to suffer the negative slings and arrows that usually originate in Southern Maine. We are made fun of because many Lewistonians of the past did not receive a formal education. Maybe so, but they produced shoes, blankets and uniforms for the military, high-quality shoes and clothing for both the rich and poor, as well as a bedspread that even today is legendary the world over.
It is time to start accentuating Lewiston’s positives with friends and outsiders. I believe you’ll find they far outweigh any negatives.
Finally, let us turn to the latest TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) numbers. To refresh the memory of this column’s readers, those receiving TANF benefits were removed from the rolls upon reaching their five-year limit.
However because the Legislature failed to act, TANF clients were allowed to apply for General Assistance from their community, shifting the burden from the state to the local level.
To date, we have had 68 former TANF families consisting of 333 people apply for local benefits. Since June, a combined total of $8,765 has been given to the 23 families that have thus far qualified.
Remember in November.