By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
If recent events have not demonstrated how important it is for the people of Lewiston-Auburn to fight for themselves, I don’t know what will.
You don’t have to be a casino proponent to see what the Sun-Journal referred to as the “hypocrisy and parochialism of the campaign,” as evident in the editorial positions of Maine’s other major newspapers, which endorsed casinos in Biddeford and Washington County, but not Lewiston.
This is a time when I sincerely wish that even would-be casino opponents could join with us in support of L-A. Ten years from now, when Bangor is the second-largest city in Maine, with Lewiston having dropped to third, and Oxford raking in millions of dollars in revenues for a little town, you are going to ask yourselves what on earth you were thinking. Let us not squander this opportunity in the same way that we have squandered so many others.
Lewiston-Auburn is, and always has been, a tough place to live. Obviously, many thousands have left since Lewiston’s population peaked in 1970. If you think about it, we have had some pretty bad breaks here.
In 1920, there were more manufacturing jobs in Androscoggin County than in Cumberland, even though Cumberland had nearly twice the population. The mill industry was great while it lasted. But when it left town, it left behind more empty buildings in Lewiston than anywhere else in the state.
Then the malls popped up, and they hurt downtowns everywhere. But it was Lisbon Street that went from being the busiest retail district in the state to a ghost downtown. We endured years of shuttered storefronts.
Those are two extremely significant, worst-in-the-state setbacks. We are still recovering from them.
But it doesn’t end there. The state’s transportation system has been a disaster for Lewiston. Nothing could encourage growth like the position of a major highway. We struggle here with one turnpike exit each for Lewiston and Auburn, while Portland has 10 highway exits and Bangor has eight.
The state is now extending passenger rail to Brunswick instead of to L-A, the second largest population in the state.
My point here is not to paint a bleak picture, but to talk about how things came to be this way. It’s important to understand some of the causes because it’s just too easy, after a while, to simply say, “Well, that’s Lewiston for you.” In fact, some of the names Lewiston is called I cannot even repeat in this paper.
The worst thing of all is when we call ourselves these names. We have an obligation to ourselves, our dignity and our children to hold our own community in high regard and to love it.
When the Portland Press Herald describes the Lewiston casino project as “utterly incongruous,” what they are saying is, “Who the hell would ever want to put a casino there?” Do you get that? I hope so.
That is nothing other than a nasty, mean-spirited insult, and you shouldn’t need to be a casino-goer to resent it. They aren’t insulting casinos; they are insulting us.
It needs to stop. We have made great strides in Downtown Lewiston, thanks primarily to local businesspeople and local developers. We can boast some excellent restaurants in our downtown, as well as over $50 million put into the redevelopment of Bates Mill so far.
Today, we have an opportunity that could really make a difference for L-A—it could be a catalyst for further development. The casino project would not only address the issue of what to do with Mill No. 5, but it would also tip the balance and make viable additional development at Island Point, Lincoln and Lisbon Streets. In other words, the entire planned Riverfront Island area. It is a solution well suited to those problems.
But the major newspapers of Portland, Bangor, Augusta and Waterville all say “No.” Who do they think they are? Their reasoning ought to be enough to make your blood boil. The Bangor Daily News says that the Lewiston casino is “one too many.” Is that some kind of a joke? They say, go ahead and vote for Biddeford and Washington County—which means not one, but two more casinos—but don’t vote for Lewiston because that’s too many! Four are okay; five are not? They are being disingenuous.
But it’s the Portland Press Herald that really tops them all. They wrote that “the activity that once characterized downtown Lewiston has not been restored. Nor will it be, not ever.”
Not ever, they say. With two words, they write off an entire city—permanently. That, in my mind, is not only blasphemous, it is a crime. And no paper should have that kind of power, whether real or imagined.
It really is up to us, though, to send them and everyone else a message. If you want people to respect you, then you have to respect yourself. And what is true of the individual is also true of a community. We, as a community, need to speak as loudly as we can on November 8.
I encourage everyone in Androscoggin County to vote “yes” on Question 3. Don’t let a bunch of self-serving hypocrites tell us what we can do in our own community.
We most definitely can have a downtown as vibrant as it ever was. But it takes effort, and it will be a community effort. So if you want the economic activity this project can bring, then you have to vote “Yes” on Question 3!
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.