These are the remarks delivered on January 3 by Lewiston City Council President Mark Cayer at the inauguration of the mayor, city council and school committee.
By Mark Cayer
City Council President
Congratulations, Mayor Macdonald and members of the 2012-13 Lewiston City Council and School Committee. You have stepped forward to give of your time and abilities to enhance your community, and I’m confident that the next two years will be both personally and professionally rewarding. I look forward to serving with you, and I am particularly enthusiastic about the diversity we each bring and what that diversity will enable us to accomplish together.
Although excited about this new chapter in Lewiston’s history, I would be remiss if I did not note that I will miss working with Mayor Gilbert and those members of the prior council who will not be returning. I’m proud of the work we’ve done together and have enjoyed the spirit of teamwork that existed among us.
Thank you to Mayor Gilbert for serving the residents of Lewiston for five years; Councilors Renee Bernier and Ron Jean, who both served 10 years; and Councilors Larry Poulin and Tina O’Connell, who served four years.
Thanks also to past Council President Steve Morgan for his leadership and sense of humor during his two-year term. Each of these individuals also served on numerous boards and committees both before and during their terms of office. Their dedicated service is appreciated.
I also want to thank Lewiston employees for the excellent work they do each day. Administration and the entire management team were especially helpful to us as elected officials by providing the information we needed to make effective decisions. During budget season, department heads were again very responsive and went “above and beyond” as we worked to keep the municipal budget in check. I’m proud to be associated with each of them and pleased that our efforts have been recognized statewide.
Everyone here tonight knows that our nation has faced challenging economic times over the last few years. The City of Lewiston has not been spared. Within the last two years alone, Lewiston has faced state revenue sharing cuts exceeding $3 million. The state has repeatedly failed to meet its own mandate of providing 55% funding for local education. Unfunded national and state mandates continue to drive costs higher for local tax and utility ratepayers—with no relief in sight.
Some communities around the nation have responded to hard times by considering bankruptcy, raising taxes to levels never seen before and eliminating core services. In many places, economic development and growth have come to a standstill.
Not in Lewiston. In Lewiston, we have seen slow but steady growth in new taxable properties, new businesses opening, and small and large businesses continuing to grow. Today, jobs in Lewiston have returned to near pre-recession levels. In the past two years, we’ve witnessed the creation of well over 400 net new jobs in Lewiston!
Why? Why is Lewiston experiencing positive growth? I believe it is due to the resilience of this community. The people of Lewiston have what it takes to create success. We have built upon our strong heritage, embraced new ideas and been fortunate to have local investors who want to further develop this community.
When discussing revenue sharing cuts with Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau early in my first term, he stated, “This will be difficult for the city, but the sky is not falling. We will get through this.” Phil then reminded me of the many positives that exist within this city. Phil may not realize it, but that simple and brief conversation changed how I viewed my role as a policy maker for the City of Lewiston.
We cannot ignore the likelihood that the city may face several more years of difficult economic times; however, we must respond to hard times by recognizing the challenges we face and working toward solutions. As Council President, I will not be a naysayer; I will not allow hard times and difficulties to overwhelm me. I hope you’ll join me in rising to and overcoming our challenges.
I also challenge all of us to become ambassadors for what the City of Lewiston represents and what we have to offer. As ambassadors, there are many things about our community that we can highlight. I will mention some of them this evening; however, time does not permit recognition of all that Lewiston has to be proud of.
We can shine a bright light on our outstanding medical facilities: Central Maine Medical Center and St. Mary’s Health System. Both have made substantial investments in our community and provide health care second to none. They are the Number 1 and 2 largest employers within Lewiston and give back to the community in countless ways. It’s also important to note that health care is the single largest sector of Lewiston’s job base and represents 25% of our local jobs.
We can spotlight the businesses that have located on Lisbon Street— Niky’s Greek Restaurant being one of the newest. Forage—a café, market, and bakery—will soon be opening as well. Other businesses and organizations on Lisbon Street include Fuel, Marche, J. Dostie Jewelers, The Vault, Paul’s Clothing & Shoe Store, LA Magazine, LA Arts, Mother India, and Three One Café—the list goes on.
Lisbon Street is also home to many professional offices and legal firms. It is indeed being rejuvenated, one storefront at a time. Upon observing new life on Lisbon Street, I have also located my business there. Events like the LA Film Festival and Art Walk Lewiston Auburn have also brought Lisbon Street into the limelight. With such renewed energy, it’s exciting to think of what might be next.
The quest for knowledge is also alive and well. Bates College, USM Lewiston-Auburn College, Central Maine Medical Center College of Nursing & Health Professions, and Kaplan University, as well as Auburn’s Central Maine Community College and the New England School of Metalwork, keep bright the light of learning and help define Lewiston and our region as a place where education is part of our very fabric.
Bates, as one example, has a worldwide reputation for the quality of its liberal arts offerings, provides substantial employment, and brings in students who contribute thousands of hours in volunteer service.
Our arts and cultural scene also deserves a share of the stage lights. In addition to LA Arts, we are fortunate to have in our midst the Olin Arts Center, Schaeffer Theatre, Gallery 5, Captive Elements Art, The Public Theatre and Great Falls Forums at the Lewiston Public Library. These organizations and venues truly provide a comprehensive mix of opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
I would also like to highlight the work of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. Working through its Regional Image Committee, The Chamber has become the premier advocate for our region. We are also fortunate to have the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, which exemplifies what our two communities can do together to promote continued growth and development in the Twin Cities.
During my tenure, I look forward to working with our neighbor, the City of Auburn, to seek additional ways in which the Twin Cities can find cost savings and strive to establish and achieve similar and shared goals. I strongly believe that Lewiston and Auburn have—and should retain—their own identities. But sometimes it just makes sense to work together toward a common vision, objective or just simply for a joint purchase.
As a member of the City Council, I will work to build upon our strengths, and I ask you to do the same. If we believe in the City of Lewiston, we must join our voices to advocate that Lewiston is the place to find success; build a family; and enjoy outstanding arts, cultural and recreational opportunities. It’s time for Lewiston to take center stage and let our light shine throughout Maine and the nation.
In closing, I mentioned earlier that I was excited about the diverse make-up of the new City Council. Diversity is a powerful word that all too often is only associated with race, gender or sexual orientation. Diversity, however, extends far beyond that.
For any group to be successful, its members must embrace diversity as a great attribute and key strength. Diverse ideas, viewpoints and actions bring new life to any initiative or undertaking. Diversity counteracts stagnation. It challenges unexamined assumptions. It shines a light on new pathways. It opens doors to change.
Diversity can also be challenging to those set in their ways. However, it is my hope that the Lewiston City Council and our community as a whole will continue to embrace diversity.
The Great Seal of the United States includes the phrase “Out of Many, One.” Just as the diversity in our country has contributed to our greatness as a nation, may the diversity of those on stage tonight lead to future success as we serve this community.