By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
When you were a child, unless your parents were grifters, you were taught that honesty is the best policy. Your parents told you repeatedly that the best way to earn the respect of others was through truthfulness and honesty.
Apparently, this standard does not apply to Governor Paul LePage, at least as far as the press and his political enemies are concerned.
Unless you have been living in a cave or been hospitalized in a coma for the last few years, you know that Maine is broke. After surveying the fire destruction in Downtown Lewiston, Governor LePage announced the state was broke, but he would try and find some money and resources to help us out.
That created a firestorm of criticism against the Governor by the press and LePage’s political enemies, causing Lewiston’s plight to take a backseat to the scourging of the Governor.
Governor LePage did come through. In addition to tremendous help from DHHS, his administration sent work crews of prisoners to clean up the trash, spread throughout 50 vacant lots in the downtown area, that has accumulated over the years. Removing this flammable debris will serve to greatly reduce the fire danger in our downtown community.
This assistance will accelerate the city’s efforts to insure the safety of those living in the area and hopefully allow them a restful night’s sleep.
Fourteen months ago, shortly after taking office, Mayor Jonathan LaBonté and I sat down with representatives from HUD, advising them we had many abandoned and condemned buildings that needed to come down. We told them that our cities had funds set aside to tear down some buildings, but the magnitude of the problem was so severe that our available funding would only make a small dent in our current problem.
The HUD representatives were reminded that these conditions were created by their well-intentioned programs that provided low-income housing for the poor. This housing and a lot of the surrounding area was subsequently made uninhabitable by many of the government-subsidized families living there.
HUD officials were warned during this meeting and several subsequent meetings—the last being April 25—of the potential of a major conflagration in this area. Again, they were asked to help correct the unintentional wrong that they had created in our downtown area. Perhaps four mayors from now, we’ll see some movement.
In the past year-and-a-half the staff at Senator Susan Collins’s office has been instrumental in setting up our meetings with HUD officials. Last week Senator Collins called and assured me that her staff has been in contact with FEMA and HUD attempting to find funds to ease our mounting budget woes.
Over the past year, we have also received assistance from U.S. Representative Michael Michaud’s staff and the staff of former Senator Olympia Snowe in our quest to address the deterioration of our downtown residential areas. But perhaps we have gone about this in the wrong way.
In order to attract the attention of the current administration in Washington, D.C., maybe it’s time to solicit help from some pro athletes or maybe a few movie stars to help get the ball rolling.
During our time of need, we also reached out to our local state delegation, who were able to secure $30,000 in aid. In addition, Governor LePage has given $50,000 to the United Way of Androscoggin to provide support for those displaced by the fires.
Last week we sat down with Senator Angus King’s staff and laid out the problems that Lewiston is facing in the immediate future. They assured us that they will also be working to find us assistance.
On behalf of the Lewiston City Council, our city administration and the Office of the Mayor, I extend a warm and sincere thanks to the Governor, our Congressional staffs, our state legislators, the outlying fire departments that came to our assistance, civic and non-profit groups, along with a special thanks to the citizens of Lewiston and our surrounding area for pulling together and helping our neighbors who were in need.
It is refreshing to live in an area knowing that if disaster strikes, your neighbors will be there to help you. Neighbors helping neighbors. Maine, the way life used to be and apparently still is.