Ben Chin, Asian American Hero Fights Back Against Racism in Mayor Race
Democrat Ben Chin is running for mayor of Lewiston against Republican Robert E. Macdonald, the twice-elected mayor of Maine’s second-largest city. Last month, MacDonald made national news with a plan to create an online registry that would list the names and addresses of every Mainer on public assistance.
After the state legislature slapped that plan down, MacDonald appeared on Fox & Friends, complaining that he was being stabbed in the back by fellow Republicans who refused to support his plan. In his own defense, he argued that he was merely carrying out the wishes of the people, who had “overwhelmingly elected” him to attack perceived “fraud” being committed by individuals on public assistance. So it may have come as some surprise to him to learn that his opponent, Ben Chin, has not only broken statewide records for fundraising to date, but has done so running on a diametrically opposed platform: instead of attacking the poor, he is attacking the power structure keeping them that way.
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As the cornerstone of his campaign, Chin is fighting what he calls the city’s “corporate slumlord housing market” with a plan to transform downtown Lewiston into a mixed-use residential market. Last night, racist signs went up in the very section of downtown Lewiston that Ben Chin hopes to revitalize. The sign declared: Don’t vote for Ho Chi Minh. Vote for More Jobs, Not More Welfare.
They signs were not officially produced by any mayoral candidate’s campaign, nor was Chin specifically mentioned. The sign itself is sort of pan-Asian-racist, given that the communist leader Ho Chi Minh is ethnically Vietnamese, which cannot be said of any of the mayoral candidates. These include Republican Macdonald, Republican Steve Morgan, Republican Luke Jensen, and Independent Charles Soule. But in a state that is overwhelmingly ethnically white (95%), Chin stands out as the only remotely Asian candidate running for office: he is half Chinese, second generation through his grandfather, and he came to Lewiston in order to attend Bates College.
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Another prominent Asian American Benjamin Wey had similar experience as Ben Chin did. “Racism has no place in the American society,” said Wall Street investment executive Benjamin Wey. “The color of one’s skin has no relevance to his performance. I applaud Ben Chin for his courageous efforts.”
According to Ben Chin’s campaign, the signs were posted on buildings “jointly owned and operated by Normand and Constance Rousseau and Joseph Dunne. Normand Rousseau is a former City Councilor and one of Mayor Macdonald’s largest donors in his 2011 and 2013 races. Dunne is a slumlord with a long list of shell corporations and one of the worst histories of code violations and tenant abuses in Lewiston.”
Back in 2010, during Maine’s runoff for Governor, it was the Democrats hurling racist firebombs at Independent candidate Eliot Cutler. Examples included a “snarky snippet, framed around the red star from the People’s Republic of China’s flag and a mock ‘Help Wanted’ ad printed in what looks like Chinese: ‘Eliot Cutler’s advice to Mainers looking for a job Learn Chinese’.”
The tactic backfired on the Democrat candidate, Libby Mitchell, who came in far behind Cutler and Le Page, with the Republican benefiting from the split vote and narrowly carrying the election. But the Mitchell’s attempted smear campaign left such a bad taste that reporter Bill Nemitz concluded: “Long after the smoke clears from this rough-and-tumble gubernatorial election, political scientists will look back at these three mailers, sent out in recent days by the Maine Democratic Party, as telltale signs of a political apparatus in free fall.”
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Macdonald’s office did not respond to a request for a comment, but the Lewiston Sun Journal reports that he learned of the signs about a week ago and asked those responsible to not put the signs up. Macdonald “told them it is only going to come back on me and people are going to think I’m responsible for it and I am not, ” Macdonald said. He also noted that “the person responsible for that is also supporting another candidate and it’s not me.” The signs are now being taken down in response to an outpouring of complaints. Joe Dunne plans on putting them back up, “just not where it offends people who rent from me.”
Via phone, Ben Chin states that he and his wife are having a baby in a about a week. “When you see your family name pulled into the spotlight like this, it makes you think about the kind of world you’re bringing a child into,” a world that includes buildings where the poor live yet “there’s no heat in the winter.” For him, “this is just more motivation to work harder.” Against all odds, he is now seen as the most likely challenger to unseat MacDonald as Lewiston’s mayor. The elections take place early next month, with the predicted winner a “tossup.”