"Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin": Racist signs smear Maine candidate challenging welfare-shaming mayor

Lewiston, Maine mayor Robert Macdonald has said he's not responsible for the slurs against Ben Chin

Published October 19, 2015 6:57PM (EDT)

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 his constituents, who had “overwhelmingly elected” him to attack the perceived “fraud” being committed by individuals on public assistance. So it may have come as some surprise to him to learn that his strongest challenger, Ben Chin, has not onlybroken 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.

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 Chin hopes to revitalize. The signs declared: Don’t Vote for Ho Chi Chin. Vote for More Jobs, Not More Welfare.

The signs were not officially produced by any mayoral candidate’s campaign. 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.

According to 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.”

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, 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." To his dismay, the present world includes slumlords renting out buildings where "there's no heat in the winter."  For Chin, these racist attacks are "just more motivation to work harder" in his campaign. 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.”

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By Paula Young Lee

Paula Young Lee is the author of "Deer Hunting in Paris," winner of the 2014 Lowell Thomas "Best Book" award of the Society of American Travel Writers. She is currently writing outdoor adventure books for middle grade and young adults. Follow her on Twitter @paulayounglee

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Aol_on Asian Americans Ben Chin Lewiston Maine Race Racisma Robert Macdonald