Bates Students Engage in Mayoral Election

Lewiston’s mayoral race has been a dramatic affair, and it’s not over yet.  Last Tuesday, voters took to the polls to choose from a field of five candidates. As expected, Democratic newcomer Ben Chin and incumbent Republican Robert MacDonald came out on top, earning 44 percent  and 37 percent of the votes, respectively. Since neither candidate garnered the 50 percent of votes needed to elect a mayor per Lewiston law, the two will go head-to-head in a runoff election on December 8, 2015.

The race received a great deal of attention, largely due to its polar-opposite frontrunners. At only 30, Chin is less than half the age of MacDonald, who was first elected mayor in 2011. Incumbent MacDonald has always been an outspoken conservative, and recently made headlines with a controversial proposal that would publicize information about welfare recipients. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Chin ran on a decidedly liberal platform. His “Plan to Renew Lewiston” includes the use of solar energy, expanded immigrant support services, and the reversal of tax cuts to the rich. Successful fundraising efforts allowed Chin to run an extensive campaign, but although he edged out his opponent, his supporters will need to pull through in December in order to elect him mayor.

One Lewiston demographic provided Chin with a solid foundation of support: students at his alma mater, Bates College. Bates students overwhelmingly supported Chin over MacDonald, and they showed up to the polls in impressive fashion, according to reports.  While it is illegal to track the specific Bates turnout numbers from year to year,  “election workers working in Ward 1, which includes Bates, did see a lot of new voter registrations,” according to a November 4 Portland Press Herald article.

The mayoral race has had a notable presence on the Lewiston campus, especially in support of Chin, according to several Bates students interviewed. “There have been tables around campus every day for the past month where out-of-staters can register to vote in Maine, and just promoting Chin in general,” said Samantha Grant ’19. “There were even students campaigning for him by going door to door in each campus dorm.”

During the campaign, Chin spent time on the campus conversing with students and even attending sporting events. The personal relationships cultivated at Bates, where he graduated from in 2007, helped strengthen his ties there and motivate students to vote. These efforts were bolstered by groups on campus, including The Democratic Club. Emma Goff, 20, said she was proud of their efforts, especially in terms of easing the voting process for students. The club set up a system in the dining hall that helped students coordinate times to vote. “You had to say what time you were going over, that way there was groups to going together,” Goff explained. She added that the system helped lessen the stress of students who felt uncomfortable or intimidated going alone.

The contentious nature of the election was another factor that drove students to the polls. MacDonald’s blunt persona and views on immigration and welfare alienated some students and further reinforced their choice in Chin. “I was always a strong supporter of Chin, but after all of MacDonald’s inappropriate comments, it solidified my choice to register in Lewiston as opposed to home,” said Ainsley Jamieson, 19. Grant agreed, and said that MacDonald’s comments on welfare gave her a negative perception about him.

Another point of controversy in the race came in October, when a Lewiston landlord posted racist signs that proclaimed, “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin. Vote for more jobs not more welfare.”  Chin is Asian-American. The signs made national headlines, and sparked outrage among local residents, Bates students among them. Jamieson noted that in place of normal conditioning, the Bates men’s lacrosse team “ran from campus to downtown to participate in the ‘Ho Chi Chin’ protests.” The sign incident heightened awareness on campus and prompted students to become more involved in the race. Grant noted that she thought “[Chin] handled the racist comments against him very professionally.”

Bates, like all NESCAC campuses, can be very insular. Although Lewiston politics might not personally affect Bates students on a daily basis, the link between the campus and the city is an important one. “Lewiston is certainly a community that needs help right now,” Grant said, and she and the other students interviewed by the Echo reached the same consensus: Chin’s plans for revitalization make him the right man for the job. All four students interviewed said they planned to vote in the runoff election, which is expected to be a very tight race. If the election goes Chin’s way on December 8, Bates students will be assured  that their needs are being considered in local government. “He is a Batesie,” said Sophie Olmsted ’19. “I know he will consider Bates in his mayoral decisions.”

Bates graduate Ben Chin will participate in the Lewiston mayoral run off election on December 8.

Bates graduate Ben Chin will participate in the Lewiston mayoral run off election on December 8.

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