LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) --
Two candidates are preparing to go head to head in a runoff election for Lewiston mayor.
On Election Day, community organizer Ben Chin received the most votes in the mayoral race but not a majority of total votes cast.
Now Chin is up against the second-place finisher, city councilor Shane Bouchard, in a special vote on December 12.
NEWS CENTER went to Lewiston Saturday to talk candidly with both men about who they are, why they're running and what they would do as mayor.
How did you feel after Election Day?
Shane Bouchard: I’m excited. That was the goal all along and I’m happy the people chose me to be in this position.
Ben Chin: Anytime you get first place you’re going to feel good. I think Lewiston’s ready for change. There’s a lot of positive momentum going around and I’m really excited about the final lap.
How do you win a majority in the runoff?
Shane Bouchard: I think we just need to contrast between Mr. Chin and myself. Show the differences, show the experience, show the political leanings, just our positions, and our policies. One of the keys is going to be turnout. It’s going to be about getting voters back to the polls in December to vote again. I think the contrasts between Mr. Chin and me are very clear in terms of our experience and in terms of our ideology. I think will drive a lot of people out to vote.
Ben Chin: I think it’s pretty simple. I guess I don’t really worry about the politics of it. I just worry about making sure there are some really concrete new ideas that are out there that can put a positive vision forward for where our city can go around the opioid epidemic, around housing, around immigrants integrating and I think the votes take care of themselves.
If you’re elected, what issue will you tackle in the first few days and months at City Hall?
Shane Bouchard: The first thing we have to do is clean up the image of Lewiston. We have to start really looking and getting down to what is dragging our image down for our city for years and trying to find actionable solutions to stop that.
Ben Chin: Top three things are – we’ve got to tackle the drug situation that’s gotten out of control. Just locking folks up isn’t getting that done. Then we’ve got to make sure that we’re actually revitalizing our city, growing the economy and finally we’ve got to make sure immigrants are integrating, learning English, entering the workforce and becoming citizens.
What is a tangible goal you think you can work towards achieving in that timeframe?
Shane Bouchard: I think we have to put an emphasis on single-family home development. We have to shore up our single-family neighborhoods. I think a lot of our single-family neighborhoods are going downhill. They’re turning into multi-unit neighborhoods. They’re getting much dirtier and that’s not a direction we need to go. We need to continue working on our inner-city housing. I think housing is a big issue. I think Exit 80 has a lot of potential. I think our Riverfront Island master plan has a lot of potential as well and still needs a little bit of work. We’ve worked really hard on lower Lisbon Street. I think we can do more on some of the upper levels of the buildings. More housing, more office space, do a little more with façade grants and try to raise of the downtown a little more. There’s a lot of unfinished business here in Lewiston.
Ben Chin: Well a couple things. The first is, many other cities in places like Lewiston are able to make sure anyone who’s accessing drug treatment is able to get in in the first 48 hours that they need it. I think there’s a way to pull people together to make sure we’re able to do that. The second thing is, I think there’s a half a million right now that’s sitting in a revolving loan fund in the city that most businesses aren’t accessing right now. We can get that out to grow the economy. The third thing is, there are a lot of people doing a lot of great work, making sure people can learn English enter the workforce and become citizens. Those efforts are splintered off. We need to make sure they’re resourced better and brought together to make them successful.
Ben, one of your opponent’s biggest criticisms is you haven’t participated in government as an elected city official and you haven’t gone to many city council meetings. How are you addressing that?
Ben Chin: Yeah, I’m not running as a City Hall insider. If folks are looking for people who’ve been around a ton doing the same old things, feel free to vote for somebody else. I’m running as somebody who I think has a lot of common sense based on talking to a lot of neighbors about what the issues are with real solutions to move the city forward. So by definition, I think that means doing things differently than have happened in City Hall. I consider this to be a pretty big asset. I’m not trapped in that old way of thinking of things, I’m ready to shake it up and move forward.
Shane, your opponent is a big critic of the people who’ve been around City Hall for a long-time not bringing new ideas and change. How do you respond to that?
Shane Bouchard: He claims he’s about change but his ideology’s been in front of the city council for over 15 years. That doesn’t represent any kind of change. I’ve lost some battles on this side of the city council. I’m definitely not more of the same. I am actual change. I’m not just a slogan. It’s a different approach. I think for too long we’ve concentrated on certain areas of the city and put them above other areas of the city. I don’t think that’s the right approach. We need to take a whole city approach to economic development, to infrastructure. We can’t just be looking at any one part of the city and focusing on it anymore. We have to look at the entire city. We have single-family neighborhoods, we have inner-city, we have lots of mill space in this city. We have a downtown district, we have malls. Exit 80 is a perfect example of another area and we can’t focus on any one of those areas anymore. I believe a lot of emphasis has been put on certain areas at any one time and as you work on one area, others tend to lose. We can’t be doing that anymore.
What’s the biggest thing that surprised that voters have told you while you’re out campaigning?
Shane Bouchard: I think most of what I’ve heard has been quite expected – the image of Lewiston, its housing conditions, high taxes and roads.
Ben Chin: The number one thing that’s been surprising me is how many people have been touched by this opioid epidemic. Most people know Maine is harder off than a lot of other states. Lewiston in Maine is even harder off than many other cities. Every single night I go out, I talk to somebody who either has a loved one struggling with that addiction now or has even lost one. It’s a life and death thing. Someone’s dying every other week. Since we’ve been doing this campaign, dozens of people have lost their lives because of this. People aren’t in this ‘lock ‘em up’ mentality anymore. They know accessing treatment is important.
You and your opponent shared a meal together after the election. What did you take away from that?
Shane Bouchard: I always thought Ben was a good guy and it was a great conversation. We just talked a lot more about life than anything, a lot more about life than politics. I think it set the tone really well and we’ve got some understandings between us and I’m looking forward to doing it again when the election’s over.
Ben Chin: I think the number one thing I took away from it is a mutual commitment that we’ve got to keep this race clean. That we’ve got to focus on the issues and that’s going to be good for the city. At the end of the day, if this is going to be just a contest over who has the best ideas on how to move the city forward, I’m feeling really confident in that situation.
Ben, you’re being interviewed at your home, in your driveway. What does this place say about you?
Ben Chin: One of the main ideas that we’ve put out has been eliminating the rain tax. That’s something that as a homeowner, I’ve talked a lot about. Most people think their stormwater stuff is just one of those basic things that are included in their property tax bill. I think one of thing that just being in this neighborhood says is that I’m in this world, talking about the basic issues homeowners have. The other thing too that I’d say, we have a lot of rural areas. People don’t know there are working farms in Lewiston. One of the nice things about our city is you have a downtown that can come back and be revitalized in the middle. If you want a quiet suburban street you can have that too. Then you can be really out near the countryside as well. I go biking right down Old Greene Rd. that way. You can see a lot of the natural beauty that’s all around us right now. If you live down in Portland you don’t necessarily have all those options.
Shane, you’re being interviewed in your city councilor parking spot at City Hall. What does this place say about you?
Shane Bouchard: I’ve really enjoyed being on the city council. I’ve had a lot of fun with it. I take the job very seriously. It’s not what I thought it was the first time I ran and I’m glad. I’ve had a lot of great experiences working with a lot of great councilors from across the ideological spectrum. I think I’ve we’ve done some positive things. I think I’ve been on the losing end of some things I didn’t like but I’ve learned to put that behind me and then work to make it the best it possibly can be.
What is the biggest misconception about Lewiston and what are you going to do about it?
Shane Bouchard: There’s a lot of our image that we’ve earned, unfortunately. There’s a lot of our image that we haven’t earned and it’s not fair to paint us in that light. I think we have to do a better job of separating those things. We have to take a look at what we have done that’s perpetuated that image and what we can do to start reversing that. We also have to promote ourselves but we have to be in a position where we start promoting ourselves and that we’re actually coming out of it. That we’re actually coming out of it. That we’re actually working on solutions to our image problem. Not continuing to perpetuate the problem.
Ben Chin: Lewiston, as a lot of people know, we’ve got a reputation that’s pretty unfair. I think the number one thing that we have to do to change that reputation is showcase all the good things already happening here and demonstrate that we know how to actually face the real problems that we have downtown. If you drive around, you see empty buildings and foreclosed buildings and empty lots and vacant mills. When businesses are back in those mills, when all housing is up to code, when people have jobs and are investing in local small businesses when they go out to eat, we’re going to change our reputation and we’ll do it in a substantive way. I think as the mayor, it will be helpful to drive the policy to make that happen and be the ambassador that can present a different image.