LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Critics seeking the ouster of a mayor who said his city's Somali immigrants should "accept our culture and leave your culture at the door" delivered 1,400 petitions Thursday calling for him to step down.
Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald, who has come under fire for his comments to the British Broadcasting Corp., was not in his office when the petitions were delivered by the Maine People's Alliance.
About 6,000 Somali immigrants have settled into this former mill town and neighboring Auburn in search of affordable housing and a safe place to live and raise their families. One of them, 26-year-old Nimo Yonis, described the mayor's words as "derogatory and inflammatory" during a rally Thursday at City Hall.
Macdonald has since attempted to clarify his comments, saying immigrants should try to assimilate into American culture, not that they need to give up their language, religion or traditions. He also apologized for people misunderstanding what he was trying to say and for the media distorting what he was saying.
Yonis, who came to Lewiston in 2002, criticized him for not apologizing for his remarks and said his words were troubling.
"They represent hate. No one twisted your words. You chose them clearly and stood by them, or blamed others when given the opportunity to clarify and correct them," she said.
She said MacDonald's comments rekindled memories of a similar episode a decade when then-Mayor Larry Raymond wrote a letter asking Somali leaders to discourage friends and family from relocating to Lewiston, saying the city's resources were "maxed-out."
The uproar over the letter exploded into an international story that drew the attention of a white supremacist group that staged a rally in Lewiston.
A counter-protest against hate groups and in support of the newcomers drew 4,000 people to Bates College to embrace the new wave of immigrants.
Macdonald previously said he would be willing to meet with Somali residents to discuss his comments but would no longer talk to the press. He could not be reached immediately on Thursday for comment on the petitions.