PORTLAND – One of America’s leading political writers and thinkers came to Portland on Thursday, but not to promote his new book or discuss his controversial dismissal from National Public Radio last fall.

Instead, Juan Williams appeared on behalf of the Salvation Army’s Portland office, as the guest speaker for the organization’s inaugural “Champions for Kids” benefit dinner.

The dinner, at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, raised more than $100,000 to support Salvation Army community programs, said Maj. Terry Shaffer, who heads the Portland office with his wife, Maj. Penny Shaffer.

Shaffer told the audience that many of the Salvation Army programs, which serve residents in Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook, are designed to “break the cycle of poverty” for many parents and their children.

Those programs include holiday meals and gift programs, a center for healthy aging, life skills training, emergency disaster services, and a children’s summer camp program.

Williams praised the Salvation Army’s leadership, predicting that in the future, as America’s political systems become even more gridlocked than they are now, local organizations will have to take on a greater leadership role.

“If there is going to be leadership, you can’t look to Washington for it,” Williams said.

Williams met with the media before Thursday night’s dinner. He talked about his dismissal in October from NPR, after he made a comment on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News that seeing people dressed in Muslim garb at airports made him uncomfortable.

At the time, Williams was a senior correspondent for NPR and a political analyst for Fox News. “I was unceremoniously let go over what became a national controversy,” he said.

Williams said that he was simply expressing how he felt, and that it was not an attack on Muslims. He still works for Fox, as a contributor and political analyst.

His next book, “Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate In This Country,” will be published in July. It will cover his experience at NPR, and how open, frank debate in this country is discouraged.

“We’ve become politically paralyzed about what is really going on in this country,” he said.

Williams has published six books, including “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America.”

Williams worked for 21 years as a political columnist and national correspondent for the Washington Post. He said he is familiar with Maine, having visited Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby colleges in the past and having had a college roommate from Maine.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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