LEWISTON — I am utterly shocked at this newspaper’s editorial position advocating a “no” vote on Question 3, the Lewiston casino. The mere thought that, somehow, Biddeford and Washington County can benefit from a casino but Lewiston should not is not merely absurd, it is mean-spirited.

If Biddeford and Washington County deserve casinos on the basis that their economies need them (and I don’t disagree), then how on earth is that not doubly true for Lewiston? This paper’s convoluted and disingenuous reasoning boggles the mind.

This editorial board has the gall to insinuate that Lewiston proponents have promised “wheelbarrows” full of money. That is asinine. Lewiston proponents have created a two-year-long public record based on a reasoned, thoughtful articulation of sound economic, environmental and regional development principles via a series of op-eds, newspaper ads, press conferences, legislative testimony and, finally, editorial packets sent to over 50 Maine newspapers. And all dollar amounts used by us are based on estimates made by the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

The Sun-Journal in Lewiston recently wrote, “Organizers want the campaign behind the proposed $100 million Lewiston casino to be a decidedly don’t-over-promise-and-under-deliver affair.” When have we ever heard any developer say that, let alone a casino developer? Every other casino effort in this state, particularly last year’s Oxford effort, could learn a lesson from us.

The legal standard for defamation is “reckless disregard for the truth.” This paper’s characterizations of the claims we have made about our project clearly meet and exceed that test. “Deliberate disregard” is more like it. The editors ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Instead, we are offered a condescending pat on the head for our downtown revitalization efforts thus far. But even this paper can’t use the word “revitalization” without qualifying it with “nascent,” “careful,” “thoughtful,” and “gentle.” Wow, that’s four disclaimers right there. Shall we try for five, or is that one too many? Any more praise like that might lull me to sleep.

The editors say that our site, Bates Mill # 5, is the last remaining eyesore in the downtown. Are they serious? Or are they hoping that most of their readers have never been to Lewiston? Or, more to the point, have the editors ever been to Lewiston? Maybe they’re talking about some other Lewiston. I hear there’s others such as in New York, Michigan and Idaho.

At the real heart of the problem, though, is the following comment, which is truly the crux of the issue: “[T]he activity that once characterized downtown Lewiston has not been restored. Nor will it be, not ever.”

To this, 66 percent of the people of Lewiston, the Lewiston City Council, the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, and a host of local business people in the twin cities join me in saying to the editors of this paper: Don’t you dare presume to tell us what the future of our downtown can and cannot be. This is simply the Portland Press Herald finally and forever revealing its hand, as though to say that Lewiston’s best days are behind it, so just tough it out unto eternity.

Well, we aren’t dead yet. Not by a damn stretch. But, it’s not from a lack of trying, on the part of this paper and policymakers in Augusta, to kill us. The state’s free highway system bypasses us.

The proposed passenger rail system bypasses us. Lewiston-Auburn combined, which has roughly the population of Portland, has two highway exits, while Portland has 10 and Bangor has eight. The list goes on.

There was once more manufacturing in downtown Lewiston and Auburn than anywhere else in the state. At one point, Maine’s busiest retail district was Lewiston’s Lisbon Street. There is plenty of opportunity to create significant economic growth here, at minimal cost to state services, and that is a win for everyone. It means another vibrant community, with people paying taxes.

Yes, some great changes have taken place, and we are proud of them, which is why there is so much more commitment to the downtown now than there has been in the past; but, this process has taken decades, and we can’t afford to take decades more.

Lewiston’s population in the last 20 years has declined by over 3,000, and recent large-scale influxes have been alarmingly offset to a large degree by continued out-migration, following a trend dating back to 1970. This is why we say that there is really much more at stake here than just jobs, even though jobs are critical.

But make no mistake, we don’t want sympathy, just your “yes” vote on Question 3.

 

– Special to the Press Herald