LEWISTON – Noah Abdi wasn’t kidding when he called Libby Mitchell “Governor” during a campaign stop Thursday morning at the African Immigrants Association on Lisbon Street.

“I’m a political junkie and I love the political system in America,” Abdi explained afterward. “I believe Libby Mitchell will be the next governor of Maine.”

Abdi, who works as an interpreter, said he plans to vote for Mitchell on Tuesday. He’s one of an estimated 6,000 Somali immigrants who have moved to the former mill cities of Lewiston and Auburn in the past decade, according to association leaders. About 500 of them are U.S. citizens and eligible to vote, they said.

Recent polls indicate that many Mainers have joined a national trend against established Democratic candidates, putting Republican Paul LePage in the lead and independent Eliot Cutler neck-and-neck with Mitchell.

But as Mitchell made several stops in the Twin Cities on Thursday, members of the Somali community and others showed a deep appreciation. They lauded her commitment to social issues, ability to bring people together and legislative experience, including her current post as president of the Maine Senate and her past stint as speaker of the Maine House.

“We prefer you because you have the most experience,” said Mohamed Abdillahi, a caseworker for Lewiston’s general assistance program.

Abdillahi and other Somalis who met with Mitchell said they hope she will focus on creating jobs if she’s elected.

“The whole state is struggling, but when it comes to immigrants, it’s even worse,” said Hussein Ahmed, the association’s president and a Lisbon Street shopkeeper.

Mitchell assured them that she would have an open-door policy and would continue her support for civil rights and early childhood education as important issues for new Americans. She recalled how she had taught English to French Canadians, had sponsored a Vietnamese family in their first years in Maine and had been a foster mother to an orphaned Cambodian boy who had escaped a refugee camp in Thailand.

“Keep your culture alive,” Mitchell urged the Somalis. “But also learn this one to be able to move ahead. We have to be open to one another.”

At the Auburn Public Library, Diana Carson and her 4-year-old son eagerly greeted Mitchell and offered their support.

Carson said Mitchell cares about jobs and money issues, but she’s not focused on them to the exclusion of other concerns.

“The other candidates are so focused on money that they lose sight of what really matters, like children and families and education and health care,” Carson said. “I know some people are looking to vote for a candidate who’s ordinary, but I’d rather vote for someone who’s extraordinary.”

At Bates College, Mitchell visited a politics class and met with student Democrats who were distributing Mitchell campaign materials at The Commons.

Taylor Cook, a senior majoring in politics, was one of them.

“The more people understand the candidates and the issues in this race, the more interested they become,” Cook said. “I have 500 voter registration cards and I’m hoping to use all of them before Tuesday.”

Mitchell also stopped by Lewiston-Auburn College, a branch of the University of Southern Maine, before heading off to prepare for the debate. There, she encountered Sharon Timberlake, a public policy professor and a friend.

Timberlake got to know Mitchell several years ago, when Timberlake was studying for her doctorate at the Muskie School of Public Service and Mitchell was studying for her law degree at the University of Maine School of Law, both in Portland.

Timberlake embraced Mitchell and offered encouragement through the final days of the campaign.

“I’ve known her for years,” Timberlake said later. “I know her to be a woman of integrity.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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