LEWISTON — Two large signs attacking mayoral candidate Ben Chin came down Monday amid a public outcry, but the landlord responsible for putting them up over the weekend didn’t apologize for their content, which was widely denounced as offensive and racist.

Nearly 100 people gathered Monday evening in downtown Lewiston to condemn the signs and remind people that the city is more welcoming and tolerant than the views expressed by a minority.

The signs, created by Joseph Dunne, read, “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin,” and showed what appears to be a caricature of former Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh. On the bottom of the signs were the words “Vote for more jobs not more welfare.” On the top were images of a hammer and sickle.

Chin, speaking early Monday afternoon outside 109 Pine St., an apartment building where one of the signs was put up, said he was saddened by the message.

“This is a very personal attack,” said Chin, one of four challengers to incumbent Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald. “I was talking to my wife about this. We’re expecting a child in a couple weeks, and I was thinking, ‘What kind of world are they coming into?’ ”

Chin, 30, is a third-generation American. His grandparents emigrated from China to the U.S. and he first came to Lewiston when he attended Bates College. He is not Vietnamese or a communist.

Dunne, whose company, Sullivan Property Management, co-owns both buildings where the signs appeared, said he put them up to fight back against Chin and his employer, the Maine People’s Alliance, who have branded him a “slumlord.” He defended his role as a property manager, saying his company has hundreds of tenants in Lewiston-Auburn buildings and there are bound to be problems with some of them.

The Portland Press Herald could not independently verify allegations in a report by the Maine People’s Alliance, and Lewiston’s code enforcement officer did not respond to calls.

Asked if he thought the attack on Chin was personal or over the line, Dunne was unapologetic.

“It is personal,” he said, adding that he plans to post the signs elsewhere and took them down only because tenants complained.

The other building where Dunne put up a sign, at 134 Main St., houses several businesses, including a law office, and Dunne said he didn’t want his tenants to be affected.

Several groups condemned the signs Monday.

The Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine, a nonpolitical organization, called the signs “shockingly ignorant.”

“This kind of show of racism surely does not help Maine’s reputation, especially in the current efforts to attract global investment to boost our local economies,” the group’s president, Kwok Yeung, said in a written statement.

Zachary Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the signs’ message is protected by the First Amendment, “but it’s still racist and xenophobic.”

“We’ve seen more racism and xenophobia in our politics in recent years,” Heiden said. “And it will continue to happen until people stand up and say it has no place here.”

MAINE REPUBLICANS DENOUNCE SIGNS

The Maine Republican Party, which this month inserted itself into the Lewiston mayor’s race by creating a Facebook page attacking Chin, condemned the signs. The party has been critical of the people’s alliance, a liberal advocacy group.

Jason Savage, the state Republican Party’s executive director, posted on Twitter that the signs were “disgusting.”

“Of course we had nothing to do with that,” he wrote. “(We) denounce this in strongest possible terms.”

Jonathan LaBonte, the Republican mayor of Auburn, also was critical.

“Political discourse seems to be on a continual downward spiral, and I truly believe that we have the ability to start to reclaim this aspect of representative democracy by starting at the local level,” LaBonte posted on Facebook. “I’m not going to share the image of the signs, they don’t deserve further attention. Demonizing one culture, and assigning it to a candidate for office, is a low that none of us as individuals should accept, even if it is free speech and a protected right.”

Luke Jensen, a Republican also running for Lewiston mayor, said the signs were “unquestionably racist” and “only serve to damage the reputation of a city that so desperately needs its reputation to improve.”

But Jensen said Chin and the people’s alliance have engaged in political attacks.

“I give no sympathy to Benjamin Chin,” Jensen said. “As the political director for the Maine People’s Alliance, his day job is to create attacks just like the ones being used against him now.”

RALLY DEFENDS LEWISTON’S PEOPLE

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills called on the person responsible for the signs to “disavow them and take them down immediately.”

“We abhor the message and the type of shady campaign tactics which these signs represent,” she said. “Any concerned citizen should file a complaint with the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to initiate fact-finding regarding the authorship, approval, cost and financing of these items.”

By law, campaign signs must state who paid for them and whether the communication was authorized by a candidate, but that only applies to expenditures in excess of $100.

Several hours after the signs were taken down, about 100 people rallied in front of the former Bates Mill – across from the 134 Main St. building – to speak out against racism and fear-based politics. Holding their own handmade signs that read “Lewiston is a welcoming city” and “Lewiston will not tolerate hate,” rally participants stressed the importance of speaking out forcefully.

Heidi Sawyer, who organized the rally, said she felt compelled to show people that Lewiston is better than the opinions of a minority and better than it is sometimes portrayed publicly.

Although the rally was not affiliated with his campaign, Chin attended with his wife, Nicola, and addressed the crowd, which included many supporters.

EX-COUNCILOR CO-OWNS BUILDINGS

Macdonald, the two-term mayor who is running for re-election, could not immediately be reached for comment. However, he told the Lewiston Sun Journal that he knew about the signs several days ago and tried to persuade Dunne not to put them up.

Chin’s campaign said the owners of the buildings have ties to Macdonald.

According to the Androscoggin County Registry of Deeds, the two buildings are jointly owned by Normand and Constance Rousseau and Dunne. Rousseau is a former city councilor who has donated to Macdonald’s last two campaigns, in 2011 and 2013, Chin’s campaign said.

Macdonald, in his weekly column in the Twin City Times, defended Dunne and referred to him as a “big-hearted landlord,” in response to property management criticism levied by Chin and the people’s alliance.

Chin said he remains undaunted in his campaign.

“This only makes me want to work harder,” he said.