The racist attacks on Ben Chin are doing exactly what they were supposed to

Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal

Russ Dillingham | Sun Journal

Ben Chin is a good friend of mine. He’s my colleague, ally and co-host.

Ben is also one of the most energetic and positive people I know. It shines through whether he’s delivering a sermon, competing in a triathlon, or fighting to stop thousands of Mainers from losing access to health care.

Positive doesn’t mean bland. He doesn’t dissemble. He doesn’t shy away from calling out problems or standing up to those with power with whom he disagrees. His positivity comes from a hopeful vision of the future and a path he sees to get us there.

These are the leadership qualities that have been central to his campaign for mayor and it’s these qualities that his opponents are now attacking.

As Sun Tzu put it, “what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.” In this case, that means Mayor Bob Macdonald and his allies are doing everything they can to knock Ben off his game and drag him down to their level.

Yes, they completely over-reached with the racist signs, Ben’s response has been brilliant, and he has benefited in terms of name recognition and financial support, but that won’t be enough to win the election.

On a very basic level, this isn’t what he wanted to be talking about. Every minute he spends addressing Joe Dunne’s racism is one he doesn’t spend talking to voters about his plan for senior housing and green manufacturing or about stopping Macdonald’s million-dollar trash bag fee – issues that actually affect the everyday lives of Lewiston residents.

Far too often, the media makes it worse. A combination of a love of controversy and predilection for false equivalency and telling “both sides” of a story lead to broadcasts like this one, where Dunne is able to leverage $400 spent on printing racist signs into a primetime soapbox to lob personal attacks at the candidate who has promised to crack down on his unethical business practices.

Meanwhile, the Maine Republican Party continues their more-coded racist attacks, running online ads of Ben’s face photoshopped onto an unrelated image of mostly-black protesters in Oakland and criticizing him for wearing (God forbid) a “hooded sweatshirt.” Even the condemnation of members of their own party hasn’t slowed them down.

These attacks have fed a toxic undercurrent in the race. Even as Ben has received tweets of support from presidential candidates, he has also seen dozens of his signs torn down and vandalized all over town.

Contrast all this with the conversation on race and immigration that Ben would prefer to be having, perhaps best exemplified by that moment during the debate when he somehow, incredibly, brought every candidate together on a hopeful vision for a diverse future for Lewiston.

So what can we do about it?

You can learn about Ben’s campaign. If you’re able to, you can sign up for a volunteer shift to help get out the vote.

Then, if you live in Lewiston, start talking to your neighbors. If you don’t live in the city, now would be a good time to give any friends you have there a call. Talk about the mayor’s race in a positive and hopeful way and make sure they’re getting out to vote in what’s likely to be a low-turnout election.

This is a contest between two very different views of the world. One is hopeful and based on building a stronger community. The other is angry and fearful and based on division. Ben has run his campaign on the premise that the former is more powerful. Let’s prove him right.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.