Google was probably the farthest thing from Joe Dunne’s mind this week when he dragged none other than Ho Chi Minh into the red-hot Lewiston mayoral race.

Yet there the headline sat Tuesday morning atop Google’s news feed for Maine, posted by the esteemed Washington Post: ” ‘Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin’: Maine landlord’s political signs denounced as racist, disgusting.”

Vying for the nation’s attention below it were similar Google alerts from NBC, CBS, ABC …

Welcome to Maine, the way life should be – if not for guys who define “clever” as one part raw racism, one part sheer ignorance, and if you can make it all rhyme, by golly, all the better!

Guys like Joe Dunne.

“(Chin’s) ideas are more socialist and bordering on basically communism so I just did a little parody on that,” Dunne, a well-known local landlord, told the media who flocked to Lewiston on Monday. They’d come to eyeball the signs he’d hung, replete with hammers and sickles, rechristening Democratic candidate Ben Chin as “Ho Chi Chin” and urging the citizenry to “vote for more jobs and not more welfare.”

Ho Chi Chin? Right next to a drawing of Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh? Wasn’t that a tad, ahem, racist?

“I don’t think it’s racist at all,” deadpanned Dunne. “I just thought that it would make a point.”

So does a dunce cap.

At the root of this particular brouhaha is Dunne’s irritation at being branded a slumlord by the Maine People’s Alliance, for which Chin has worked since shortly after he graduated from Bates College in 2005. But this being Lewiston, the drama also comes with plenty of history.

Remember back in 2002 when then-Mayor Laurier Raymond wrote an open letter to the city’s Somali immigrants urging them to tell their friends and relatives to stay away? That led to dueling demonstrations between immigrant advocates and white supremacists, which in turn led to a sizable piece about Lewiston (and, by extension, Maine) in The New York Times.

Then there was the 2012 interview that current Mayor Robert Macdonald gave the BBC in which he told Lewiston immigrants to “come and accept our culture and leave your culture at the door.” Republican Macdonald, a municipal mini-me of Gov. Paul LePage, later claimed he was quoted out of context. Damn those Brits!

More recently, running for a third term against Chin and three other challengers, Macdonald put out a call for legislators willing to create an online registry of local welfare recipients – you know, just to make a point. The idea died from a lack of sanity.

Now we have Dunne, who has long been regarded as a buddy of Macdonald’s, shelling out over $400 for signs so offensive that even some of his commercial tenants asked that he remove them lest their businesses suffer from his cluelessness.

Heck, even Mayor Macdonald got the jitters when he heard about the signs days before they went up.

“I asked (Team Dunne), ‘Please don’t do this,’ and told them it is only going to come back on me and people are going to think I’m responsible for it and I am not,’ ” Hizzoner told the Sun Journal of Lewiston.

Note to Joe Dunne: When Mayor Macdonald tells you you’ve crossed the line, you’re in another solar system.

Which brings us to what could be a turning point for Lewiston, a community that in reality is doing far better than the caricature created every time a Raymond or a Macdonald or a Dunne nominates himself as Maine’s latest resident no-brainer.

In an interview Tuesday, I asked Chin – a third-generation American, by the way – why he stuck around Lewiston after graduating from Bates when so many students pack up and leave without so much as a backward glance?

He talked about how much he likes the city’s rich industrial history, fueled by the hard work of the French-Canadians, the Irish and other waves of immigrants. How there’s a grittiness to Lewiston that testifies not to its industrial decline, but to its determination to press onward. How even now, after all the nasty headlines of the past decade, Lewistonians of different colors and cultures work daily to build bridges, not obliterate them.

“It’s the first place that ever felt like home,” Chin said.

Think about that. Even as his worst opponent publicly compares him to Ho Chi Minh, Chin sings his hometown’s praises in a way the immigrant/welfare haters never have and never will. That may not be Google-worthy, but it sure sounds a lot like leadership.

So let this rough-and-tumble election proceed. If the conventional wisdom is correct, Macdonald will retain enough of his conservative base to finish first or second, but won’t win a majority vote in such a crowded field.

Chin, meanwhile, who’s worked his tail off campaigning since last winter and has clearly benefited from Dunne’s attack (God love all those shocked and indignant Republicans), could well end up the second of the top two, sub-50-percent finishers.

That would set up a runoff election between Macdonald and Chin – and a much-needed battle for Lewiston’s heart and soul.

I’m rooting for Chin.

Maine needs a fresh set of headlines.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.