Lewiston property owner Joe Dunne took out a newspaper ad Friday to apologize for a pair of signs he hung on two of his buildings this week attacking mayoral candidate Ben Chin.

The signs featured a caricature of former Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh with the words, “Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin.” On the bottom of the signs were the words “Vote for more jobs not more welfare.” Across the top were images of a hammer and sickle, the emblem of the Communist Party in some countries.

The signs were denounced as racist by many residents and led to a protest rally Monday attended by more than 100 people.

Dunne said he never meant to bring race into his criticism of Chin.

“I designed the signs ONLY to be critical of his policies and tactics, not his race,” Dunne wrote in the ad in the Sun Journal, which was addressed to Lewiston residents. “I am truly sorry that my sign was taken as racism and bigotry. … I am also very sorry my action hurt the community as a whole. Each and every institution here works hard every day trying to make this a good community. My insensitive act undermined the total effort.”

Several groups, including the Chinese and American Friendship Association of Maine, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the Maine Republican Party, condemed the signs.

Although Dunne apologized, he did not back off his criticism of Chin, a Democrat and longtime employee of the liberal Maine People’s Alliance. Dunne pointed out that Chin went after him first.

Chin has focused on tenants’ rights during his campaign, and has named Dunne and a handful of other major property owners in Lewiston as “slumlords.” Also, the MPA released a report in August that was critical of Lewiston landlords, including Dunne.

Dunne acknowledged that he hasn’t always been the perfect landlord and is “guilty of having too many apartments and limited resources to support them,” but said Chin should have tried to engage him in a conversation.

“His response was to try to drive me out of business,” Dunne wrote. “This showed no consideration for the hundreds who would have been hurt by his actions.”

Dunne did not return a call for comment Friday.

Chin, who earlier this week said the signs represented a personal attack, thanked Dunne for the apology.

“And, more importantly, for finally, publicly committing to correct the deplorable conditions of many of his buildings,” Chin said. “I’m glad we can get past these negative attacks and back to discussing my plan to change our city’s reputation.”

The two signs, hung at separate buildings owned by Dunne on Pine Street and Main Street last weekend, were taken down Monday after tenants complained. Dunne had said that he planned to put them up elsewhere but has yet to do so.

Chin is one of four candidates challenging incumbent Mayor Robert Macdonald, a Republican who is seeking a third term. The other candidates are Republicans Steve Morgan and Luke Jensen, and independent Charles Soule.

Chin is the grandson of Chinese immigrants and settled in Lewiston after graduating from Bates College. He is the only Democrat in the mayor’s race and has raised a record amount of money for a local election.

The Lewiston mayor’s race could be decided on Nov. 3, but it’s likely the race will not be decided on that date. The city’s charter requires that a winner get at least 50 percent of the vote, which is not likely in a five-way race. If no candidate receives 50 percent, the top two vote-getters move on to a special election to be held in late November or early December.

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