LEWISTON – Mayor Larry Raymond said Monday that he is sorry for any misunderstanding but he doesn’t regret writing an open letter to Somali leaders that has drawn national attention and criticism.
Raymond, who met privately Friday with Somali leaders, said his letter asking Somali newcomers to discourage their Somali friends and families from coming to Lewiston has been misinterpreted by some people.
But he said that in Lewiston the vast majority of people support him. He said he has received more than 650 e-mails; only 35 of them were negative.
“Basically they [residents] are not racist. They’re saying, ‘You said what we were thinking. We need some breathing room,”‘ he said Monday.
In his original letter, Raymond wrote that the city of 36,000, which has absorbed more than 1,000 Somalis in 18 months, cannot continue the influx of newcomers “without negative results for all.” He wrote that the city is “maxed-out financially, physically and emotionally.”
“The Somali community must exercise some discipline and reduce the stress on our limited finances and our generosity,” he wrote.
Somalis responded by calling him an “ill-informed leader,” and Raymond kept a low profile for several days afterward.
He said he wanted to keep the matter in the “family” and preferred not to have it play out in the national press.
On Monday, he invited three local TV stations to a news conference in which he said he and Somalis residents had come to an understanding. “I think they understand now what I was trying to do,” he said Monday.
Raymond has declined to apologize for the letter.
He told the Sun Journal newspaper that he could not apologize for what he felt was a reasonable request to slow down the influx of newcomers because of the financial strain on city resources.
“For me to apologize just to placate them, when I didn’t believe I did anything wrong, would be an insult. They understand that it would be impossible for me to apologize for something I believed and still believe was a request, and a reasonable request,” he said.
He denied that there were veiled messages in the letter. “I’m not that sophisticated,” said Raymond, a lawyer.
Raymond did not a join a parade of 250 people on Sunday to show support for the Somalian community. He had said he was not sure if he would attend because he didn’t want to draw more attention to himself.
Raymond said the most troubling thing to him was to be called a racist.
Raymond is a descendant of French Canadians, who as a group were persecuted when they came to Lewiston. And he has two black grandchildren who were adopted from Georgia.
Given his family background, Raymond said, “I couldn’t believe that anyone would call me racist.”