Maine Mayor Draws Controversy for Columbus Day Declaration

A Maine mayor is getting some criticism after announcing his city would observe Columbus Day.

Tuesday night, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, a Republican, made the proclamation, which seemingly defies a new state law signed by Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills making the holiday Indigenous People's Day.

"We don't want to see our holidays taken away," said Isgro after Tuesday night's meeting. "It's a federal holiday. Columbus Day isn't gone."

The mayor says he made the decision because he believes most Americans prefer Columbus Day, he does not see the issue as divisive, and he believes Columbus' achievements should be recognized along with the contributions Italian-Americans have made to the United States.

He also said he respects "those views on the other side" and was "clear to state that" on Tuesday.

The city council meeting stayed respectful, but it was tense at times, with one person who got up to speak saying of Columbus, "it's disgusting to suggest someone capable of such evil should have a holiday named after him."

Another man who spoke, Kipling Mitchell, a Penobscot American Indian man who lives in Waterville, says the colonial connotations behind Columbus' name do not bother him as much as the divisiveness he believes Isgro drove up by highlighting the issue at all.

"I'm not sure why that had to be done," Mitchell said in a Wednesday interview. "It's not going to help white, black — whatever color you are."

Mitchell says the conversation around Isgro's proclamation, right or wrong, is drawing negative attention to Waterville, at a time when Maine needs young people to move to the state to combat its ageing population.

"We are running out of people, literally, people to work," he said. "We can't afford to turn people away."

Mitchell made clear that he doesn't speak for all Penobscots, who have their own tribal nation north of Bangor. He does, however, think the mayor should reconsider proclaiming Oct. 14 Columbus Day again.

"Please think about these things in the future," he said.

NECN and NBC10 Boston asked Mills' office for comment on Isgro's proclamation, but a spokeswoman declined to comment.

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