Signs showing the name of an Asian candidate next to a caricature of Ho Chi Minh have rocked the mayoral race in Lewiston, Maine, and the man responsible for them says he can't understand why.
Ben Chin, who is running as a Democrat, said he received a text from a friend on Sunday night expressing concern about a sign hanging on Main Street that read, "Don't vote for Ho Chi Chin Vote For More Jobs Not More Welfare."
There were at least two signs hanging in Lewiston by Monday, according to the Maine Beacon. Both included the same text, the caricature of the Vietnamese Communist leader and a communist hammer-and-sickle symbol.
Joe Dunne, a property manager, told the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal he was responsible for the signs. Chin's "Plan to Renew Lewiston" campaign has specifically targeted Dunne and other property managers in the area, calling them "corporate slumlord[s]" who "often force tenants to go without basic necessities like heat and hot water" for their own profit.
In a video released by the Sun Journal, Dunne said that he decided to have the signs made when his daughter, who he says is a special education department in a Lewiston school, started being taunted in the classroom for having a slumlord for a father.
Dunne has also insisted that the decided-upon imagery did not come from a place of racism, and that he chose to put Ho Chi Minh on the signs because of the man's communist beliefs and the fact that his name rhymes with Chin.
"If I knew that everyone was just going to assume racism, then I would have obviously done it differently," Dunne told The Huffington Post. "None of my family is of Oriental race but I've lived my whole life with daughters that are African-American. I don't have a racist bone in my body."
"In retrospect I wish I had put Putin on the sign too," he added.
Chin called the signs "definitely racist" and said he was stunned to see them.
"Most of the people in Lewiston are really, really welcoming," he said, adding that most people in the town don't seem to agree with Dunne's actions. "I cannot say again how horrible it is that we have a few that are willing to go to this level."
Chin's grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from China in the age of McCarthyism, he said, and was accused of being a communist and became a pariah in the local community.
"This is just what happens when, unfortunately, you're Asian in America, and people are willing to resort to all sorts of terrible accusations with all sorts of awful imagery as a result of that," he added.
Chin said that while this was the first time he had experienced such a public level of racism during his campaign, subtler preconceived notions have often been a a part of his experience as an Asian-American individual running for office.
"I've had people compliment me on my English," he said. "Most of it's a lot more coded."
Dunne says he supports the re-election of Lewiston's current mayor, Republican Robert MacDonald. MacDonald received national attention last month when he wrote that welfare recipients' information should be public.
MacDonald encouraged Dunne not to hang the signs, Dunne said.
"They thought it was going to get [Chin] a pity vote," Dunne said.
MacDonald did not return a request for comment.
Dunne said he had three signs made, and initially posted two of them on properties he manages, but he took both down after tenants complained. People bought two of Dunne's signs to display on their own properties, he said, and he plans to hang "the big one" somewhere where he thinks tenants won't mind its presence.
Although Dunne said he didn't love the way people responded to the signs, he said he was "not the least bit sorry."
The mayoral election is scheduled for Nov. 3.