The mayor, Robert T. Couturier, is 24 years old, small, dark, neat, handsome and always modestly swaddled in grays and blacks, as if he had just run off from his confirmation. He is, in fact, Catholic and French-Canadian, as are 85% of his constituents, and the other day in Lewiston, the city in southwest Maine that Mayor Bob helps run, you knew immediately that boxing had turned him on, even though, as he put it, you will not be able to drag him to the Liston-Clay fight when it is held there next week. The Child Mayor went to a boxing match once and walked out, sickened.
But if the dramatic properties of this Liston-Clay thing escaped him, far-sighted, good-of-the-community practicality did not, and there he was outside the arena, the Central Maine Youth Center, called St. Dominick's, standing up to the first wave of slicks who had come into Lewiston looking for answers.
"It will be great, worth millions in publicity," he said. "I could not be happier. And, my friends, my office is always open to you." Yes, Mayor, but when 5,000 boxing people—you know the type—descend on this town, what will happen to Lewiston's sensitivities? "I like all people who come to Lewis-ton," said Mayor Bob.
For a venerable, 102-year-old mill town (cotton goods, shoes), Lewiston gets short shrift in the encyclopedias because nothing much ever happened there. But it is no snake-oil town, no Shelby, Mont., to squelch a comparison. It has Bates College in it, for one thing, and 41,000 people and they do not fool easy. It was in Lewiston that Rocky Marciano tried to pawn off his brother as Peter Fuller for an exhibition match and got found out. The public demeanor, however, is more Friendly French than Down East Suspicious. Lewiston cares not why Boston fouled up this match, only that it fouled it right into the stands of St. Dom's, and that beats the usual summer run of roller skating and bingo.
Downtown Lewiston is a clutter of small stores and a diabolical stop-light system that moves traffic in intermittent jerks. The names over the stores are mostly French, but the young people are not picking up the language and Le Messager, an all-French newspaper, has cut back to once a week. Drinking is pretty much confined to a few clubs, like The Holly and The Cairo. The only real hotel in town is being demolished; people who come to the fight will have to make do in 350 motel rooms, or at the Poland Springs House, a full-blown resort 12 miles out. Poland Springs was built by Hiram Ricker, and for years Jews and Negroes were excluded. But times change. The resort is now owned by Saul Feldman, the happiest man around when the fight was made, because he has 700 rooms and stands to make a mint. Feld-man quickly arranged for Sonny Liston to train at his place.
The local promoter is Sam Michael, a Lebanese with a nose that gets out there and a reputation for making things move. He has brought to Lewiston the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters, and matched up local boxing favorites like Lefty LeChance and Paul Junior. He says Lewiston has always been a great fight town, and once, with Hermie Freeman against Al Coutres, he sold ringside seats for $2 and had a record $8,000 gate. But now that is beneath him. He should make $15,000 promoting tickets that will sell for $100, $50 and $25.
"Oh, the tickets will be sold, no doubt about it. This is the biggest thing since John Kennedy came here in 1960," said the blonde waitress at Steckino's, the best eatery in town. "I had one rich fellow tell me he would buy two $100 seats if he could take me. But he didn't say how far he wanted to take me. I'll pay my own way."
Lewiston is no sucker town.