Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said Tuesday that he wants the City Council to rescind its endorsement of contract negotiations with a concert promoter who pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault.

At the same time, some local musicians are vowing not to perform at or patronize a Portland nightclub until they are assured the club has no involvement with the promoter. Some also are contacting out-of-state musicians to let them know about the assault.

The victim of that assault, Erica Cole, met with Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings on Tuesday, a day after she posted a blog containing an open letter calling on Maine’s largest city to stop doing business with Waterfront Concerts and its owner.

“By continuing to do business with Alex Gray and his companies, you are sending a message that domestic violence is acceptable in Portland,” Cole wrote in the blog post, which had been viewed more than 40,000 times by Tuesday afternoon.

Waterfront Concerts promotes performances in Bangor and Rhode Island in addition to Portland, where it puts on shows at the city-owned Maine State Pier and Merrill Auditorium. Portland gets money from those concerts, including $54,000 in net revenue from the pier concerts last year.

Strimling said he’ll ask the council to rescind its February endorsement of negotiations on the state pier concert contract because Gray has shown a “lack of contrition” since pleading guilty to a misdemeanor domestic-violence assault charge in October. Gray will be able to withdraw his guilty plea if he complies with 22 court-ordered conditions, which include not contacting Cole.

The proposal to rescind the endorsement of negotiations will appear Monday on the council meeting agenda, but a public hearing, debate and vote won’t occur until April 18, Strimling said.

“I think we should not move forward with the contract,” the mayor said. “I think we need to make a strong statement around domestic violence. Our values are more important than our bottom line.”

Cole said in a written statement Tuesday that she was “grateful and overwhelmed” by the support she’s received from the community and “encouraged” by the support from Strimling and Jennings.

“My hope is that the Portland City Council will show the same level of support and take appropriate action,” Cole said. “By taking action, our City Council will help more women realize the power of their own voice and see that Portland is a place that doesn’t tolerate violence against women.”

PROMOTER’S ROLE AT NIGHTCLUB

Meanwhile, local musicians Spencer Albee and Renee Coolbrith said Tuesday they will not patronize or play at Aura until the nightclub’s owners clarify Gray’s involvement.

It’s a delicate position for both musicians, who say they have good relationships with and respect for Aura’s employees and the owners, and don’t want them to be negatively affected by the situation.

“I recognize that there are people tied to these jobs,” Albee said. “I don’t want to slap food out of anybody’s mouth.”

Albee said he tried to arrange a meeting with Aura’s owners to discuss the issue, but has been unsuccessful.

“If Aura doesn’t have any ties with Waterfront Concerts, then I have no trouble with Aura,” Albee said. “Until I’m assured they have no involvement with Waterfront Concerts, I’m not in a position to play or patronize that venue.”

Aura General Manager Mark Curdo referred all questions Monday to co-owners Krista Newman, Valerie Levey and Laura Willie. None of the owners responded to repeated requests Monday and Tuesday for information about Gray’s involvement.

After undergoing a $9 million renovation, the former Asylum nightclub on Center Street reopened last April as Aura. News reports said booking at the venue would be a joint venture between Waterfront Concerts and Live Nation. Last August, the Penobscot Times described Waterfront Concerts as “a leading partner” in the project.

Gray said in a phone interview Tuesday that his company helped design and build Aura, and installed the speakers. His company also does some subcontracting with the venue for additional equipment and services as needed.

Gray said his company books “a very small percentage” of the shows at Aura, with most of the bookings being handled by Live Nation.

He said he was upset that local musicians were targeting Aura because of his involvement, while not holding the nearby State Theatre to the same standard based on its connections. Philip Anschutz, whose company AEG Live has an ownership stake in the Congress Street music venue, is under fire for giving money to right-wing, anti-LGBTQ organizations, according to the New York Daily News. Anschutz told the Los Angeles Times that the story was “fake news.”

Before Portland musicians “chuck some (expletive) rocks, they might want to look in their own backyards,” Gray said.

SPREADING WORD ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Coolbrith, a 28-year-old vocalist involved with several local acts that cross many genres, was among those saying she will not play at Aura unless it severs ties with Gray.

Coolbrith said she has been involved in abusive relationships and often performs fundraisers for groups advocating for the protection of women and the LGBT community.

“He shouldn’t be profiting off any shows that are happening,” she said.

Waterfront Concerts also books shows at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Darlings Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor, Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and Bold Point Park in East Providence, Rhode Island, according to the company website.

Some critics of the promoter are using social media and other means to make national artists aware of the domestic violence plea. Albee said he has written directly to David Byrne, founding member of the Talking Heads, who is scheduled to play at Merrill Auditorium this fall.

“I would really like to see David Byrne. I love the Talking Heads. I’m not going to go see that show, because I’m not going to put money in (Gray’s) pocket,” Albee said. He said he is pleased that the City Council will reconsider its endorsement of contract negotiations with the promoter.

In February, the council voted to allow Waterfront Concerts to book shows at the state pier and Merrill Auditorium. At the time, councilors Brian Batson and Kimberly Cook questioned Gray’s involvement in the company.

Gray did not personally attend the meeting. But Jon Dow, who represented the company, said Gray was still the owner and president of Waterfront Concerts, but stressed that “there’s far more than Alex with the company.”

Gray said Tuesday that the company has 25 full-time employees and 800 seasonal workers.

This week, Strimling said he was sorry that he didn’t do more research before being part of the council’s unanimous endorsement of the contract negotiations.

On Tuesday, Cook said she may reconsider her support for the negotiations, too.

“If Alex Gray is the sole member and/or the managing member of the LLC, and if he pleaded guilty to these charges (I have only seen media reports, not court documents), then I cannot support the city continuing a business relationship with him,” Cook said in an email. “I have asked that going forward, the council be provided a full picture of the ownership of business entities when we are considering approving contracts such as these.”

Bangor, meanwhile, is not reconsidering its business relationship with Gray. The city signed a 10-year contract with Gray months after he was arrested and about a month before he pleaded guilty. Gray has since unveiled an ambitious proposal to build a permanent outdoor concert venue on the Bangor waterfront.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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