The first reading of a proposal to rescind the Portland City Council’s recommendation to endorse a contract with a concert promoter who has pleaded guilty to domestic violence drew a large crowd Monday night even though no debate or public comment was allowed on the issue.

City councilors met in closed session to discuss the council’s legal rights and duties regarding its previous endorsement of Waterfront Concerts putting on another summer of shows at the city-owned Maine State Pier.

Waterfront Concerts owner and President Alex Gray pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault in October and four months later the council unanimously endorsed a fourth summer season of concerts at the pier.

But last week, Gray’s victim, Erica Cole, published a blog about her experience, calling on the city to rethink its decision. The post was widely read and sparked a wave of backlash against Gray.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said he’d push the council to rescind its recommended contract, and some local musicians began pressuring the Aura nightclub, where Gray’s company books shows, to cut ties with the promoter.

City Attorney Danielle West-Chuhta said that the council would be discussing in closed session “possible ramifications” of rescinding its prior approval.

Strimling was not at Monday’s meeting, which drew many people who have been employed by Waterfront Concerts on the Maine State Pier.

Waterfront Concerts also promotes shows in Bangor. Bangor’s city manager said the city could not get out of its 10-year contract with Waterfront Concerts, which was approved a month before Gray pleaded guilty. And since that approval, Bangor councilors have been discussing possibly extending that contract, so the company can build a permanent outdoor concert venue next to the Penobscot River.

In an Op-Ed published Monday in the Bangor Daily News, three Bangor councilors called on the council to do more to address domestic violence, though they conceded the city could not break its contract. According to the newspaper, Councilors Sarah Nichols, Laura Supica and Clare Davitt urged the company to reconsider whether Gray should continue to lead it.

“It is high time for Waterfront Concerts to think hard on whether it wants someone guilty of domestic violence representing its brand and presence in this community,” the three councilors wrote in a news release, the newspaper reported.

Cole, who was crowned Miss Maine USA in 2005, had been in a relationship with Gray for about five years. That relationship ended after Gray assaulted her in his Portland condo early one morning in March 2017.

Cole told police that she and Gray argued intermittently during a night out with friends and, after returning to Gray’s Portland condominium, he demanded to see her cellphone. Feeling threatened, she said she decided to leave and Gray demanded her keys to the condo when she said she was going to stay elsewhere that night.

According to the police report, Cole said Gray then kicked her legs out from under her while the two struggled for her purse and he put a hand on her throat, using his other hand to grab the keys, and then banged her head against the floor.

Although Gray pleaded guilty last fall, he will be able to withdraw his guilty plea if he abides by 22-court-ordered conditions, which include not contacting Cole.

After his October court appearance, Gray denied the specifics of the allegations, saying that if he had actually banged Cole’s head against the floor, “I’d be standing here on a murder charge.”

Monday’s council agenda in Portland included a proposal to rescind the council’s prior recommendation. Alternatively, the council could award the summer concert series to another company.

The Portland council only conducted a first reading of the proposals, so no debate or public comment was allowed on the items. That will occur at the council’s April 18 meeting.

In addition to the Maine State Pier, Waterfront Concerts also books shows at Merrill Auditorium and Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. It also books shows at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor, Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and Bold Point Park in East Providence, Rhode Island, according to the company’s website.


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