WATERVILLE — A handful of residents have started a recall petition seeking to oust Mayor Nick Isgro following outrage over his behavior on social media, including a recent tweet in which he told a survivor of a Florida school shooting to “eat it.”

Former Mayor Karen Heck, along with residents Jim Chiddix and Hilary Koch, took out paperwork at Waterville City Hall Monday morning to initiate the recall process for Isgro, a Republican serving his second term as mayor who recently toyed with the idea of running for governor but decided against it.

Nick Isgro

Meanwhile, Isgro broke his silence on the controversy, releasing a statement later Monday in which he gave no indication he is thinking of resigning and said he would continue to work for the people of Waterville. He did not respond to a call seeking comment or follow up questions sent on Facebook.

“The well-connected and wealthy political elites have a very different agenda for our city and they seek to roll-back our accomplishments achieved together,” Isgro said in the release. “The effort they have started with their friends in the media and dark money funded outsiders who do not live in our city is not simply an attack on me, it’s an attack on all of us.”

The recall petition will need signatures from at least 15 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election, or 857 signatures, by May 1 in order to set the date for a recall vote.

Heck served one term as Waterville’s mayor prior to Isgro and is unenrolled in any of Maine’s three political parties, although she has publicly stated her preference for Democrats. In a surprise move, Heck endorsed Isgro’s candidacy for mayor in 2014 — saying at the time that Isgro was a “more thoughtful and positive force” than other candidates — but she said during a news conference outside City Hall on Monday that she now felt differently and hoped he would resign.

Last week, Isgro wrote in a tweet that Parkland, Florida school shooting survivor David Hogg should “Eat it, Hogg,” in response to a story that Fox News would continue to back its host Laura Ingraham after she also made disparaging remarks about Hogg.

“I believe his tweet attacking David Hogg and his recently revealed Facebook posts are clear indications … he no longer feels treating others with respect is necessary,” Heck said of Isgro during the Monday news conference. “In so doing, I believe he is no longer representative of the feelings of most residents of Waterville. Undertaking the recall will determine if that is true.”

The tweet was condemned by Democrats across the state as well as several city councilors and residents. It lead to widespread outrage over Isgro’s history of posting inflammatory comments on social media and calls for his resignation.

Meanwhile, the president of Skowhegan Savings Bank, where Isgro worked as a controller and assistant vice president, said Monday he no longer works there, declining to comment further.

John Witherspoon, president and CEO of the bank, had earlier condemned Isgro’s comment in a statement on Friday, saying the bank was “disappointed and dismayed.”

“On behalf of the bank we apologize to those in the community who have been offended, including our own employees and the students in Florida, for what I would say was thoughtless and inappropriate behavior,” he said.

During his four years in office Isgro has worked closely with Colby College on efforts to revitalize downtown Waterville, including the construction of a new $25.5 million residential complex and redevelopment of Main Street.

Officials at Colby declined to comment on the situation or Isgro’s comments on social media.

RECALL EFFORT

The city charter states that three registered voters must file an affidavit in order to initiate a recall petition, a process begun Monday by Heck, Chiddix and Koch.

Former Waterville Mayor Karen Heck and residents Hilary Koch and Jim Chiddix take out paperwork at Waterville City Hall to start a petition to recall Mayor Nick Isgro on Monday. Staff photo by Rachel Ohm

If the petition is successful in garnering enough signatures, it then will go before the City Council, which must accept the petition and set the date for a recall vote. The vote would not put in place a new mayor, but rather ask residents if they want to recall Isgro as mayor.

If the mayor is recalled, the chairman of the City Council — Steve Soule — would take over as mayor until a new election can be held.

Primary and referendum elections are taking place June 12 in the city, and it is possible the recall question could be added to the ballot if the signatures are gathered in a timely manner, according to City Clerk Patti Dubois.

“It would be a little challenging but it’s not impossible,” Dubois said.

The only other recall of a mayor in recent Waterville history was in December 1998 when Mayor Ruth Joseph was recalled following accusations she was bullying employees, making secret deals and trying to bypass the City Council. She was replaced in a recall election in 1999 by Nelson Madore, the predecessor to Paul LePage, who served two terms as Waterville mayor before being elected Maine governor.

Heck, who was also active in the campaign against Joseph but didn’t take out the recall papers in that effort, said she isn’t interested in running for mayor again if the recall is successful.

“I have no political ambition above what I had, which was a great term as mayor,” she said.

‘NOT ABOUT ONE TWEET’

Alongside Heck on Monday were residents Koch and Chiddix, who also condemned Isgro’s social media posts.

Waterville resident Jim Chiddix, center, talks about the petition to recall Mayor Nick Isgro during a news conference outside Waterville City Hall on Monday. Behind him, from left to right, are residents Hilary Koch, former Waterville Mayor Karen Heck and Bryan Evans. Staff photo by Rachel Ohm

The three, who are part of a newly formed group called Waterville Together, said they will be going door-to-door with the petition and would have a copy available at the City Clerk’s office for signing.

“This is not about one tweet,” said Koch, a stay-at-home mother and former teacher in Waterville schools. “I have watched Mayor Isgro allow lengthy public discussions of issues he favored and quietly ask city councilors to motion for a vote to cut off discussion he did not favor.”

Chiddix, a retired real estate broker, said Mayor Isgro has used “his well-known childish social media persona to embarrass the people of Waterville.”

“After Laura Ingraham made her unkind remarks to high school shooting survivor David Hogg, Mayor Isgro then tweeted his childish remark,” Chiddix said. “That is unacceptable and inappropriate behavior for any public official, especially when made to a boy who just escaped with his life in a school shooting.”

Isgro’s tweet about Hogg, which has since been deleted, was recorded in a screenshot by a Twitter account called Waterville Republicans. The owner of the account, however, said he created it and others just to troll Maine Republicans.

News of the tweet spurred others to come forward with criticisms of additional social media posts by the mayor, including his defense of accused child molester Roy Moore during the Alabama Senate election last year, rants against public education and a vulgar reference to anti-sexual harassment legislation.

The majority-Democrat City Council has also largely condemned Isgro’s remarks.

“The recall is the democratic process by which the city charter allows citizens to voice their dissent and I respect that,” said Councilor Jackie Dupont, a Democrat from Ward 7, on Monday. “I’ve found his recent tweet was unacceptable and his social media representation does not reflect the values of Waterville. It’s disheartening that he hasn’t at least apologized when we need leadership that is inclusive and not divisive.”

Sydney Mayhew, the only Republican on the council, also weighed in on the situation Monday by defending Isgro.

“This is a politically motivated attack coming from a dark ideological corner that simply cannot tolerate a powerful defender of the taxpayers of Waterville like Mayor Isgro has been,” Mayhew said in an email. “His record of economic success and defense of everyday people is impeccable.”

Julian Payne, who serves on the Waterville School Board and recently sought an appointment by the council to represent Ward 5, also defended Isgro in an email to a reporter in which he called the recall effort a “political coup” and said that both the current council and Heck have a history of suppressing and attacking the views of residents.

“In Waterville there is a small nucleus of the usual known suspects hell bent on ideologies who spread discontent and untruths through out our community via any means necessary,” Payne wrote. “They have long tentacles that reach into every home. Octopuses of discontent, they have turned my tolerant city of 26 years into a community that I am not proud of.”

Councilor Nathaniel White, a Democrat representing Ward 2, is the only member of the council who has not weighed in on the situation. He did not respond to calls seeking comment Monday.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, also did not respond to calls seeking comment Monday.

This is not the first time Isgro has come under fire for his social media comments. In 2015, he apologized for calling members of Waterville’s planning board inept and cowardly on Twitter, after those board members said his comments were unprofessional and amounted to name-calling.

When Isgro announced in late January he had decided against running as a Republican candidate for governor, he said at a news conference that the candidates should “listen to the grassroots coalition made up of rural Mainers who share our goals and our dreams,” even as he slammed the gubernatorial candidates from all the political parties by calling them a field of career lobbyists and insiders — “custodians of decline.”

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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