WATERVILLE — The leaders of a petition drive to recall Mayor Nick Isgro said Wednesday many people were afraid to sign out of fear they would be retaliated against by the mayor or his supporters.

Meanwhile, the city had verified 784 signatures on the petition as of 5 p.m. — the deadline for signatures to be handed in.

Deputy City Clerk Sarah Cross said more than 857 signatures total had been turned in and a final tally on verified signatures is likely Thursday. She did not have a total of how many signatures have been handed in.

“I’ll wait and see,” said Isgro in an interview from his office Wednesday around 5 p.m.

The second-term Republican mayor has come under fire for his social media comments, including a recent post on his private Twitter account telling the survivor of a Florida school shooting to “Eat it.”

In order to trigger a recall election, the petitioners needed to gather 857 signatures from registered voters in Waterville, or 15 percent of the number of voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election. It was started by former Mayor Karen Heck and residents Hilary Koch and Jim Chiddix. Waterville resident Carolyn Adams later replaced Heck as one of the three who filled out the paperwork to take out the petition after it was re-filed April 10 due to a technicality.

“We don’t have any numbers yet,” Koch said. “I know we handed in more than 857, but in terms of anything verified I don’t have numbers. All I would say is I feel confident in all the hard work we put in, and I met a lot of people who shared their concerns with me about the mayor’s behavior.”

Isgro has blamed “the well-connected and wealthy political elites” for the recall effort and backlash over his social media posts and has not apologized for his recent tweet at Florida student David Hogg.

The tweet, which was screenshot and shared on Twitter earlier this month, has called attention to other past social media posts by Isgro, which include him defending 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.

Chiddix said Wednesday he did not feel confident the petition would go through. On Tuesday, City Clerk Patti Dubois, in giving an update on the signatures, said she had to turn away about 75 signatures, which Chiddix said was mostly due to people signing who hadn’t filled out the necessary paperwork to be registered voters, a requirement to sign.

He and Koch also said Wednesday they encountered a number of people who were afraid to sign.

“The sense I got is many were afraid of the consequences of signing their name,” Chiddix said. “They didn’t want Isgro to be mayor because he’s not civil and this was unacceptable behavior, yet they were afraid because they were workers for the city or in a business that might have been affected. Some of the people in opposition to the recall have had very threatening attitudes. You may have seen that at some city council meetings from people who support Isgro.”

Since the recall started, two anonymously run Facebook pages, the Waterville Resistance and Waterville Republican Party, have spread misinformation about the recall and lead attacks on Koch, Heck and others. The Waterville Republican Party page has been removed from Facebook, but a new page, Waterville Republicans, has replaced it.

Mayor Nick Isgro stands at the podium during a City Council meeting in Waterville on Tuesday, April 17. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Asked about the pages Wednesday, Isgro said, “I’m not going to get involved in speculation (as to who runs them). I’ll leave that to others. I’m focused on my message and the people I represent.”

He also said his supporters are not part of a bullying culture.

“The people in this community who support me, regardless of party — and there are a lot of unregistered and Democratic voters who support me — they are wonderful, decent people,” Isgro said. “Yes, they are passionate people, but they are not bullies. The bullies are people like Karen Heck and some of the people going door to door.

“Karen Heck is a bully. She didn’t like something I said so she’s been sending me text messages lashing out and trying to smear a whole bunch of people because they support me.”

Isgro also said the Maine People’s Alliance and Maine Democratic Party have been sending text messages and emails to residents encouraging them to sign the recall petition and that out-of -town residents have been involved in getting signatures.

“It isn’t a question of legality, it’s a question of are the people of Waterville going to be influenced by people who have nothing to do with the repercussions that they’ll face living in this city,” he said.

Mike Tipping, spokesman for the progressive Maine People’s Alliance, said his group hasn’t been involved in the effort aside from an article in its publication the Maine Beacon that included screen shots of past social media posts by Isgro. Spokesmen for the Maine Democratic Party did not respond to requests for comment.

Critics of Isgro have acknowledged that while he has the freedom to say whatever he wants on his private social media, the posts are unbecoming of the office and do not contribute to a picture of Waterville as a welcoming and hospitable city.

“I speak about issues I’m passionate about particularly on my personal social media, just as I encourage others to do,” Isgro said. “Sometimes people aren’t going to like that but I think we’re at a dangerous point in society where we’re trying to destroy people’s lives because of what they’ve said. We need to get back to city business.”

When a reporter tried to ask about specific posts Isgro has made, he cut her off and ended the conversation.

“My social media has been available for years,” he said. “I’m not going to get involved in a piece where we regurgitate a bunch of stuff.”

On Tuesday, city councilors approved a separate recall petition for the Ward 5 council seat currently held by John O’Donnell.

That effort was started by resident Jay Coelho, who acknowledged that the Isgro recall effort played into his decision to take out the recall papers on O’Donnell, who was appointed to a vacant seat earlier this month.

If the signatures on the mayoral recall petition meet the required threshold, the council will likely meet May 8 to set the date for the recall election, probably during a city referendum June 12.

Voters would be asked whether they want to recall Isgro or not. If the recall goes ahead, Council Chair Steve Soule would become acting mayor until another mayoral election can be held.

“Generally, people don’t know Isgro’s background as an internet troll,” Chiddix said. “The incident dealing with this young man isn’t the first nasty tweet or Facebook post. He’s done that for years. But I think people are afraid of retaliation, either by their neighbors or I guess by the mayor, or they are afraid of getting in trouble with their employers. If we could have a ballot vote, people wouldn’t be afraid to express their opinions.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm