WATERVILLE — Municipal officials on Thursday certified that petitioners seeking to oust Republican Mayor Nick Isgro from office had collected enough signatures from residents to force a recall vote, setting up a divisive special election next month.

Just two days earlier, the City Council agreed to place a request to recall John O’Donnell, a Democrat temporarily representing Ward 5, on the June 12 election ballot after petitioners had gathered signatures to initiate that vote.

The dueling recall efforts come after weeks of increasingly tense political disagreements at City Hall.

A group that included former Mayor Karen Heck launched the effort to recall Isgro after the current two-term mayor came under fire for a tweet in which he told Florida school shooting survivor David Hogg to “eat it.”

In a statement posted on his mayoral Facebook page late Thursday and addressed to the people of Waterville, Isgro called the recall effort “a disgraceful and dishonest campaign that preyed upon our elderly, disrespected our Veterans, smeared community volunteers as ‘racist’ and bullied our residents.

“It appears that outside special interest groups spending thousands of dollars — while colluding with well-connected political elites and the local press — allegedly turned in enough signatures to have a vote to repeal our accomplishments and repeal local control of Our City,” he wrote, adding that a team will be examining the petition signatures for accuracy.


“It is not about a three word, promptly-deleted comment on social media,” Isgro said. “They do not like the way we run Our City, they do not like that we speak up at meetings, and they do not like how you have worked with me in an effort to put you first.”

Julian Payne, a Democrat who is a member of the Waterville school board and supports Isgro, called Thursday “one of the darkest days any city in Maine has endured” and said he was disappointed in the outcome of the petition forcing the recall vote.

“Everyone needs to be accountable for what they say, but when the standard set causes so much chaos, what’s next?” Payne said. “I’m scared to say anything or make any joke. The charter has a recall provision for embezzlement and criminal records. That’s what a recall is for.”

In a statement Thursday, leaders of the recall effort said it “has revealed how many Waterville citizens are concerned that Mayor Isgro is no longer able to fulfill the duty of acting as a good ambassador for Waterville.”

“He has failed to show leadership, accept responsibility for his actions, and has contributed to the divisiveness in our community,” their statement said. “We believe that the people of Waterville want this city and its residents to be seen as a place where everyone feels safe and welcome.”

The Waterville city clerk’s office certified that a total of 887 valid signatures had been gathered — exactly 30 more than were needed to force a recall election of Isgro. The petition residents signed asked, “Shall Mayor Nicholas S. Isgro be recalled?”


City Clerk Patti Dubois said in an email that the City Council will act on a resolution to call a special election officially at its budget workshop meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

The election would be held June 12, at which point voters would be asked if they want to recall the mayor. If the item passes, City Council Chairman Steve Soule would become acting mayor until a new mayoral election can be held. Soule, a Democrat representing Ward 1, did not respond immediately to a phone call Thursday afternoon.

Leaders of the citywide petition expressed gratitude and relief upon learning they had gathered enough signatures, when just two days earlier they still needed 181 more verified signatures.

Heck thanked residents for their willingness to sign “even though there was a lot of tension and fear.”

“I’m glad we’re able to put this question on the ballot to decide what values Waterville wants to be known by,” Heck said. “I think it will be overwhelmingly inclusive, diverse and respectful.”

Isgro was not at his office Thursday afternoon at City Hall when a reporter stopped by and later responded to requests for comment with the statement posted on his mayoral Facebook page.


“In the coming weeks, a dark cloud of deceit will descend on Waterville,” the statement said. “Thousands more will be spent, paid political operatives will roam the streets, political parties will lay claim to your vote, and the efforts to deceive and intimidate will continue.”

It went on to encourage residents to reject the recall at the polls and “once and for all put an end to the effort to divide this great community.”

Following the launching of the Isgro recall effort last month, Jay Coelho, who was one of four candidates seeking the vacant Ward 5 City Council seat that O’Donnell had been appointed to, filed paperwork to recall O’Donnell. Coelho said at the time he knew that residents in his ward “vehemently did not want John O’Donnell” in the council seat and when he saw the Isgro recall effort, “I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a neat little process,’ and it snowballed from there.”

Although the Waterville mayor has clashed with others before, the recall efforts stem from him using his personal Twitter account telling Hogg, the 17-year-old student, to “eat it.” Isgro was responding to a story that Fox News would continue to back talk show host Laura Ingraham after she made disparaging remarks about Hogg, who was calling for stricter gun-control laws and called on sponsors to boycott the conservative commenter.

Isgro later deleted the tweet, but screenshots of it traveled far on social media. The Maine Democratic Party released statements condemning the remark and calling on Isgro to resign as mayor. The liberal advocacy group Maine Peoples’ Alliance also seized on the tweet by bringing to light other past social media posts by Isgro that included 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.

Isgro also no longer works at his job as a controller and assistant vice president at Skowhegan Savings Bank shortly after the recall got underway, with bank President John Witherspoon condemning the tweet. Although the bank said Isgro left on his own, his departure drew the ire of several prominent Republicans, including Gov. Paul LePage, who wrote in a letter to Witherspoon that the bank president had “fallen prey to the leftist hate ideology that refuses to recognize free speech.”


The Waterville mayor has refused to comment directly on the tweet itself. In a statement, Isgro has blamed Heck and others for leading attacks on his livelihood and has said the “well-connected and wealthy political elites” are behind the recall effort along with “their friends in the media and dark money-funded outsiders.”

Meanwhile, the controversy — Isgro’s tweet, the recall effort and his job loss — have been invoked several times at recent City Council meetings, leading to tense exchanges among residents and officials.

Leaders of the petition drive — which include Heck, residents Carolyn Adams, Jim Chiddix, and Hilary Koch — said in their statement Thursday that the effort “has always been about providing an opportunity for all voices, not just the loud and angry ones to be heard.”

Organizers of the Isgro recall effort had needed to gather 857 signatures, or 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the last governor’s election, to call for a special municipal election. The city has about 12,000 registered voters.

Dubois, the city clerk, said Thursday that 1,033 signatures were collected. Of those, 887 were certified; 128 were rejected and 18 were disqualified.

“I’m grateful for every bit of the excellent volunteer work that was done in gathering signatures,” Chiddix said Thursday. “It wasn’t an easy job. As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of voters were afraid of having their names out there for wanting to expose the mayor for his internet troll activities.”


Isgro, though, has been posting on his mayor’s Facebook page saying that the signature-gatherers have been the ones spreading fear, aided by phone calls made by the Maine Democratic Party. On Wednesday, he posted a photo with a resident — the latest in a series of posts with people who support Isgro and rebuffed petitioners — who reported “yet another attempt by out-of-town signature gatherers to deceive, intimidate, and harass.”

“They told him that signing the petition would allow him to be able to vote for me in an upcoming recall vote. Very, very deceitful,” Isgro wrote.

Koch, one of the petition organizers, said that if Isgro had decided to apologize for and address his social media posts, the outcome may have been different.

“Anyone who holds elected office doesn’t stop being accountable to their constituents once they’re elected,” she said. “It’s important to recognize that at any given time people have the right to say, ‘Wait a minute, we may not be OK with this.’ We were hopeful he would address his role in this, and he hasn’t. Instead, he’s so focused on everyone else’s behavior but his own.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368


Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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