WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro posted the names and pictures of several circulators of a petition to oust him from office on his personal Facebook page over the weekend, raising questions about outside involvement in the recall effort as critics pointed to the posts as examples of intimidation.

The posts include screenshots of the Facebook pages or petition paperwork from six signature gatherers from Portland and other places around the state with commentary such as, “Hello Mr. Signature Gatherer #5, I’m honored you came from so far away on my behalf!”

It’s the latest instance of the mayor calling into question the integrity of the petition, which was started last month after outrage over a tweet Isgro made on his personal Twitter account telling the survivor of a Florida school shooting to “Eat it.”

Last week, after the petition gathered the necessary number of signatures to force a recall vote, Isgro said it was a “coordinated effort organized by dark money funded outsiders.”

“It is becoming clearer each day that this recall effort is a backdoor attempt to repeal the election results and raise the mill rate, causing property taxes to skyrocket,” Isgro wrote on his official mayoral Facebook page Monday. “The veto power you vested in me is the one obstacle that stands in their way. Powerful forces want us out of their way.”

Isgro has been critical of the Maine Democratic Party’s involvement in helping to gather signatures on the petition and also referred to “members of special interest groups from Portland” in his statement Monday.

He did not respond to questions sent via phone and email, including specifics on what he means by “dark money” and whether he would be able to provide the names of people who were deceived and intimidated by signature gatherers.

Meanwhile, those involved with the recall effort pointed to Isgro’s posts on his personal page as an example of the bullying and harassment circulators faced and a reason some residents were afraid to sign the petition.

Former Waterville Mayor Karen Heck, one of three residents who initiated the recall effort, said in an email that while she initially told the Democratic Party residents did not need help gathering signatures, she eventually asked for it after some circulators reported feeling threatened or intimidated.

“I was appalled, but not surprised, when I saw that Nick was posting pictures of signature circulators Friday night,” Heck said. “This behavior is exactly the reason we heard so frequently from Waterville residents at their doors that they were too afraid to circulate or sign the petition, for fear of intimidation or retribution.”

The Republican mayor’s tweet and subsequent backlash come amidst heightened political tensions not just in Waterville, but nationwide.

“There’s a lot of outrage right now,” said Rob Glover, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maine. “There are a lot of people energized and active in politics that might not have previously been. They’re kind of hyper-active. A lot of these things end up on social media and then they kind of explode.”

Like in Waterville, some conservatives across the country have expressed skepticism about the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that in several cases has translated to a “dangerous political strategy that can blow up,” Glover said.

Isgro, in his post Monday, said while he respects the rights of Waterville residents who signed the petition, “I am inclined to believe it was these non-residents and political operatives who committed the acts of fraud, deception and intimidation against our elderly and disabled veterans.”

“I have two questions to ask you, the People of Waterville: Is it ethical to allow non-residents and paid employees of outside special interest groups based in Augusta and elsewhere to determine who will serve in elected office in Waterville? Or should only Waterville residents determine who represents them?”

Chris Glynn, press secretary for the Maine Democratic Party, said in a statement that members of the recall effort contacted them for help “when it became clear that Mayor Isgro’s allies were intent on threatening and intimidating their petition gatherers.

“While Mayor Isgro tries to point the finger of blame at everyone but himself in an attempt to distract from his terrible comments and his refusal to apologize, the fact is that the people of Waterville have always had the ultimate power in this decision and nearly 900 of them said they want a recall election. We think that’s the real reason why the mayor is upset.”

Glynn said he was surprised by Isgro’s statement that out-of-town signature gatherers have been harassing and intimidating residents but not surprised to hear the mayor had begun to “dox” some of the signature gatherers on his personal page.

“We knew the mayor engaged in this type of behavior, and we’re just disappointed that he continues to do so,” Glynn said.

Bryan Evans, a resident who was involved in the recall effort, said he tried to circulate the petition but had to stop because he was getting threats, including on the anonymously run Waterville Resistance Facebook page, and ended up reporting them to the Waterville Police Department.

“It’s sad to see our mayor endorsing fake Facebook pages by staying silent and not speaking out against the hate and harassment,” Evans said in a Facebook message to a reporter. “I have received messages and comments telling me I should have been aborted and that I am a ‘sperm burper.’ I will not get into all the details of the messages/comments as they are highly inappropriate and threatening.

“I come from a Republican family and was raised to always respect each other’s views and I will continue to. I have to say, if I was a Republican, I would be ashamed of the things they are saying and how they are representing the Republican party.”

According to an analysis of the petition by the Morning Sentinel, eight staff members of the Maine Democratic Party were involved in helping to gather signatures. About 38 people total circulated the petition, which was also available at City Hall for residents to sign. Lindsay Ware, a Portland resident who works for Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, according to her LinkedIn page, was also among the signature gatherers.

The City Council is expected to set the date for a special election on the recall question for June 12 at a budget workshop meeting Tuesday.

Four councilors; two challengers who faced Isgro in the last mayoral election, Democrat Erik Thomas and Independent John Levesque; and state Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville; were among the 887 residents who signed.

Waterville City Councilor John O’Donnell, a Democrat and former council chair recently appointed to represent Ward 5, signed the petition and was also involved in gathering signatures.

O’Donnell has made comments that he doesn’t think outsiders were involved in gathering signatures. When told last week the Democratic party was involved, he admitted he was wrong and said he didn’t see the party’s involvement as a problem.

“Maybe, as (Isgro’s wife, Amanda Isgro) suggested, there are people from Farmington or other locations getting signatures,” he said. “I don’t think that’s bad. I think as Democrats we stand together and want to stand up for Democratic principals.”

Other councilors who signed the petition are Democrats Lauren Lessing, Ward 3; Winifred Tate, Ward 6; and Jackie Dupont, Ward 7.

Tate, who has publicly stated her disapproval of Isgro’s comments, said she signed as a private citizen. Regardless of the outcome of the recall, she said she will continue to work with the mayor on moving the city forward.

“I will continue to work for the city and the people of my ward on the budget and all the issues coming before the city,” Tate said. “I expect him to behave in a civil way because he’s still in the mayor’s job.”

Lessing, in an email, said she is “trying not to get too wrapped up in what Mayor Isgro says.

“All I can say about the petition drive is that a very polite lady came to my door and had a conversation with me. Signing the petition made good sense to me. The sooner we can move past Mayor Isgro’s divisive rhetoric and bring Waterville residents together around the many things that unite us — most importantly our bright future — the better!”

The controversy over Isgro’s tweet, as well as other past tweets and his general social media persona, has contributed to a divisive political climate in Waterville. It’s also spurred dueling recall efforts, including a recall of O’Donnell and most recently a recall of Dupont, who did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Meanwhile, critics of the effort to recall Isgro have also wondered how many Colby College students signed the petition and whether student signatures were used to drum up additional support for the recall.

The college, which is in the middle of investing tens of millions of dollars downtown, including a new dorm that will house about 200 students, has not made any public comments on the political situation in Waterville and whether it could affect revitalization.

About 200 of the 887 signees on the petition listed addresses between 4000 and 9000 Mayflower Hill Drive, indicating they are likely Colby students.

Ruth Jackson, spokeswoman for the college, said in an email that Colby President David Greene was asked about the current political situation in Waterville at a staff meeting Friday and responded that he “is not involved in electoral politics and he has no intention of taking sides on the current issues in local government.”

Greene also said, “Colby’s commitment to Waterville and to downtown redevelopment is firm, and we will continue our efforts to build on the strengths that make Waterville a great place to live and work,” according to Jackson. “As we move through this difficult political period in our city, we must maintain our focus on the needs of the city and the people who live here.”

Of the 1,033 signatures handed in, 887 were verified and 128 were rejected, either because signees were not registered voters or they signed twice.

Eighteen signatures were disqualified because circulators of the petition did not make the affidavit — the paperwork taken out to start the petition — available when they asked residents to sign.

To verify the signatures, City Clerk Patti Dubois said the city looks up each name in a statewide voter database called Centralized Voter Registration.

The database allows the clerks to see if people are registered to vote, provides a registration address and a copy of the person’s signature that clerks can check against the one provided on the petition.

The database also keeps track of petitions people have signed so the clerks can check and make sure they haven’t signed twice.

Most of the signatures the clerks had to throw out were those signed by people not registered to vote. Circulators can provide residents with voter registration cards as they collect signatures, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the registration will be processed in time for the signature to count, Dubois said.

The voter registration card can be filled out with either a driver’s license or social security number. If people choose to provide their driver’s license information, clerks can verify that information through the Department of Motor Vehicles and process the signature.

But if only a social security number is provided, the clerks need to mail an acknowledgment form to the address the person provides to verify that they live there.

Dubois said that process can take 15 days.

“It wouldn’t have allowed enough time with the deadline,” she said. “We did mail some notices, but the deadline passed before we knew if the address could be verified.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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