Some Republicans, including two gubernatorial candidates, are standing by embattled Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, saying the public should move past his comments on social media and focus on the work the mayor is doing.

Isgro, a second-term Republican, is the subject of a recall election initiated after he tweeted that a survivor of a Florida school shooting should “Eat it.”

The comment has drawn scrutiny to a litany of comments Isgro has made on social media and was the impetus for a recall election scheduled for June 12.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody is among those who have expressed support for Isgro, incorrectly saying in an interview with WLOB Radio in Portland last week that Isgro “retracted the statement, apologized for it” and the Democratic party is trying to “kick him while he’s down.”

Isgro, who deleted the “Eat it” tweet, has not apologized publicly for the tweet and has refused to comment on it or on other social media posts.

On Monday, he came under new scrutiny from city officials, who said the mayor’s statement that the Waterville City Council was working behind residents’ backs to craft a 13 percent tax increase was false. Isgro has declined to comment on the city budget and walked away from reporters asking about the 13 percent increase after a news conference Monday morning.

The Maine Republican Party, which had not commented on Isgro’s social media posts before Tuesday, issued a statement saying the comments “should not be used as distractions from the positive work he’s done for Waterville.”

“We all make mistakes in things we say, and in today’s age of social media dominance, those mistakes are plastered on the internet forever, marking us like a tattoo,” said Garrett Murch, communications and political director for the Maine Republican Party, in a statement. “Whatever happened to Freedom of Speech and second chances? Don’t Democrats still believe in those? Democrats should also remember when they’re doing what they’re doing here, turnabout is fair play.”

Those involved with the recall have said it’s not about partisan politics, but rather about holding the mayor accountable for what some feel have been communications that aren’t in the best interest of the city.

Still, that hasn’t prevented leaders from the two major parties from weighing in, including Gov. Paul LePage, a former Waterville mayor who wrote a letter to Isgro’s employer last month criticizing a decision to dismiss him from his job.

Isgro, who considered a run for governor last fall, ultimately announced he would not run and called candidates from both parties “custodians of decline” who are “happy to profit from our decline for both themselves and special interests they serve.”

Yet Moody, one of four GOP candidates for governor, defended Isgro’s recent comments last week, saying of the Democratic Party, “If you can demonize people who have put themselves out there to run for office, that are in office, to drive the good people out so they won’t run for office, I’m not going to go through that, to expose my family, my reputation, everything else to that.”

Lauren LePage, who is a spokeswoman for Moody’s campaign and also chairwoman of the Waterville Republican Party, did not respond to requests for comment.

Moody also did not respond to a message left Monday on his cellphone.

Mary Mayhew, gubernatorial candidate and former Department of Health and Human Services commissioner, also has expressed support for Isgro, saying she thinks the recall is “absolutely ridiculous.”

“The issue is overreaction to that social media post,” Mayhew said. “As commissioner of DHHS, I had employees who routinely were posting various things on social media. It’s not our role to try and police everything people are saying.”

Spokesmen for the campaigns of the two other Republican candidates, Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, declined to comment on the situation in Waterville.

Meanwhile, Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Albion, who represents Waterville in the Maine Senate, said he has not seen many of Isgro’s posts on social media but thinks he is qualified and has done a great job watching out for the city budget.

Asked about Isgro’s comments about the City Council working to quietly craft a 13 percent tax increase, he said, “If that’s what he sees happening, then that’s probably what’s happening in his eyes.”

Cyrway also said he has heard complaints from Waterville residents about high taxes but has been in discussions with city councilors who have said people want to pay high taxes, though he would not say which councilors.

The Democratic party last week criticized Maine Republicans for featuring Isgro at their convention, where he delivered a welcome address.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said of the support expressed by Mayhew and Moody in a statement Tuesday. “Most reasonable people agree that Mayor Isgro’s attack on a teenage shooting survivor is inappropriate, but rather than acknowledge that fact and ask the mayor to apologize, Moody and Mayhew think it’s more important to defend him, just like Governor LePage.

“Sadly, this shows how extreme Moody and Mayhew have become in their race to the right for the Republican nomination, and the people of Maine are taking notice.”

The race for governor includes 13 candidates — four Republicans, seven Democrats and two independents — heading into the June primary.

Some Democratic candidates, including Adam Cote, Donna Dion and Diane Russell, said it is Waterville residents’ right to recall the mayor if they are unhappy with his conduct. Other candidates did not respond to requests for comment sent by phone and email.

Russell, a former state representative from Portland, said while the First Amendment protects free speech, that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for what one says.

“When you are an elected leader and you use hate speech to describe members of your community, you should expect members of your community to organize to democratically remove you,” she said in an email. “Free Speech means the government can’t infringe on your right to speak out. It does not mean that citizens can’t oust a hate-speaking government.”

The effort to recall Isgro stems from the “Eat it” comment, which came in response to a story that Fox News would continue to back talk show host Laura Ingraham after she made disparaging remarks about student David Hogg, who was calling for stricter gun-control laws and called on sponsors to boycott the conservative commentator.

Isgro later deleted the tweet, but screenshots of it traveled far on social media.

The liberal advocacy group Maine Peoples’ Alliance also seized on the tweet by bringing to light other social media posts by Isgro that included him defending Roy Moore, who had been accused of child molestation, during the Alabama Senate election last year; rants against public education; and a vulgar reference to anti-sexual harassment legislation. The petition to recall the mayor gathered 887 verified signatures from residents.

Few Republicans have spoken critically of Isgro, though Lance Dutson, a Republican consultant and blogger for the Bangor Daily News, did share screenshots of posts made by Isgro on his Twitter account last month that he called “disgusting public statements.”

While he has not commented on his tweets, Isgro has said the recall effort was spearheaded by “the well-connected and wealthy political elites,” who along with the media and “dark money funded outsiders” have sought to roll back the city’s accomplishments.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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