BANGOR, Maine — The video cameras representing all four of Bangor’s TV network affiliates were trained on city councilors in anticipation of a firestorm of remarks, comments and debate Monday night.
Those at the meeting were expecting fireworks concerning the controversy swirling around a July concert appearance by Ted Nugent after remarks he made recently about President Barack Obama’s policies and a weekend press release by two councilors urging Waterfront Concert promoters to bar Nugent from coming to Bangor.
Rather than fireworks, they got the equivalent of a couple of sparklers.
Two residents used the public comment portion of the meeting to argue for and against the positions taken by Councilors Joe Baldacci and Charlie Longo, who urged Waterfront Concerts promoter Alex Gray to bar Nugent from appearing as the opening act for REO Speedwagon and and Styx in Bangor on July 8.
“I find the thought of using the council to try to limit freedom of speech repugnant,” said Stephen Breau. “In 2011, the city of Bangor welcomed Bob Dylan with open arms, and he’s somebody who in the ’60s was considered a radical anti-government revolutionary.
“There is no difference, however repugnant you find [Nugent’s] comments to be, there is simply no parallel that can be drawn saying Ted shouldn’t be allowed here anymore than trying to say Bob Dylan shouldn’t be allowed to perform anywhere else.”
During a recent National Rifle Association convention, Nugent was quoted saying, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. If you can’t go home and get everybody in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil, America-hating administration, I don’t even know what you’re made out of.”
Bangor lawyer Patrick Downey then came to the podium to voice a different opinion.
“I do take narrow disagreement with the prior comments. There is an important distinction here,” Downey said. “There are narrow exceptions carved out by members of the Supreme Court to the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
Downey cited child pornography, threatening statements and inciting statements, arguing that Nugent’s statements fell into the latter category because Downey said Nugent’s inference was that he intended violence.
Gray said traffic on the Waterfront Concerts website and its Facebook profile, as well as ticket sales, were affected by the controversy over the weekend.
“The rate of sales for that show doubled over the weekend,” Gray said. “It’s obviously added a lot of focus to Bangor and the series and that has translated to much higher traffic to the site and conversion rate, in terms of buying tickets.
“That being said, maybe there’s a silver lining in everything and this too shall pass.”
Baldacci did not address the controversy in his public comments at the end of the meeting, preferring instead to devote his time to the General Assistance funding crisis facing Bangor.
Councilor Cary Weston chose not to address the issue when asked for a comment and none of the other councilors, other than Longo, commented on it during their time at the end of the meeting.
Longo kept his public comments brief regarding the Nugent issue.
“It was almost a distraction,” Longo said. “I had sent that letter privately to Alex Gray of Waterfront Concerts. After a response and a few days of discussion, I felt it was best to release that statement because I feel very strongly about transparency. Now, at the end of the day I also feel strongly about freedom of speech.
“Freedom of speech is paramount, but at the same time, threatening speech is not appropriate.”
Longo added that he felt it was his right to exercise his freedom of speech, but he also recognized other rights.
“I also respect Alex Gray’s decision that a private entity shouldn’t be dictated to about what they should be doing,” he said.
In other council business Monday, the council:
• Approved a $390,000 final accounting legal settlement to the city from Frontier Communications Co. resulting from long-running litigation over coal tar pollution of the Penobscot River.
• Unanimously approved a three-year agreement with Smith-Towle Inc., which owns and operates Raena’s Pub in Bangor, to operate the beer cart concession and restaurant at Bangor Municipal Golf Course. Smith-Towle’s bid of $16,500 was recommended for approval.
• Approved the rate structure for Bangor harbor dock rates recommended by the city’s parks and recreation committee and plans to incorporate online reservation request capabilities and other information onto the city’s website.