PORTLAND, Maine — The City Council on Wednesday rescinded a decision to hire the company of a Maine concert promoter who pleaded guilty to assaulting his former girlfriend, and voted to instead sign a deal with its national partner.
The unanimous decision gives the city a degree of separation from Alexander Gray, whose guilty plea last year has stirred up public pressure for Maine cities to break ties with his company, Waterfront Concerts.
But the practical implications of the vote to have Live Nation present concerts at the Maine State Pier instead of Gray’s company are unclear, as the national entertainment group contracts with Waterfront Concerts for shows in Maine and could do so in this case.
”I genuinely can’t put into words how much it means to me for someone to say that they believe me and that I made a difference,” Cole said after the vote, breaking into tears.
Public pressure ratcheted up earlier this month, when Cole published a letter online telling her story of surviving domestic violence and chastising leaders in Portland and Bangor for doing business with Gray’s company.
“I feel that I shouldn’t have had to expose myself to this extent to get your attention,” Cole told the council before they voted. “I’m asking you to tell the women of this great city that you support them and they can stand up to abuse.”
Gray has maintained that he did not beat Cole, but told a Portland court that he accepted responsibility for the incident that led to her brief hospitalization in March.
In response to Cole’s letter, the Portland councilors elected to reconsider their unanimous February decision to contract with Waterfront Concerts, which has put on the summer shows in the city for several years. Despite the council’s previous approval of the contract, the city had not yet signed one for summer shows at the State Pier, for reasons that are as yet unclear.
“On this one, I feel like I just screwed up,” Councilor Justin Costa said of his February vote. “I don’t want to do business with someone like this.”
It remains to be seen whether other cities where Waterfront Concerts puts on shows will take a cue from the state’s largest.
Before voting, Councilor Spencer Thibodeau addressed criticism from some Portlanders who said that shifting the contract to Live Nation was little more than symbolic.
“Some people have called it an empty gesture but it isn’t,” Thibodeau said, adding that the council will consider a contract for shows at the State Pier again next year. “It’s a response.”
A vice president of Live Nation, Bob Duteau, said rescinding a deal entirely with Waterfront Concerts would send the message that Portland “is closed for business.” Duteau said he was not sure whether his company will contract with Waterfront Concerts for shows on the Portland waterfront, saying he might be able to bring employees up from Massachusetts to fill jobs now done by Mainers.
Duteau, who said his company has a formal agreement with Waterfront Concerts to produce concerts in Maine, said that if councilors don’t want Gray on city property this summer, “I can make that happen.”
City Manager Jon Jennings said he’s told Gray and his lawyer that the concert promoter should not attend shows at the Maine State Pier this summer. “I’m really proud of the city of Portland on nights like tonight,” Jennings said.
Gray did not attend the council meeting nor respond to an email and phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
He received a deferred disposition in his case, which means his guilty plea to misdemeanor domestic violence assault can be dismissed if he abides by a judge’s conditions, including that he not contact his ex-girlfriend.
Gray’s lawyer, Gerard Conley Jr., stressed that his client was never convicted and urged the City Council not to publicly try a case that never went to trial.
“Now there are people everywhere who are seeking to destroy — destroy — Mr. Gray and rewrite the narrative,” Conley said.
More than 20 Waterfront Concerts employees attended the meeting, which saw the council chamber packed to standing-room only. During the hours of public comment, many of them asked the City Council not to rescind its decision to contract with the company.
“I cut over 700 W-2s in January. That’s 700 employees who could be negatively affected by your decision,” Susan Morse, a payroll administrator for Waterfront Concerts, told the council. “We have young, single mothers who are working to put food on the table.”
Waterfront Concerts books shows at the city-owned Merrill Auditorium and a variety of other venues around Maine. Wednesday’s vote will not affect shows the company has already booked in Portland.
Bangor, on the other hand, signed a 10-year deal with Waterfront Concerts after Gray had been charged but before he pleaded guilty. Officials there have said they cannot break the contract, but also that they must do more to address domestic violence.
During the Portland council meeting, Cole’s mother said Bangor officials put money over her daughter’s well-being.
“I’m from Bangor,” Elaine Commeau said. “I feel like the city of Bangor failed her and other women by sealing their deal before the court date. For Bangor, it was all about the money.”
BDN photojournalist Troy Bennett contributed to this report.
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If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.