Mayor Nick Isgro points to City Manager Mike Roy, interrupting him after having asked Roy to clarify a proposed outdoor dining ordinance during a budget meeting Tuesday at a City Council chamber at The Center in Waterville.
Mayor Nick Isgro points to City Manager Mike Roy, interrupting him after having asked Roy to clarify a proposed outdoor dining ordinance during a budget meeting Tuesday at a City Council chamber at The Center in Waterville.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro posted three words on Twitter just over two months ago that would go on to become the subject of widespread and acrimonious debate in the city and across the state.

“Eat it, Hogg,” Isgro said in response to an article about Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham losing sponsorships for disparaging remarks she made toward Florida school shooting survivor David Hogg, who has gone on national TV to call for gun control legislation in the wake of the killings.

The tweet — which Isgro deleted shortly after posting but has refused to apologize for — was captured by screenshot and shared widely, sparking scrutiny of his past social media posts, raucous City Council meetings and recall efforts against him and councilors.

On Tuesday, Waterville voters will decide if they want to keep Isgro as mayor or recall him from office. The pivotal vote comes amid an increasingly polarized national political climate under President Donald Trump, whose own tweets seem to cause controversy almost daily.

Experts say it’s no coincidence.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt nationwide that Donald Trump’s behavior, particularly on social media, but really everywhere, has had an impact on the political discourse,” said Mark Brewer, a professor of political science at the University of Maine. “We saw this in the way he spoke as a candidate. Now, as president, he seems willing and eager to say things in such a way previous presidents just didn’t do. When you have a person who is the top office holder in the country willing to conduct himself in such a matter, it’s inevitably going to roll down the ladder.”

Democrats immediately seized on Isgro’s tweet as just one example of a history of disparaging social media posts, including an attack on the pope, a defense of accused child molester Roy Moore and anti-immigrant sentiments. And the posts have ignited a debate over First Amendment rights and what appropriate consequences there are for those who make remarks deemed insensitive or offensive.

“It used to be people thought these things and they knew it wasn’t OK to say it out loud,” said Waterville resident Hilary Koch, one of three residents who started the mayoral recall. “Now we’re being told it’s OK, and it’s not. There have to be consequences for acting in a way that’s not kind or empathetic.”

Julian Payne, a Democrat on the Waterville Board of Education who is also a vocal supporter of Isgro and opposes the recall effort, also said he sees the national tone trickling down to Waterville. Payne said he thinks people from both parties locally who were upset to see Trump elected have taken their emotions out on their neighbors.

“The city is on fire,” Payne said. “People are more divisive and angry, and it’s not really because of what’s happening in Waterville. I think it’s anger filtered down from the fact a lot of people are unhappy Trump is their president. The political climate in Waterville would not be as hostile if Hillary (Clinton) won the election. I’ve said that all along.”

Similar debates have unfolded across the country in the months since Trump’s election. The president himself has refused to apologize for anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant remarks.

A presidential staff member lost her job for saying that the opinion of Sen. John McCain, who suffers from brain cancer, doesn’t matter because he is “dying anyway.” Television star Roseanne Barr was fired for a racist tweet.

Isgro also lost his job at Skowhegan Savings Bank in the days after his tweet, and Gov. Paul LePage — himself well-known for controversial comments — pounced on the bank.

“I wasn’t super-offended by the tweet, but…