The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to contract with Live Nation for the concert series on the city-owned Maine State Pier this summer even though the move will not necessarily keep a local promoter who pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault from being involved in the shows.

Before the 9-0 vote, public comment was split on whether Portland should continue to do business with Alex Gray and his company, Waterfront Concerts, which has put on the popular shows for the last three summers.

Erica Cole reignited the debate on the issue this month when she posted a blog detailing her assault by concert promoter Alex Gray. Staff photo by Derek Davis

The council’s vote is largely symbolic because Waterfront Concerts has a partnership with Live Nation, which could simply subcontract the pier shows back to Gray’s company.

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said the council will be paying close attention to how Live Nation handles itself in the coming months.

“Some people have called it an empty gesture but it isn’t,” he said. “This is not the only time we will consider this license. We will consider it every single year.”

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling wanted to revoke the concert contract entirely because Live Nation did not condemn what happened to Erica Cole, Gray’s victim, and would not commit to severing ties with Gray. But after casting the lone vote to rescind the contract, he joined the councilors in a procedural vote to support the switch to Live Nation.

“In the end, for me, I believe Erica. It’s kind of as simple as that,” the mayor said.

Cole, who reignited the debate on the issue with a blog post this month detailing the assault and the continuing emotional trauma that stems from it, was among those who spoke at the hearing Wednesday night.

“My silence is not an option,” Cole said. “I owe it to myself and to the other women who are too afraid to step forward to do the right thing.”

Bob Duteau, who represented Live Nation at the hearing, said the national promoter may be able to use its staff in Massachusetts, rather than working with Gray, but questioned the wisdom of doing so. He said about 5,000 tickets already have been sold for a half-dozen shows.

“I’ve known Alex for a while and he’s been a true gentleman,” Duteau said. “(But) if you don’t want Alex at those shows or on your property this summer, I can make that happen.”

During a nearly 90-minute public hearing, Portland residents and domestic violence counselors said the council had a moral obligation to rescind the contract and cut ties with Gray. While Gray has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence assault, they argued it is a serious crime that often involves actions and types of abuse to control another person.

However, company officials highlighted the impact such a decision would have on the more than 700 employees, including nearly 100 in Portland. And people who know and work with Gray said that he has always been calm, poised and professional.

Waterfront Concerts owner Alex Gray. 2016 staff photo by Whitney Hayward

East End resident Matt Dodge said that Portland is a desirable place to live and do business, and should be able to pick and choose who it does business with. He also noted that it is currently a job-seekers market.

“This is a moral decision, folks. It’s pretty simple,” Dodge said. “We’re not in a position where we need to be groveling at the feet of criminals.”

However, Gray’s attorney, Gerard Conley Jr., said that was not true. He stressed that Gray was never convicted and that his plea was made to avoid a messy trial and with the understanding that the case would be dismissed in the fall. He said the council was not in a position to try a case, just because of public pressure.

“Now there are people everywhere who are seeking to destroy – destroy – Mr. Gray and rewrite the narrative,” Conley said.

Cole told a different story – one that was corroborated by her mother.

Although some questioned her motives, Cole said that she was not seeking attention and that going public with her story was taking a toll on her. She said Gray’s employees have been used to torment her and had hacked into her personal computer.

“At times, death seemed less painful than the legal process and the tremendous amount of mental anguish I was experiencing,” Cole said. “The additional harassment that I’ve received over the past few weeks has almost been enough to make me back down.”

The council had unanimously approved a fourth season of concerts at the pier in February – months after Gray pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault. Few questions were raised at the time about Gray’s guilty plea.

Scrutiny of the deal intensified this month after Cole, a Miss Maine USA in 2005 who had been in a five-year relationship with Gray, wrote an open letter asking the cities of Portland and Bangor to reconsider doing business with him.

“By continuing to do business with Alex Gray and his companies, you are sending a message that domestic violence is acceptable in Portland,” Cole wrote. “You are also setting an example for young men and women that – in the city of Portland – money trumps morality.”

Gray’s admission to misdemeanor domestic violence assault stemmed from a late night confrontation with Cole at his Portland condo after they spent a night out with friends in March of 2017. Cole told police that they had been arguing intermittently throughout the night, and when they got home, Gray wanted to see her phone. Feeling threatened, she said she decided to leave and Gray demanded the keys to his condo.

According to the police report, Cole said Gray then kicked her legs out from under her while the two struggled for her purse and he put a hand on her throat, using his other hand to grab the keys, and then banged her head against the floor. Gray has disputed the details included in the police report.

Although he pleaded guilty last fall, Gray’s conviction will be expunged from his record if he abides by 22 court-ordered conditions, which include not contacting Cole.

Cole said in her blog that while her physical injuries have healed, she continues to suffer emotional trauma.

After her blog was published, Cole met separately with Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings.

The council had just begun their discussions at around 9:30 p.m. Several councilors expressed support for changing the contract to Live Nation. They also noted that a criminal conviction should not necessarily disqualify someone from working with the city, especially if their case is going to be dismissed.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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