WATERVILLE — Sharp divisions over whether to recall Mayor Nick Isgro from office continued right into the ballot booth Tuesday, with some residents adamantly defending the mayor while others vehemently called for his removal.

After polls opened around 8 a.m., former mayor Karen Heck brought her advocacy for the Republican mayor’s removal to outside the polling station at Thomas College, just a few feet away from Isgro as he greeted voters and shook their hands.

Upon meeting Isgro in line, Heck could be heard saying, “Good luck today, Nick, you’re going to need it.” Isgro didn’t seem to audibly respond.

He confirmed the quote overheard by a Morning Sentinel photographer, though Heck said later the exchange went differently.

“I said ‘Good luck’ to both Nick and (House District 110 candidate) Mark Andre,” Heck said in an email. “Nick replied, ‘I’m sure you don’t mean that,’ I said, ‘I do. We all need luck.’ I would not expect Nick to tell the truth when asked about anything I did or said.”

The exchange was nevertheless the latest in a series of tense encounters involving the contentious recall effort, which was started in response to a tweet Isgro made on his personal Twitter account telling Florida school shooting survivor David Hogg to “Eat it, Hogg.”

Heck, an independent, was among three residents who started the recall of the mayor and in recent weeks has clashed with him publicly amid debate over whether Isgro should be recalled.

Voter turnout in Waterville got off to a steady start, driven by the mayoral recall and a statewide referendum on ranked choice voting.

“It’s been pretty much as anticipated,” said election warden Roland Hallee Tuesday morning. “We had a big push around 8 a.m. when doors opened, and it’s been steady ever since.”

Officials were expecting between 4,000 and 5,000 voters in the city Tuesday, a number that would be much higher than a typical primary election.

The mayoral recall was one of two local questions facing city voters Tuesday. In Ward 5, residents were also asked if they wanted to recall City Councilor John O’Donnell, whom some criticized following a decision by the City Council to appoint O’Donnell to a temporary seat vacated by Nick Champagne.

Several people interviewed at the polls were divided on whether to remove the mayor, who has also come under fire recently for attacks on the City Council and criticism of the city budget process.

“I voted yes on the recall,” said Leslie Marchus, 43. “I don’t have a whole lot of comments on it, but he’s just not one of my favorite people.”

Gerald Greene, who said he is retired from the Waterville Police Department, voted to keep Isgro in office, saying he has been a good mayor and is concerned about taxes.

“He should have apologized (for the tweet),” said Greene, 74. “That would be 100 percent better, but the way they’re trying to oust him, that’s a wrong deal.”

Former Mayor Tom Brazier, who resigned in 1995 after pleading guilty to stealing nearly $100,000 from the American Glass Co., also defended Isgro and said he rejected the recall.

“If people don’t like him, they can vote him out in the next election,” said Brazier, a Democrat. “I don’t think spending the time and money (for the recall) is worth it.”

He also criticized “Colby elites,” referring to “Karen Heck and her team” for “trying to determine how we should speak.”

Brazier’s wife, Berit Freeling, said she voted against the recall too.

“What he said was nothing bad,” Freeling said of Isgro’s tweet. “Washington has Trump. Maine has LePage. We have Isgro. I think he’s doing a fairly decent job.”

Others at the polls also made comparisons between Isgro and the national political climate, with some saying the mayor’s recent tweet is a reflection of the tone President Donald Trump has set.

Lauren Swain, 24, said she voted against the recall because she didn’t know anything about it. After she was told about the “Eat it, Hogg” tweet, she said her vote might have been different.

“It kind of reminds me of Trump’s tweets that he puts on Twitter,” Swain said. “It’s like, ‘Sorry guys, we can’t get him to stop so just don’t listen.'”

Amanda Andrews, who came with Swain to vote, said she supports the recall and was offended by the tweet.

“Nobody in a position of power should be slandering somebody else’s name or doing anything like that,” said Andrews, 29. “I feel like with this whole administration more of that is coming out and people are saying more, as opposed to it being, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.'”

Another voter, Jesika Ellingwood, said, “I do not like Nick Isgro. I chose to recall him. He’s too self-interested.”

Ellingwood said even before the mayor’s controversial tweet, “there are just too many people I know who have had bad experiences when they didn’t agree with him.”

Eugene Hallee, 86, said he voted in favor of Isgro “120 percent,” saying he supports the mayor because of his religious convictions and because he’s done a good job for the city.

“It’s the best job we’ve seen,” said Hallee, who is cousins with Roland Hallee. “This was just a sham.”

Michael Wilson, who said he voted twice for Isgro in the past, voted Tuesday to recall him.

“I voted for him in two different elections, and now I find out he’s not really telling the truth,” said Wilson, 63. “I’m just looking for somebody who is going to be straightforward with people. It’s not rocket science.”

Roland Hallee said voting was going smoothly Tuesday morning, with the only glitch being confusion over ranked choice voting, which was used for the first time in state history to elect candidates in the gubernatorial primary.

“People are a little confused,” Hallee said. “They’ve been asking for replacement ballots.”

Catherine Caron, a nun at the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, would not say how she voted.

“It’s a tough issue,” Caron said. “There are good people on both sides of the issue.”

“We all need to pray today,” the nun said, chuckling, as she greeted Isgro.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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