Geraghty launches secret anti-Hooters offensive

Geraghty launches secret anti-Hooters offensive 
Seeks moratorium and ban on “formula” restaurants 

By Chris Busby

City Councilor Karen Geraghty is taking action on two fronts – one public, one private – to quash a local restaurateur’s plans to open a Hooters in downtown Portland. [See “Hooters planned for Portland.”

The West End councilor’s public strategy seeks to win council support for a moratorium on franchise or “formula” restaurants in the city’s downtown Arts District and the Old Port, effective until Nov. 19. If approved, this moratorium would give Geraghty time to craft a city ordinance that specifically restricts or prohibits the establishment of “formula” eateries like Hooters, Burger King and Starbucks in those areas of town. 

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the moratorium at its Sept. 18 meeting. Any subsequent ordinance would also need council approval. 

Meanwhile, Geraghty is organizing a parallel, secretive effort to keep Hooters out of town. On Sept. 11, the councilor held a private strategy session at City Hall attended by nine others concerned about the restaurant’s potential impact. 
The gathering, which took place in Room 209 of City Hall, was not listed on the city’s schedule of public meetings. The Bollard received notice of the session via a forwarded e-mail originally sent to undisclosed parties by Jessica Tomlinson, Director of Public Relations at Maine College of Art (MECA). 

According to The Portland Forecaster, MECA’s new president, James Baker, has urged city officials to give the Arts District a special designation as an area exclusively for businesses that make “unique and culturally relevant contributions” to that part of town. The proposed Hooters would be located in part of the Congress Street building currently occupied by The Stadium, a sports bar and restaurant about a block from MECA’s Porteous Building. Stadium owner Michael Harris is seeking to bring the franchise to town.

Although last night’s meeting was held on city property and organized and led by a public official, Geraghty asserted that the gathering was closed to the press and uninvited parties. This reporter, the sole member of the press in attendance, initially told Geraghty she would need to have the press physically removed from the room if she wished to conduct the meeting in secret. After further negotiation, this reporter agreed to leave the meeting after it became clear that Geraghty could hold the same discussion on private property with no legal ramifications.

In addition to Geraghty, attendees included Tomlinson; Amanda Sears, Associate Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization; and Joan Leitzer, a consumer advocate and board member of the Portland Independent Business and Community Alliance, the newly formed non-profit group organizing the Portland Buy Local campaign, an effort aimed at raising consumer awareness of the benefits of locally owned, independent businesses. (This reporter is also a board member of PIBCA, which has taken no formal position on Hooters to date.)

Sears has been active in local politics, having worked as Geraghty’s campaign manager when she ran for reelection three years ago. (Geraghty is not seeking another term on the council this year.) Sears has also worked to elect Green Independent Party state legislator John Eder, and has been active in state Green politics and organizing in years past. “My being there last night at that meeting had nothing to do with my work [for the Environmental Health Strategy Center],” Sears said today.

Prior to this reporter’s departure, attendees discussed the need to lobby city councilors on behalf of the moratorium and a subsequent ordinance banning or restricting franchise businesses. One attendee suggested a petition effort, but further discussion of this and other tactics continued only after the press had departed. 

Geraghty and others said the meeting was arranged and conducted in secret because the group does not want pro-Hooters parties to know their tactics and strategy before that strategy is implemented. The meeting lasted over two hours. Geraghty had left a city council workshop on Bayside development and public safety in order to conduct the secret session. She was the only city official at the session.

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