Council forgives and forgets Manning’s past
By Chris Busby
By a near-unanimous vote, the Portland City Council granted Old Port bar owner Tom Manning liquor and entertainment licenses to open what will be his fifth establishment in the area: a restaurant and bar called Cake. The majority of councilors did not consider Manning’s pending trial on two criminal counts stemming from a drunken Wharf Street brawl last summer when they make their decision. As several said at tonight’s meeting, Manning is “innocent until proven guilty.”
Councilors also failed to recall the circumstances surrounding the closure of Metropolis, a dance club Manning owned in the late 1990s. Metropolis closed after police raided the club and found it packed with teenagers and a cornucopia of hard drugs.
The Portland Police Department gave councilors documentation of dozens of fights, assault calls, and general disturbance incidents at two of Manning’s other bars in the immediate area, Diggers/Liquid Blue and The Crazy Green Iguana. Deputy Chief Joe Loughlin also said the 38-year-old Manning has been convicted of 20 motor vehicle violations.
Questioned by Suslovic about Metropolis and the circumstances of the club’s closure, Manning said he recalled that he simply closed the club when its lease expired, though he acknowledged there were problems there.
A review of press accounts paints a different picture.
Metropolis opened in 1997. In 1999, acting on a tip from a bouncer that the club was rife with drug use and drug dealing, dozens of local, state and federal law enforcement agents raided the club in April. They found crack cocaine, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and ketamine (a veterinary tranquilizer known as Special K) inside the club, which was packed with nearly 1,000 people – many, if not most of them under 21. The club had been hosting all-night dance parties, called “raves,” that are popular with teenagers and characterized by heavy drug use.
At the time, Manning claimed he was ignorant of any drug activity taking place inside his club. He and his attorney blamed police for their attention to the scene there, claiming cops had “unfairly labeled and targeted” Metropolis, according to attorney Jed French, who threatened to sue then Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood for slander over comments he made regarding the business. Manning characterized the cops’ efforts as “Machiavellian.”
In June of that year, the City Council voted unanimously not to renew the club’s liquor license. French and Manning vowed to appeal the decision to the state liquor board and, should that effort fail, to appeal the Council’s decision in court.
That plan apparently changed after the company Manning set up to own and operate the club, Vision Capital, was indicted by a grand jury on four drug trafficking charges in December of 1999. French called the indictments “ridiculous,” according to a Portland Press Herald article at the time.
In October of 2000, Manning struck a deal with prosecutors by which he agreed to dissolve Vision Capital and donate $1,000 to a youth organization. In exchange, the drug charges were dropped.
Despite this history, Loughlin said Police Chief Tim Burton had no recommendation on Manning’s latest liquor license application. Loughlin declined to comment on Manning’s pending trial. Burton has not responded to a request for comment made by The Bollard.
Manning and one of his attorneys, Gary Prolman, stressed that Cake will be an “upscale” dining and drinking establishment, with jazz and acoustic performances. Councilor Kevin Donoghue supported the license request, but made a point of saying “neither the class nor the age of your patrons are important to me.”
Citing the lack of a recommendation from police for or against Manning’s liquor license application for Cake, Donoghue said “the cops had nothing to say” on the matter, so he had no problem voting in favor of the license.
Suslovic was the lone dissenting vote. He grilled Manning on the false answer he provided on his city liquor license application, in which he claimed he had never been “arrested, indicted, or convicted for any violation of the law.” Manning said he had been in a hurry while filling out the application form and was confused by the question.
During public comment on the matter, it was revealed that Manning won’t be operating The Iguana after April of 2008. Steve Baumann – who, with his father, Ed, owns the buildings Manning’s bars occupy – said two retail shops will open in the Wharf Street space after Manning’s current lease expires.
Councilor Donna Carr was absent from last night’s meeting, and Councilor Jim Cloutier recused himself because one of his law partners is representing Manning in his criminal case.
Manning’s trial has been scheduled for February 8. Suslovic said this evening that he will move to revoke Manning’s food or entertainment license for Cake if he is found or pleads guilty to one of the two counts he’s facing: disorderly conduct and refusing to submit to arrest.
Such revocations can be done without further Council consideration or a vote, though Suslovic is likely to seek support from Council colleagues.
City Clerk Linda Cohen recently pulled the food license of The Icehouse, a neighborhood bar in the West End, without the Council’s direct involvement or sanction. In doing so, the city has effectively closed the establishment – though The Icehouse remains open pending a legal challenge – because state law requires liquor license holders to have food on the premises. The city cannot revoke a state-issued liquor license; it can only refuse it renew it when it’s up for annual review.
In documents provided by Loughlin, it’s stated that the July 9 incident during which Manning allegedly fought another man and then took swings at officers was referred to state liquor licensing authorities. “They declined to pursue the matter because the incident did not take place on the premises,” the police report states.