Somebody got served: Old Port bar owner Tom Manning (left) and Old Port bar patron Jason Toothaker. (photos/Cumberland County Jail)
A question of character
Jason Toothaker’s days on the Portland School Committee are over, but following Tom Manning’s example, he can still look forward to a rewarding career as an Old Port bar owner.
I suggest Toothaker apply for a liquor license immediately, and then begin the lengthy process of appealing his misdemeanor charge by requesting a trial by jury. Thanks to our overburdened court system, this will buy him at least a year to put his bar plans in order and get City Council approval to sell booze, which he would surely receive.
Because Toothaker is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, despite what the facts might lead any reasonable person to believe.
That’s worth repeating: Jason Toothaker is innocent. And so is Tom Manning. For now, anyway.
Without a conviction or a recommendation from police by which to judge a liquor license application, the Council can only consider the “character” of the applicant, as Councilor Jim Cohen said last Monday night. And it’s by this measure that Toothaker really shines – at least compared to Manning.
Both had run-ins with the law several years ago, but neither was convicted of anything as a result.
In 2001, Toothaker, then 19, allegedly threatened a fellow USM student with a knife and drunkenly attempted to escape police custody. Charges were dropped after he agreed to get substance-abuse counseling. The Portland Press Heraldtoday noted Toothaker told Gorham cops at the time that he snorted Ritalin and smoked pot on occasion.
In the late 1990s, Manning, then in his early 30s, owned and operated Metropolis, a dance club on Forest Avenue. He profited by hosting all-ages, all-night “raves” there – events that regularly drew hundreds of kids as young or younger than Toothaker was when he was first arrested. In 1999, as the Press Herald reported at the time, local, state and federal agents raided Metropolis and found lots of drugs far more dangerous than prescription pep pills and pot, like crack cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, LSD, methamphetamine and ketamine (an animal tranquilizer also known as Special K).
In response to his alleged crime in 2001, Toothaker took personal responsibility and got professional help.
When City Councilors confronted Manning about the teenage drug den at Metropolis, he and his lawyer claimed the club was being unfairly targeted by police. Manning claimed ignorance of the raging drug scene inside his establishment, despite the presence of hundreds of teens dancing all night with pacifiers in their mouths and surgical masks on. His lawyer threatened to sue our police chief, and when councilors unanimously voted to yank Metropolis’ liquor license, Manning and his attorney pledged to fight that decision at the state level and, failing that, sue the city in court.
Toothaker went on to continue his education and dedicate himself to public service. In 2004, he worked his ass off to earn a seat on the school board, then spent hundreds of hours over his two years as a board member to improve the quality of education for public school students.
Manning continued to own and operate a cluster of skanky college bars in the Old Port that generate dozens of police calls every year for fights and assaults and other disturbances — a pattern of general mayhem that continues to this day.
Granted, Manning also made a contribution to youth. He contributed $1,000 to a youth-based charity, but not necessarily because he wanted to. His company, Vision Capital, which he set up to own and operate Metropolis, had been indicted by a grand jury on four counts of drug trafficking. In addition to dissolving the company, the $1,000 contribution was part of the deal he struck with prosecutors to get the charges dropped.
Manning has apparently forgotten this whole saga and, conveniently, city councilors and police did the same last Monday – even Cheryl Leeman, who was on the Council in 1999. (What’s she been smoking?) Asked what happened with Metropolis by Councilor Ed Suslovic (who’s only been on the Council a year), Manning recalled that the lease expired, so he closed it. That’s all.
What a character.
Police say Manning got drunk last summer, fought a man on Wharf Street, then fought with cops when they tried to break up the fight. Once again, Manning is claiming he’s the victim of overzealous police. One of his lawyers, Gerard Conley, filed a motion to suppress the evidence from that night (though it appears a hearing on this motion has not yet been held and may never be).
“The conduct of the police officer involved was illegal in that [Manning] was arrested without probable cause,” Conley wrote. “At the time he was arrested by Portland Police Officers, he had no idea that they were police officers since he had just been knocked to the ground by his former employee.”
Perhaps he figured someone was making a citizen’s arrest.
Toothaker – all 135 pounds of him – also got knocked around the night he was cuffed and stuffed, but it seems more likely the police were the ones who roughed him up. He’s not claiming the cops were overzealous, and he’s not threatening to sue – at least not yet.
When it’s time to fill out his city liquor license application, Toothaker should write “no” in the box asking if he’s ever been arrested, just as Manning did on his latest application. If councilors confront him with this lie, Toothaker can say he was in a hurry when he filled it out. That excuse worked for Manning.
Toothaker should also stress that his Old Port bar and restaurant will be tailored to appeal to rich people, not the poor or the working class. It’s OK to admit there’ll be music and dancing, but say you expect to book “jazz” and “acoustic” acts. This also worked in Manning’s favor. If he’d said he planned to open a place where regular Joes and Janes could drink PBR and hear great punk rock, hip hop and heavy metal, I wouldn’t be writing this editorial.
The key word here is “upscale.” It sounds much better than “snobby” or “foo-foo” or “upper-crust,” though these words are just as accurate, if not more so.
Talk up the desserts, Jason – Councilor Jill Duson loves desserts; hell, she’ll even eat a cupcake from a guy who harasses her with a fake rat. Duson felt so bad that Manning had to explain last summer’s “embarrassing” arrest in public that sheapologized to him on behalf of us.
What a character she is, eh?
So there you have it: two innocent guys caught up in unfortunate situations. One gets pilloried by the media and hounded from his puny public office by outraged citizens. The other, his arrest all but ignored by the mainstream press, gets a liquor license and a public apology from city officials. Plus a letter of recommendation written by the governor himself! (That’s another story we’ll be exploring soon.)
I’ll leave it at that for now. After all, it’s almost Christmas. It’s the season of peace and compassion and goodwill towards men, regardless of their character. Happy holidays, everyone!
— Chris Busby
Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard.