Mount Vernon not united on mayor's 'Glenn Beck Day'
Mount Vernon Mayor Bud Norris plans to present controversial radio and television personality Glenn Beck with a key to the city on Sept. 26. Beck grew up in Mount Vernon.
Seattle Times staff reporter
As dozens of companies pledge not to advertise on Glenn Beck's Fox News Channel show after he called President Obama a racist, and as his controversial on-air behavior draws more scrutiny, the mayor of Mount Vernon ... is presenting him with a key to the city.
Mayor Bud Norris announced that Beck, who grew up in Mount Vernon, will be on hand to accept the award Sept. 26, which Norris will also proclaim "Glenn Beck Day." Tickets for the Saturday evening event are $25.
Beck's advertiser abandonment has snowballed since he called Obama a racist on July 28, adding that he believed the president has "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."
Which makes Norris' timing provocative, to say the least. Critics say his announcement amounts to an endorsement of that and other extreme views of the television and nationally syndicated radio commentator — which have also included ruminations on killing filmmaker Michael Moore and poisoning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as barking like a dog over a Hillary Rodham Clinton audio clip and perpetuating the "death panel" claim about Obama's proposed health-care reform.
"That's certainly their preference if they choose to view it that way," Norris said Wednesday. "This isn't about his political views. It's about recognizing someone who has a history with our city."
Norris, mayor since 2004, said he'd been planning the Beck event for "six months to a year." Beck also has a Seattle speaking engagement that day.
Not only was it Norris' idea alone, but when he asked City Council members if they wanted tickets, six of the seven declined.
And if people view it as support for Beck's views, Norris said, "There are a lot of his that I definitely agree with and there are some things he said that I disagree with."
Specifically, what about the Obama "racist" one? "That's not something that I would have said, but he's entitled to his opinion."
Why hold the event in the first place?
"Because I think he's a person who's gained a level in his profession of national recognition and notoriety, and it's nice to recognize a native son that has done that well," Norris said.
According to Beck's Web site, he began his radio career in Seattle when he was 13, and worked as a disc jockey at various radio stations around the country after graduating from Bellingham's Sehome High School. He began his career in talk radio in 2002, and "The Glenn Beck Program" now appears on more than 350 stations. His Fox News show debuted in January, after he had hosted a nightly show on CNN Headline News for the previous two years. Beck, 45, now lives in Connecticut.
The Mount Vernon honor already has begun drawing a landslide of attention. The mayor's office was besieged by so many phone calls Wednesday that his assistant rerouted them to a different city office.
And members of the Young Democrats of Skagit County were protesting outside City Hall with signs reading "Change the locks," KOMO-TV reported.
"The timing is probably unfortunate with everything that's going on," said Kristen Whitener, director of Mount Vernon's Chamber of Commerce. Her phone had been ringing, too.
"We've gotten phone calls from people who are very upset. People are threatening not to shop here, things like that," she said. "I think it's unfortunate that some of the phone calls we're getting from people are being negative to Mount Vernon because of it. I hope they would understand that one decision by one person doesn't reflect everybody.
"I hope that it won't put us in a negative light," she said of the city, about 60 miles north of Seattle with a population of about 33,000.
Beck, Whitener said, "has definitely crossed the line on a few things. I've never met him and didn't really realize he was from this area."
In fact, Norris' news release notes that "Glenn's introduction to radio/TV came after winning a contest and doing an hour show on Mount Vernon's own KBRC radio station." He moved on to Seattle broadcasting en route to national notoriety.
Norris, the release says, "remembers Glenn as a young man growing up in Mount Vernon who worked with his father, Bill Beck, at the popular City Bakery, which was located downtown near Mayor Norris' own retail shop."
What kind of kid was Beck?
"Very good, well-organized and well-behaved," Norris, 64, recalled in an interview. "He was a kid who had an interest in entertainment since he was quite young. He was an amateur magician. He got into radio at an early age and has been driven to succeed in that profession. I think maybe a lot of people don't view him as an entertainer, but that's how he sees himself."
Neither Beck nor his producer immediately responded to e-mails asking for comment.
Beck's detractors — most visibly on Fox rival MSNBC — accuse him of cheap (and inaccurate) demagoguery and florid insanity; they ridicule his inability to spell "oligarchy" on a recent show and his on-air weeping breakdowns.
The advertiser boycott, organized by Color of Change, a black political-advocacy group, secured pledges from at least 36 companies — including Wal-Mart and Sprint — not to advertise on Beck's Fox show. Some of the companies were not Beck advertisers to begin with.
Despite the advertiser exodus, Fox has said many advertisers have simply moved to different time periods on the network, and that Beck's viewership has been rising.
Information from the Los Angeles Times and The Bellingham Herald is included in this report.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or email@example.com
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