Mason City may be facing a sort of boycott because of a billboard that depicted President Obama alongside Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin. The city’s Chamber of Commerce has gotten e-mail, Facebook comments and about 50 phone calls dealing with the billboard, which was paid for by the North Iowa Tea Party.
Chamber executive director Robin Anderson says the people who’ve taken the time to call or write say they were planning to visit or do business in Mason City. She says the chamber staff is doing its best to handle the comments, but it’s very disheartening.
“Did these people believe that this is an indication of how our entire community approaches serious issues? No, they don’t believe that,” Anderson says. “But really the only form of protest that’s really available to them is to say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to spend my money there. I’m not going to spend my trip there.'”
Anderson says they’ve responded to the e-mails by saying the North Iowa Tea Party has every right to express its opinion, but those views are not representative of the values of north-central Iowans. She says many of the callers have been very courteous, but firm.
“What is more concerning to me is it takes some effort to actually contact the Chamber of Commerce, to contact the visitors bureau, so how many people are we not having the opportunity to clarify?” Anderson asks. “You know, for every one person who takes the time to contact us, we have no way of estimating how many people are changing their behavior without giving us any opportunity (to respond).”
News about the billboard first broke on Tuesday and the billboard was covered over on Wednesday morning. Anderson is worried people doing a web search for general information about Mason City will read about this story.
“As of (Wednesday afternoon) at two o’clock on Google News, there was 1629 news stories by different news organizations all over the world, so search engines for who knows how long on the Internet when you ‘Google’ Mason City or search for Mason City are likely to pop up with this billboard,” she says.
The Democratic National Committee is using the episode as a fundraiser, asking people to “chip in $5 or more to help us give the people of Iowa a new billboard.” The D.N.C. email says the North Iowa Tea Party isn’t an “isolated group of nuts in Mason City” but representative of “Republicans across the country” who the D.N.C. email accused of “taking extreme positions – and repeating them over and over.”
(Reporting by Bob Fisher, KRIB, Mason City and Radio Iowa staff.)