September 25, 2009 in City

Mayor strikes nerve with ‘Glenn Beck Day’

Controversial commentator grew up in West Side city
Manuel Valdes Associated Press
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Beck
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. – Glenn Beck’s visit to his hometown in Washington state this weekend seemed simple enough on the surface, with a ceremonial key to the city awaiting him and the mayor naming the day in the Fox News personality’s honor.

But this being Glenn Beck, nothing is that easy.

Groups have demonstrated on the streets and in City Council meetings over the conservative commentator’s visit. Petitions have been collected calling on the cancellation of the visit. A small-business owner put up a sign that says: “Glenn Beck & Hatred not welcome here.” And the leader of a nearby city has offered the key to his city to Jon Stewart in sort of a mayoral rebuttal.

Welcome home, Glenn.

Mount Vernon Mayor Bud Norris came up with the idea to honor Beck, proclaiming Sept. 26 as “Glenn Beck Day” as a way to honor his success as a nationally known broadcaster. The event at which Beck is scheduled to speak sold out.

The strong public reaction over the event has not fazed Norris, who says people have sent him gifts from across the country to give to Beck.

“I knew him here as a kid,” said Norris, a Republican. “I was really unaware, really, of what he was doing in the last 25 years or so until I became aware he was on CNN. … I decided to recognize him for his professional achievement, not for his political views.”

Nearly on cue, though, the announcement sparked a wave of opposition, riling up the liberal base in and around Mount Vernon, an agricultural city of 31,000 people 60 miles north of Seattle.

In neighboring Whatcom County, where Beck went to high school, the mayor of Bellingham offered the keys to his city to Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”

“For me the bottom-line issue is, is somebody adding to the national conversation in a good way, are they adding to civic culture and civic discourse or not? I don’t think Glenn Beck does. I think Jon Stewart does,” Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike said.

Comedy Central did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment on the proposal.

In a statement, Beck said “the people of Mt. Vernon are great people and I’m humbled by this honor and proud to be from there.” Beck said he learned the value of hard work at his family bakery.

In his show, though, Beck poked fun at the surrounding controversy and mocked Seattle residents.

“I’m afraid of even landing in my own home state. It used to be sane in Seattle. In the outlying areas, it used to be sane. Now, not so much,” Beck said on his radio show on Sept. 2. “You don’t know some of these people in Seattle … They don’t have a life. They’re out hugging salmon and setting them free.”

Beck’s roots in Washington are deep. His father ran a bakery in downtown Mount Vernon. His mother drowned while boating in the Puget Sound when he was a teenager.

In high school, he moved to Bellingham and attended Sehome High School. Throughout his days here, he seemed keen on making a living on radio and television, landing radio and television gigs early on and a DJ job out of high school.

“I remember very well, him laying out his life goal at 12, 13 years old,” said Bruce Wersen, one of Beck’s childhood friends and now a local pastor. He wanted to “follow in the footsteps of Johnny Carson.”

Beck’s fame has soared exponentially since then as he got a show on CNN three years ago and later moved to Fox. From his syndicated radio program and TV show, Beck has become a vocal critic of President Barack Obama and shepherds a strong national following. His targets are standard conservative targets: illegal immigration, big government spending, and so on.

On a guest spot appearance in a Fox News morning show earlier this year, Beck said Obama had “deep-seated hatred for white people.” That comment sparked a boycott of his Fox show and many companies pulled their advertisements.

Norris saw the controversy after the Obama comment, but he forged ahead with his plans for the event, despite opposition from his own City Council.

“A person’s recognition shouldn’t hinge on a single statement,” Norris said. “I wouldn’t have said it, but I’m not going to try and tell him what to say in his profession. That’s up to him.”

Norris said he had worked on this visit for over a year. He’s paying for it himself. But that doesn’t matter to people. They see a mayor who unilaterally chose to honor a polarizing figure such as Beck.

One organization claimed it had collected more than 16,000 online signatures decrying Beck’s visit. The chapter of the NAACP in neighboring Snohomish County also joined in protest, singling out Beck’s comment about the president.

Demonstrations are expected at the event Saturday. His supporters are expected to show up as well.

“I’m really sorry that it is happening,” said Rosie Gates-Malone, a 59-year-old Mount Vernon resident. “I think Glenn Beck is an extremely divisive, controversial person. He doesn’t bring people together. I think it was a big mistake on our mayor’s part.”

Allison Moreland, who owns a business in downtown Mount Vernon, was vexed by the call for boycotting local businesses after Norris’ announcement.

“I think the mayor has the prerogative to do what he wants,” Moreland said. “The little bit I’ve listened to, I pretty much go along with (Beck’s) stuff, what he’s saying about the government. I think a lot of people need to hear it.”

In the business next door, called the Mount Vernon Cafe, owner Ray Moseley shrugged off the hoopla.

“We got a lot of problems in this world,” Moseley said. “There’s a few of them we shouldn’t get too excited about. This one being one of them.”

© Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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