116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As head of the Mason City Chamber of Commerce, Robin Anderson said she knew a billboard erected in her town depicting Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, President Barack Obama and Soviet revolutionary Vladimir Lenin together was trouble the first time she saw it.
“I was ‘danger, danger, Will Robinson, the minute I saw it,” said Anderson, referencing a catch phrase made popular by the ‘60s “Lost in Space” television series.
The chamber executive director said her worst fears have since been realized as a stack of emails grows on her desk from potential tourists, shoppers and others who have seen photos of the offensive billboard strewn across the world wide web even though the outdoor message ordered and paid for by the North Iowa Tea Party was taken down Wednesday and replaced by the billboard company with a public service message.
“Yesterday afternoon about 2 o'clock, Google News said there were 1,629 stories worldwide on this. So, I have a feeling that even though this might be old news today and it might seem locally like the billboard's down and it's kind of blown over, how long are Internet search engines going to be linking an Internet search of Mason City to this story – a long time, I think,” Anderson said.
Anderson and her staff are in the process of responding to the people who have sent emails, posted comments on the chamber's Facebook page, or called to lodge a complaint, but she feared there is a much larger population that is “just blowing us off” that represents a more widespread negative economic impact for the region that may be impossible to measure.
“It's certainly not the attention the chamber is looking for,” she said.
“I feel for these people,” Anderson added. “Just as the people who put up the billboard have every right to express their opinion, individuals who want to express their opinions have some limited ways to do it and one of them is to not come and spend money in a place where this kind of stuff goes on. But to say this is a true characterization of our city would be incorrect.”
National Democrats wasted little time trying to make hay over the billboard that linked the trio as three different types of socialists and carried the message “Radical leaders prey on the fearful & naïve” by featuring it in their latest fundraising appeal. Meanwhile, GOP and Tea Party leaders have disavowed the billboard and distanced themselves from the controversy.
“I think comparing a president of the United States to totalitarian dictators responsible for mass murder is appalling,” Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, said in a fundraising email. “I think calling Barack Obama a socialist is nonsensical. But I don't think any of this is surprising.
“Republicans keep saying that they aren't extremists – but they keep doing things like this. And don't let the tea party label fool you, these people are Republicans, and the only thing that scares me about them is that they're fired up to vote in November,” added Dillon, who asked for donations of $5 or more to finance a new billboard and nationwide advertising campaign because “this isn't about an isolated group of nuts in Mason City.”
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