MACON, Ga. – Some Macon residents have called for demonstrations and boycotts after the mayor of the central Georgia city formally reached out to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with a declaration of solidarity.
Mayor Jack Ellis said the declaration, sent about two weeks ago by courier, was a message that local leaders can stand together despite disagreements at the highest reaches of government.
Some local leaders have blasted the mayor's decision to support Chavez, a vocal ally of Iran and Cuba who has called President Bush "the devil."
Former mayoral candidate David Corr said the mayor's comments were "an outrage."
"We should condemn Chavez as an enemy of liberty," Corr said. "In fact, we should also condemn Ellis as an enemy of liberty."
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said the mayor's action "taints" the town.
"I think it's a negative for us," he told The Macon Telegraph. "We need to be doing things in this community that show the tremendous positives of Macon."
Ellis praised the controversial leader, who has subsidized the cost of heating fuel for some American low-income citizens, as a champion for the common man who could offer aid to Macon's residents.
"This is about a humanitarian effort," he said. "This is not about politics."
A Venezuelan Web site reported that Chavez had thanked Ellis for his support during an eight-hour broadcast of his show "Alo, Presidente," which he used to call for a "global alliance of civilizations to resist the attacks of U.S. imperialism."
The mayor's decision prompted 20 pages of comments on The Telegraph's online message board before the newspaper decided to take it down. Some called for demonstrations and other ways to signal their distaste for the mayor's move.
Ronald Johnson, a 71-year-old resident of nearby Houston County, called the move "treasonous" and is urging neighbors to boycott the city's businesses until Ellis is rebuked by city officials.
"It's unbelievable that he would do what he's done," said Johnson. "That is so wrong."
Ellis, a Democrat, is serving his second term as mayor and cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
He announced in February that he had converted to Islam and was working to legally change his name to Hakim Mansour Ellis. Ellis, who was raised Christian, said he became a Sunni Muslim during a December ceremony in the west African nation of Senegal.