A White Township business owner says Indiana County's chief Democrat tried to bully him into taking down a political sign he had placed in front of his shop.
According to Charles "Chip" Hildebrand, owner of Hildebrand's Mowers & Saws, Ron Fairman, chairman of the county's Democratic committee, threatened to send an email to 1,100 people urging them to take their business elsewhere if he didn't remove a yard sign reading "Stop the War on Coal. Fire Obama." that he had stuck into the ground.
"It will go viral. It will hurt your business," Hildebrand said Fairman told him during a telephone conversation on Monday.
Fairman confirmed that he had called Hildebrand about the sign, but denied that he had tried to bully him into taking it down. He also said he never made any reference to sending 1,100 emails.
"Let me be very clear: I in no way threatened anyone. In fact, I felt as though our conversation was very cordial," Fairman said in a statement emailed to the Gazette.
"I conveyed to him that I would no longer patronize his business because I didn't share his political views. I told the business owner that I would share this information with my friends and associates and let them decide whether they wish to support his business," he wrote.
Hildebrand said the conversation was cordial, but Fairman's message was clear: Take the sign down or suffer the consequences.
And that, he said, crosses the line.
Hildebrand ultimately took the sign down, although it remains sitting inside his shop along North Ben Franklin Road. He said he decided that leaving it up wasn't worth the risk to his business.
He and his wife, Cathy, said they are shocked that a single political sign would warrant such attention.
"I'm not going to go attack someone just because they are a Democrat," said Cathy Hildebrand.
The story has become a hot topic in local political circles and elsewhere as word of it has spread on social media and talk radio -- conservative host Jim Quinn recently discussed it on his show, "The War Room with Quinn and Rose."
And people have responded. Hildebrand's son, Steve, who works for the business, said they have received more than 100 emails from people offering words of support.
The elder Hildebrand also said people have been patronizing his shop -- he sells yard equipment -- as a show of support. State Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, purchased a chain saw from Hildebrand this week in support.
This isn't the first time Fairman is said to have taken exception to a political sign.
According to Bryan Albright, owner of Albright Power Equipment along Route 422 in Penn Run, Fairman threatened to send a mass email urging people not to do business with him because of a sign he had placed in front of his shop supporting Gov. Tom Corbett during his 2010 campaign.
"I sure as heck didn't take the sign down," Albright said. "In fact, I put more up."
Fairman denied that he had threatened Albright, too.
"I don't know where they get this from," he said.
Fairman said that in Hildebrand's case, he was only trying to share his opinion.
"Just as the business owner had expressed constitutionally protected right to put up his political sign, I exercised my constitutionally protected rights when I shared my opinions with him," said Fairman.
"I respect his rights. It's a shame that he cries foul instead of respecting my rights. Lively debate is what makes this the greatest country in the world. Without such debate we would be no better than any dictatorship," Fairman said.