Union Leader Staff
MANCHESTER — Liberal activist and comedian Al Franken helped eject a boisterous heckler from a crowded Howard Dean rally at the Palace Theatre Monday, the theater’s manager said yesterday.
The heckler began yelling from the rear of the theater while the Democratic Presidential hopeful was taking questions from the audience, theater manager Peter Ramsey said.
Two members of Dean’s security team immediately moved in on the man, who shoved and elbowed them, Ramsey said.
“He was screaming. He was out of control,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey said he went over to help calm the situation and also got elbowed and pushed.
“All of a sudden, I looked to my right, and Al Franken was grabbing onto this man’s back,” Ramsey said.
“He (Franken) gave him a hefty Patriots block. He should be a Patriot,” Ramsey said.
“I never met Al Franken before. He is now my new hero,” Ramsey said of the former “Saturday Night Live” writer.
Ramsey said a news photographer later told him Franken reacted to being elbowed by the protester, who knocked his glasses off.
When a second heckler — apparently working in tandem with the first — emerged from the audience, Dean security men and Franken went over to deal with him while the first protester headed to the balcony, Ramsey said.
While Ramsey pursued the first man to the balcony, he said, he saw Franken and three other men escort the second heckler out the stage door.
Once in the balcony, Ramsey encountered a more disturbing sight.
The protester had clambered over two or three people and had perched himself on the balcony railing.
“I thought he was going to jump. He was screaming at Dean. I was scared for a minute that he was going to jump on the stage and attack Dean,” Ramsey said.
One New Hampshire voter sitting in the balcony said the heckler “kind of barreled through like a Patriots fullback.”
“The way he moved, I thought he was going to jump or something,” Wendy Branch of Northwood said. “Even if he didn’t intend to jump, he was setting himself up for a fall. It was a little alarming.”
Ramsey said the heckler left quietly after Ramsey threatened to call the police. But Ramsey figured the more likely reason the protester left was that few television cameras were set up in the balcony.
Ramsey said Dean’s staff told him the protesters were supporters of fringe Presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche.
Franken told the New York Post he body-slammed the demonstrator to the ground.
“I got down low and took his legs out,” Franken told the newspaper.
Franken said he is not backing Dean, but merely wanted to protect free-speech rights.
“I would have done it if he was a Dean supporter at a Kerry rally,” he told the Post.
Dateline . . . Manchester
EXETER — Police Chief Richard Kane spent much of yesterday telling people other than news reporters to get their facts straight.
A dateline on a New York Post story apparently left many readers with the mistaken impression that humorist and political commentator Al Franken’s sacking of a heckler at a rally for Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean on Monday had occurred in Exeter, when in fact it happened in Manchester.
That got phones ringing and e-mail alerts dinging at the Exeter Police Department, where Kane, who in midafternoon had just gotten off the phone with someone from Seattle, said he had heard from about 20 people about the incident since around 10 a.m.
“Now I’m to the point of not answering,” said Kane, adding he didn’t have the ability to create an automated message to handle such calls, but thought it better to respond in person anyway.
He said he was referring callers to the Post. He said he’d tried without success to speak with someone at the New York tabloid, but presumed the reporter, Vincent Morris, had sent the story from Exeter and that’s why it carried the town’s dateline.
In fact, that is exactly what happened, according to Gregg Birnbaum, the New York-based political editor for the Post. He said Morris had been traveling with the Dean campaign to several stops that day and while the original story did contain a reference to the Palace Theatre in Manchester as the location of the dustup, it was edited out of the final piece. “The general policy is where the story is written,” Birnbaum said last night.
— Peg Warner, Union Leader Correspondent
The Union Leader