FLINT, Michigan — After expressing vocal support for Bernie Sanders during Sunday night's debate, the independent mayor of Michigan's third largest city says security warned him that he would be booted from Sunday's Democratic debate here if he did not quiet down.
Jim Fouts, the three-term independent mayor of Warren, told BuzzFeed News Monday that he attended both the Republican and Democratic debates in Michigan over the past week. The audience at the GOP debate at the Fox Theatre in Detroit Thursday was loud. But the mood in the Whiting Auditorium on the campus of the Flint Cultural Center, where Sanders and Hillary Clinton met in one of their sharpest-elbowed debates to date, was very different, he said.
"The Democratic debate is totally controlled by Hillarys [sic] good friend DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz," Fouts wrote on Facebook Monday. "No commentary is allowed by the audience. Particularly if you are cheering Bernie Sanders. Persons who do not adhere to Hillarys [sic] rules are threatened with expulsion."
Fouts has not officially endorsed Sanders, but he is a big fan. He told BuzzFeed News that if he does vote in Tuesday's Democratic primary, "it's going to be for Bernie Sanders."
At the debate, Fouts sat in the center section of the hall, directly behind Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair. Next to him was his longtime executive assistant. Fouts told BuzzFeed News that at multiple times during the beginning of the debate, he turned to his executive assistant, praised Sanders' performance, and said the Flint debate — added to the calendar after the initial set were announced — proved that more debates were a good idea.
"I was just saying 'great job, Bernie!' and 'we need more debates,'" Fouts said. He said that at one point he vocally criticized Clinton for "wrapping herself around Obama."
He insisted he was speaking at a "normal conversation" level. Staff for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia who were sitting near Wasserman Schultz and Fouts said he was being "very disruptive" and made it hard to hear the candidates.
Wasserman Schultz did not respond to a request for comment.
During an early commercial break, security confronted Fouts, roused him from his seat, and pulled him and his assistant off to the side of the hall. He was told there had been "complaints" about his behavior and that security had been ordered to throw him out.
"The sergeant at arms said, 'The people that run this want you ejected, they don't want you here,'" Fouts recalled. He said his assistant asked if the complainer was Wasserman Schultz.
"The security guy said, 'don't say I said it," Fouts said.
Fouts was outraged by the evening. He called for Wasserman Schultz to step down in the Monday interview. After the conversation with security, Fouts said he returned to his seat and took extra care to be quiet.
"I was even careful when I clapped," he said. "I'm sorry that I offended her with my enthusiasm."
Clashes between the Sanders campaign and its supporters and the DNC have been routine throughout the primary. When the debate calendar was first announced, Sanders supporters were among those who shouted down Wasserman Schultz during a speech at the New Hampshire Democratic state convention. When the DNC suspended Sanders' campaign access to the party's online voter file following a break of Clinton data by Sanders campaign aides, the Sanders campaign filed a lawsuit and accused Wasserman Schultz of doing Clinton's bidding.
Top DNC officials, including the chair, have pledged neutrality throughout the primary process, saying that the party takes no sides.
Fouts said he didn't think the quiet rule at the Democratic debate was very democratic. He prefers things a little looser, if not as loose as the Republicans do it.
"Frankly I was appalled by what I saw and what happened," he said.