UPDATED: Political Banner Ads Grounded In Ocean City; Owner Says, ‘It’s Just Not Worth The Aggravation’

OCEAN CITY — Against the backdrop of the Republican National Convention and its presumptive presidential nominee, the typically innocent skies over the resort this week briefly became the subject of controversy with politically-charged banner plane messages that were quickly pulled.

On Monday afternoon, the Mayor and Council and other city officials received emails from visitors and residences complaining of strong political messages gracing the banner plane advertisements traditionally reserved for all-you-can-eat buffets, what band is playing where, the best happy hour specials, iced coffee specials and even iconic Coppertone suntan lotion.

Mayor Rick Meehan said during Monday’s council meeting resort officials had received a handful of emails about the somewhat controversial ads, which included messages such as “Stop Mad Cow Disease-Defeat Hillary,” and “America First-Build The Wall Now.”

Meehan said he was contacted by Ocean Aerial Inc. and owner-operator Bob Bunting about the controversial ads and the company, which has been flying over the resort skies for decades, made the decision to pull them.

“I think we all got blitzed today with emails about banners flown over the beach with messages very political in nature,” said Meehan on Monday night. “Just an hour ago, I spoke with Bob Bunting and he didn’t realize it would be so controversial, so he has made the decision not to fly the political banners anymore.”

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Ocean City Communications Manager Jessica Waters said on Tuesday the flap caused by the controversial political messages resulted in a quick decision to stop flying them over the crowded mid-July beach.

“We learned about the political ads on the banner planes yesterday afternoon when we began getting emails from concerned citizens via the town’s website,” she said. “Shortly after learning about the political ads, the mayor received a call from Mr. Bunting who explained his decision not to fly any more political banners due to the controversy it was causing.”

Waters said many residents and visitors are bombarded with political rhetoric constantly in their daily lives and a trip to the beach provides an opportunity to get away from all that for a short time.

“The banner planes are unique to Ocean City and something most, if not all, of our visitors look forward to seeing during their stay,” she said. “They are fun, welcoming and a great way to inform guests of our local businesses. I don’t believe Mr. Bunting expected that the political banners would be upsetting to some, and it is my understanding that once he realized it was causing concern, he made the decision to stop flying them.”

It didn’t take long for the area residents to fire off about the politically-charged banner planes. Just after 3 p.m. on Monday, The Dispatch had already received its first letter to the editor on the subject. The letter was later withdrawn once the writer learned of the ads being grounded.

“Ocean City is a place where people come to escape the anxieties and cares of our crazy world,” the letter reads. “Let’s leave the political posturing and theatrics off the sands and out of the airways. Aerial ads should be used, as they have traditionally always been used, to promote area businesses and attractions- fun stuff- and not used to get people riled up and aggravated.”

For his part, Bunting confirmed what city officials maintained at Monday night’s meeting.

“It’s just not worth the aggravation of people not being able to handle the political system. I agreed to just not accept any political ads whatsoever anymore. I’m going to lay low and not do any political ads. People just can’t handle it anymore and there’s so much hate in this world. Today’s parties want to fight each other and just be mean to each other,” Bunting said. “It’s not worth it. There’s just no tolerance anymore for opposing viewpoints. People don’t understand people buy advertising, just like they do in The Dispatch. These weren’t vulgar ads in anyway. If the Democrats want them now, guess what they don’t get them. Where’s the American way? I’ve never seen anything so nasty. People are scared to say what they really feel anymore. Everyone is just too sensitive. It’s a shame.”

After some misrepresentation of the city’s position in an earlier article, Meehan said later this week it’s important for citizens and visitors to know the city would never infringe on a private business owner’s operation.

“I never called Mr. Bunting. Mr. Bunting reached out to me to inform me of his decision. I did not, and never would have, contacted Mr. Bunting. It is his business and his decision what ads he chooses to run. The Town of Ocean City does not sensor anyone’s right to freedom of speech or expression. I did receive email complaints about the political ads but replied that the banner plane operator was a private business and had the right to run the messages,” Meehan said.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.