Mayor Thomas M. Menino will not back down from his stance against Chick-fil-A for its opposition to gay marriage, but he acknowledged Thursday that he cannot do anything to prevent the restaurant chain from setting up shop in Boston.
"Originally, I said I would do everything I can to stop them.'' Menino said in an interview at City Hall. "And that was mostly using the bully pulpit of being mayor of the city and getting public support. But I didn't say I would not allow them to go for permits or anything like that. I just said we would do everything we can, bully pulpit-wise."
Menino caused a stir after he wrote an irate letter last Friday to the restaurant chain's president, Dan Cathy, who told the Baptist Press this month that his company is ''guilty as charged'' for being a supporter of organizations rallying against same-sex marriage.
The company was considering opening a location on Union Street, across the street from City Hall and Faneuil Hall. After learning about the company leadership's views on same-sex marriage, Menino issued a letter to Cathy, lambasting him.
"I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston," Menino wrote. "There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it.
"I urge you to back out of your plans to locate in Boston."
The letter drew intense reactions on both ends of the political spectrum.
Since it was posted on the city's Facebook page Wednesday, about 140,000 people have "liked" it. Others posted comments criticizing the mayor's stance.
But Menino clarified his view Thursday, saying that it would not be within his power to take any steps to prevent the business from establishing a franchise in the city and that he could not deny permits to the company. His only recourse, he said, is expressing his disapproval.
"Yes, people have criticized me; I understand that," Menino said. "But I have feelings . . . I have my First Amendment rights also. I'm expressing them."
The notion that Menino might use his considerable political power to bully the company out of the city drew criticism from political specialists who said the move was not atypical for the mayor.
Paul Watanabe, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, stressed that Menino, like any resident of Boston, has a right to express his views on the business's possible arrival in the city. But, he said, that right stops short of taking steps to prevent that business from operating in the city.
"I do not begrudge the mayor or anyone from voicing their views," Watanabe said. "But the fact is that if . . . a business might be treated different solely because of their views — that's a legitimate issue to raise."
John C. Berg, director of Suffolk University's graduate program in political science, said Menino may not have the explicit power to edge out companies of which he disapproves, but the mayor certainly holds informal sway.
"You could fight it, but . . . nobody wants to do that, because the more you fight it, the more you get problems," Berg said. "It's not ideal, and it's not how the perfect city should work."
Berg said the incident probably will not have much of an effect on Menino's electoral appeal.
"It's not the kind of thing that voters are going to care about," Berg said. "Short of Chick-fil-A filing a lawsuit, it's not really an electoral issue."
Since Menino's letter to Chick-fil-A, the restaurant has also caught flak from other public figures, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago.
"Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago values,'' Emanuel said to the Chicago Sun-Times. "They're not respectful of our residents, our neighbors, and our family members. And if you're going to be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values."
Comedian Jon Stewart also weighed in: "Open your eyes, owner of Chick-fil-A . . . not even Boston will tolerate you."
Others posted comments on Facebook and Twitter disparaging the mayor's move.
"Just don't get how any mayor has the right to tell any business who can build a restaurant in his city and who can't because of their religious beliefs," said one Facebook user commenting on the letter.
"Boston, cool for sticking up to what you believe in and all, but think of the money that could be brought to the city with a Chick Fil A," a user identified as @TFMTherapist wrote Thursday on Twitter.
Thursday afternoon, Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas — who made headlines in January when he refused President Obama's invitation to the White House — joined in the dissent on Facebook, mentioning that the restaurant is a private entity. "I stand with Chick-fil-A," Thomas wrote.