PORTLAND, Maine — A large mural of Gov. Paul LePage in the white robes and red hood of a Ku Klux Klan leader was painted on a city-sanctioned graffiti wall along Portland’s Eastern Promenade Trail late last week.
The mural covers roughly 30 feet on the side of the city’s sewage treatment plant with the message “Dump LePage.” It also labels Maine’s chief executive as a “racist,” “homophobe,” “moron” and “governor” — though the last word is crossed out. The unsigned graffiti was painted on the wall as Maine Democrats’ efforts to oust the governor and some state Republicans’ calls for censure fizzled in the wake of LePage’s latest uproar.
Last week, “Dump LePage” also was scrawled under a highway overpass in Portland. A Department of Transportation official said the earlier graffiti would be promptly removed.
Last night, two people tried to cover up the mural with white paint, WCSH reported — but another group later cleaned it off.
As of early this morning, the mural depicted LePage with Mickey Mouse ears, a WCSH reporter tweeted.
A graffiti mural of LePage originally had him dressed as a KKK leader, but this morning he has Mickey ears. pic.twitter.com/ymb3QMJfPS
— Kelsey Fabian (@KelseyPHL17) September 7, 2016
The mural wall is owned by the Portland Water District and has been a site for legal graffiti for at least 15 years, according to water district spokeswoman Michelle Clements. And because graffiti is allowed on the wall, the city’s hands are tied from removing it.
“We can’t do anything because it’s sanctioned, and it’s a matter of free speech,” city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said. “If it was hate speech, it would be illegal. But it’s not.”
The controversy that has engulfed the LePage administration over the last week began after the governor asserted that 90 percent of the drug traffickers arrested in Maine are black or Hispanic. He later added that “the enemy right now … are people of color or people of Hispanic origin,” in reference to drug dealers.
In fact, 70 percent of state prison inmates convicted for any drug trafficking offense identify as white, according to the Maine Department of Corrections.
The Anti-Defamation League denounced LePage for his statements and said the governor’s “troubling record of scapegoating people of color and immigrants” makes the graffiti understandable. But associating him with an organization that has killed thousands of people by lynching is a bridge too far, according to New England Director Robert Trestan.
“It’s understandable why people are using this as a symbol to express their disagreement and outrage with what LePage has said,” Trestan said. “But he’s still a sitting governor and not a member of the Klan.”
In Maine, Catholics and French-speaking immigrants from Canada were among the Klan’s early targets. LePage is Catholic and grew up speaking French.
A spokeswoman for LePage did not respond to a request to comment for this story.