PORTLAND — The City Council voted 8-1 Wednesday night to deny a permit for Maine’s largest encampment of Wall Street protesters to stay in Lincoln Park.

Councilors said they support the message of Occupy Maine, but they questioned its plan to restrict the number of people at the encampment to 50.

“What happens with occupant number 51?” asked Councilor Jill Duson.

At issue was whether the city should allow the group to stay in Portland’s oldest park despite an ordinance that forbids people from being there between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The council’s Public Safety Committee voted 3-0 last week to recommend that the council reject the permit request.

After the vote, John Branson, an attorney for the protesters, said the group will seek a court order to allow it to remain in the park.

Councilor John Anton, who voted against the permit, said there does not need to be a forcible removal of the encampment. “Rejecting the application is not an immediate segue to batons and pepper spray,” he said.

Mayor Michael Brennan, who led the first council meeting since his inauguration Monday, voted against granting the permit, as did Duson, Anton and councilors John Coyne, Cheryl Leeman, Kevin Donoghue, Ed Suslovic and Nicholas Mavodones.

Councilor David Marshall cast the only vote to support the permit, saying the city has a history of using the park as a place for protesters to hold encampments.

More than 50 people spoke during a three-hour public hearing that preceded the vote, and all but a handful supported the encampment. Many spoke passionately about their cause: economic justice and the renewal of democracy.

At the same time, they promised to improve some of the everyday aspects of the encampment, such as buying hand cleansers, renting a Dumpster and cleaning portable toilets.

Supporters said the encampment is an “amazing community of self-government and direct democracy,” and that problems are being caused by interlopers.

Camping in the park is political speech that’s protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, said Zachary Heiden, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

Delina Malo-Juvera 39, of Acton said she likes to visit Lincoln Park with her two young children on weekends to show her support.

An immigrant from Mexico, she become a U.S. citizen four years ago, she said. “I wanted to have a voice. I wanted to make life better for my family,” she said. “But being able to vote did not seem to count for much. Then the Occupy movement started, and for me this is the light of hope.”

Opponents of the permit urged the council to focus on the issue at hand: health and safety problems at the park.

Robert Hains said he sympathizes with the grievances of the protesters. But he said that empowering the group to expel troublemakers won’t make the park safer. Although the core group of protesters is not causing problems, he said, it is attracting people who are.

Many businesses in Portland are worried about maintaining the rule of law and the city’s image, said Chris O’Neil, a lobbyist for the Portland Community Chamber. “End the occupation now,” he told the council. “If constitutional issues arise, the courts will settle that.”

In their testimony, city staffers described Occupy Maine as having an unregulated, unsanitary campground that attracts a high number of police calls and poses a threat to public health and safety.

Acting Police Chief Michael Sauschuck told the council that calls for service in Lincoln Park have increased sharply in the two-plus months that the encampment has been there. Sauschuck said officers responded to 140 calls at the park from Oct. 1 to Dec. 5. There were 70 calls for all of 2010.
Arrests have also gone up, to 20 in the park this fall from five for all of 2010.

Occupy Maine wanted a written permit from the city recognizing its members as caretakers of a portion of the park for six months. Such a permit would allow them to create a “social compact” with standards of behavior and to have more control over who stays overnight.

Before the meeting, anticipating that the council would reject their request for a permit, members of the Occupy Maine movement began preparing for a forced eviction from the park.

On its Facebook page, Occupy Maine announced Wednesday that it is forming a “police raid support team.”

Occupy Maine is looking for bloggers and people with cameras to document police behavior. It also is looking for people to volunteer to serve as “human barricades” by standing between police and the camp.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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