SOUTH PORTLAND — When people learn that Mayor Tom Blake and his wife, Dee Dee, have been together for 45 years, they often ask him to share the secrets of a successful marriage.

Turns out his recipe for a good relationship isn’t much different from his plan to lead an increasingly divided City Council and community for the next year.

“Talk about everything,” Blake tells advice seekers. “No secrets. I don’t have anything to hide.”

Couples also must compromise, he says. Rather than fear or avoid conflict, he says, work to resolve and rise above it. As a city leader, he’s frustrated that many people today cannot be friends with others who have opposing views, let alone consider modifying their own beliefs.

“If a community doesn’t have issues,” he says, “it’s not alive and it’s not going anywhere.”

The third component of a happy partnership reflects Blake’s goal to promote a more active, engaged electorate. A father of four and grandfather of 14, he hikes regularly with his wife and cycles often with his brother Bob.

“Get off the couch,” Blake tells couples. “Go out and do things together. A busy body is a healthy mind and a busy mind is a healthy body.”

Blake, 64, has his work cut out for him as he takes the mayor’s gavel, bestowed by his fellow councilors, for the third time since he was elected to the council in 2007. The year ahead promises to be challenging as he plans initiatives to unite the council, recognize municipal volunteers, draw more young people into civic affairs, and address the growing issues of drug addiction, homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.

The current council appears to share common ground on issues related to education, community development and environmental sustainability, despite pushback from some residents and others who are more conservative or favor the economic interests of fuel companies that have long dominated the city’s waterfront and older neighborhoods.

Blake supported the controversial Clear Skies ordinance in 2014 that blocked the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from reversing its flow to bring Canadian tar sands oil into the city. Now, the company’s imports from overseas have slowed to a relative trickle and it’s challenging the ordinance in federal court.

“We’ve become a very green community, but it’s diametrically opposed to our heavy industry,” Blake said. “We need to find a way to resolve this now so we don’t have to deal with it year after year in the future.”


Complicating matters are two newer councilors, Brad Fox, elected last year, and Eben Rose, elected in November, who have challenged the council’s usual way of doing things and its ability to act effectively. They demonstrated this at last week’s council meeting, when their own actions defeated a moratorium on propane storage facilities that both men had proposed and supported.

Blake hopes to do some team building this year, starting with the council’s first-ever goal-setting session on Monday evening. He’d like to quell the open antagonism seen lately among some councilors, especially over council rules and practices, including those related to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act and the public’s right to know what’s going on at City Hall.

“We need to come together as a team,” Blake said. “You do your homework, you line up your ducks and you make your case. If you don’t win, move on.”

He considers himself a gentleman who’s quick to open the door for others, praise the good work of opponents and buy flowers for his wife for no reason at all, and he believes others would benefit from acting accordingly.

Raised in the Pleasantdale neighborhood, Blake bristles when people call him anti-business, touting the work ethic and Yankee ingenuity that his parents instilled in him. He believes businesses shouldn’t be allowed to operate in contradiction of community values. Instead, they should evolve to meet citizens’ changing needs and expectations.

“I don’t believe government should be promoting business,” Blake said. “I believe government should provide a solid infrastructure for all, including businesses. That includes good roads and utilities, public safety, transportation, education, social services and cultural amenities. You do all that, then you will have a healthy environment and a good community and the businesses will come.”

When it comes to politics, Blake is an unapologetic President Obama supporter and climate-change believer who said in his inaugural address that the ongoing conflict over heavy industry is “a cancer in South Portland.” But he sees himself as a representative rather than a politician.

“I don’t like the term ‘politician,’ ” Blake said. “My job is to analyze what the community tells me and do what I think is right for the community as a whole.”


A self-described romantic and poet who’s prone to get misty-eyed, Blake is a retired South Portland firefighter and union leader who juggles nine part-time jobs despite constant back pain from an old injury and a debilitating form of asthma that stole his senses of smell and taste.

“I turn it into a positive,” Blake said. “I appreciate other things so much more. I look at what other people are dealing with and I see that I am blessed. I tell people, ‘If you can put your feet on the ground and wipe your own butt, you’re doing all right.'”

In addition to being a city councilor, for which he gets paid about $8 a day, Blake teaches Maine history at Southern Maine Community College, where he ran the paramedic degree program for nearly two decades before retiring from the fire department. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Southern Maine, but he wound up working as a firefighter for 27 years because teaching positions were scarce when he first graduated in 1974.

Drawing on his experience of running track in high school, Blake coaches the Unum corporate track team that has won six national championships, and he directs 75 middle- and high-school track meets across southern Maine each year.

Blake also is an agent for a company in Paris, France, that places French teenagers in Maine homes each summer, and he sells firewood cut from a 42-acre woodlot in Northfield, near Machias, where he and his wife built a log home from trees harvested on site.

Blake maintains four apartment houses that he and his wife own in South Portland, including their 1885 New Englander on High Street. It’s on the Fore River and has expansive views of the Portland waterfront and boats heading out to Casco Bay.

Today, it’s valued at $500,000 for property tax purposes, about 20 times more than they paid for it more than 30 years ago. Blake joked that it’s only worth that much if they sell it and noted that it makes him especially sympathetic to other taxpayers.

Lately, the Blakes have leased their upstairs in-law apartment, which shares their kitchen, through the online booking service, which has drawn numerous short-term guests from all over the world. Blake also meets a wide variety of people as an Uber driver, his ninth part-time job, taxiing folks around Greater Portland in his American-made Ford Escape.

A gifted storyteller who loves demographics and other statistics, Blake enjoys sharing what he knows about Greater Portland and Maine, both in history and current events. And he relishes learning about the interests, ideas and experiences of others, especially young people.

That’s why Blake plans to establish an ad hoc committee including several young people to develop a plan to increase civic involvement among people ages 18 to 30. He regularly asks young people why they’re not more involved in community activities. They tell him they feel disenfranchised and disconnected from city government.

“They feel their opinions don’t matter,” Blake said. “They’re not going to just come into the fold. We need to reach out and actively bring them into the community.”