A Portland city councilor says he has received threats and attacks on his character in response to his vote this week in support of an indoor mask mandate in public places.

Councilor Andrew Zarro, who sponsored the ordinance approved unanimously by the City Council on Monday, wrote on Instagram Thursday that since the vote, he and his business, Little Woodfords coffee shop, have been the target of false and defamatory reviews that have escalated into threats and attacks.

Portland City Councilor Andrew Zarro, photographed in 2019, says he has received “direct threats to my shop and harm to our bodies, vicious homophobic and personal attacks” since his vote Monday on the mask mandate. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“I have now received direct threats to my shop and harm to our bodies, vicious homophobic and personal attacks, more derogatory, malicious and fictitious reviews, along with promises to make me close my shop permanently in 2022, as several of these people are calling for a boycott of our shop,” Zarro wrote.

He said there is a local group organizing a campaign asking people to draft a letter to the City Council asking for him to be removed from office. In addition, Zarro said people have been criticizing his character because of an artist’s satirical stickers that were sold at his shop last month that were a response to national discussions around Roe v. Wade.

“Make no mistake, this is entirely retaliation from Monday night’s vote,” Zarro wrote. “Join me and call this out.”

Thursday afternoon, Yelp said it was temporarily suspending posts on the site for reviews of Zarro’s coffee shop while it attempted to differentiate between those wanting to post comments based on “news events” and those with “actual consumer experiences.” There was no indication when Yelp might end its monitoring or blocking of posts.


Zarro did not  respond to phone messages or email Thursday afternoon.

Several councilors posted on Instagram saying they support Zarro. They also said the full council will issue a statement Friday defending Zarro and calling for an end to attacks against individual councilors, particularly since the mask mandate was backed unanimously by the council.

Mayor Kate Snyder said many of the attacks against Zarro appeared to be “boilerplate” emails generated by a national conservative publication that she said wrote about the mask mandate. Snyder said she doesn’t know which publication it was, but said such strong reactions are increasingly the norm following controversial decisions by the council.

In Zarro’s case, “clearly people are looking to say terrible things and target, in particular, him and his decision-making,” she said.

Snyder said it’s easy to discount the reactions of people who aren’t from Portland or Maine, but the tone of discussions of city policy and council decisions has become more harsh in recent years.

“I think there’s definitely a feeling of, ‘If you disagree with me on this, we will never see eye-to-eye on anything,’ ” Snyder said.


She said those disagreements are becoming more personal, noting that in 2020, former city manager Jon Jennings was attacked by some residents as racist and Snyder defended him as a city employee. That led some people to show up at her house to criticize her support of Jennings, she said.

“That was pretty alarming and really quite intimidating,” she said. “You’re just fair game.”

Councilor April Fournier said she’s also seen public discourse become nastier and more personal in the year she’s been on the Council.

“We’re seeing stuff on all of the social media, name-calling,” she said. “It’s definitely been increasing.”

Fournier said “disagreement is important” on city issues to help councilors see other points of view and help shape fair decisions, “but we draw the line when it becomes abusive, harmful and violent, it really crosses the line into harassment.”

Fournier believes there used to be an understanding of where the line was between productive public discussions and abusive personal attacks, but “some people are so far over the line now that the line is being blurred or being moved. That’s not how we want Portland to be.”


“I’m troubled by the fracture we’re experiencing as a community and by the tone some have adopted when expressing their disagreement over the very real issues we’re facing together,” Fournier said in a video posted on social media Thursday. “Threats and intimidation of our elected officials to influence a vote is wrong and something we as a community should be standing against every day.”

Councilor Pious Ali, in a separate video, said the mask mandate is intended to keep people safe and that it was a decision put in place by the entire council. “All we did was vote on that and we did that collectively as leaders who represent everyone in our city,” Ali said. “Right wing groups, or whoever they are, targeted one of my colleagues, and I don’t think that is OK.”

Councilor Victoria Pelletier also posted about threats against Zarro in an Instagram post on Tuesday.

“To see today that individuals who are not in support of last night’s meeting have been harassing him, leaving one-star reviews on his shop and calling him homophobic slurs in Maine’s most ‘progressive city’ is absolutely disgusting and unacceptable,” Pelletier wrote. “Whether you like how last night’s vote went or not, it happened, and now we need to collectively figure out how we can move forward.”


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