This is the second of four stories about voters in four communities as Maine prepares to elect a new governor. Next Sunday: Lewiston

Andy Nesheim and Zara Bohan bought their home in Portland’s Woodfords Corner neighborhood five years ago. It felt like a stretch then, but the price now would be completely out of reach, he said. Ever since they opened Coveside Coffee on Vannah Avenue last year, the No. 1 topic of conversation at the counter has been housing.

“Either people looking for housing or losing their housing,” Nesheim said. “If the state took a little bit more ownership of the homeless crisis, that would help Portland.”

Portlanders are concerned about higher-than-ever rents and home prices, a lack of affordable housing options and near-record numbers of people who are homeless. That anxiety is top of mind as they pick a governor they hope will treat the problems as statewide priorities not isolated to Maine’s largest city. Many are quick to say they do not think that person is former Gov. Paul LePage.

The most diverse and progressive city in Maine is solid blue, and it isn’t a surprise that many voters here have harsh words for LePage. Portland delivered tens of thousands of votes for Gov. Janet Mills in the last election and is expected to do so again this year. Residents have favored independent candidates over Democrats twice in the last 30 years (Eliot Cutler in 2010 and Angus King in 1998), but no Republicans have even come close. In 2018, Mills won nearly five times more ballots in Portland than her Republican opponent (26,197 to Shawn Moody’s 5,668).

High among the concerns of many local voters is the simple possibility that LePage could be elected to an unprecedented third non-consecutive term. Portlanders said they remember how he slashed and fought government programs for the state’s poorest and view him as someone who does not have the right approach to help Mainers under financial strain.


Hannah Granholm, 26, grew up in Oakland and has lived as far north as Fort Kent. She moved to Portland six years ago and works as an X-ray technician. On East End Beach with her dog Arlo, she said she recently had to find a new apartment because a new owner increased rents in her previous building. “There’s slim pickings,” she said.

Portland resident Hannah Granholm, photographed on East End Beach, has experienced the housing crunch first hand. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In rural and urban parts of the state, Granholm has seen different economies and incomes. That experience cemented her belief in social services that give a boost to the poorest residents, and she sees Mills as more supportive of low-income households than LePage was.

“Just seeing them both in office, I would support what Janet Mills has done more than what Paul LePage has done,” Granholm said.

John Carr, 60, moved to Maine 14 years ago, at a very different time for the state.

“The rents are starting to look like rent in New York City,” he said.

Tristan Tucker, photographed in Monument Square, wants to see more resources for people who are homeless. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Tristan Tucker, 27, works downtown in technology sales and was in Monument Square during lunchtime on a recent sunny day. He has lived in Portland most of his life and said he is concerned that the city has become unaffordable because the state has prioritized tourists over people who live here. Tucker also has a real estate license, and he has seen how first-time homebuyers are unable to compete with cash offers from out of state. He wants to see more resources for people who are homeless and stricter regulations for short-term rentals.


“As somebody who is renting a house right now, I would like to be able to purchase a place in the city that I grew up in,” he said. “That opportunity is slipping more and more.”

Portland voters also said abortion rights have become a more important issue since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in June. Pink Planned Parenthood signs are easily spotted in windows and lawns around the city.

The two major candidates have clashed on this issue in TV ads and on the debate stage.

Mills has promised to protect access to abortion in Maine, where state law says the procedure is legal until a fetus can survive outside of the womb, generally at 24 to 28 weeks, and she has painted her opponent as a threat. LePage has cut funding to family planning groups and attended anti-abortion rallies in the past. He said on the debate stage earlier this month that he supports the current law and would oppose a bill that weakens it, although anti-abortion advocates have continued to support him as an ally to the cause.

Portland resident Sheila Mayberry plays with her dog Finley on East End Beach. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As retired teacher Sheila Mayberry watched her dog Finley run on East End Beach, she said she is concerned about efforts to ban abortion nationwide.

“The abortion issue is urgent,” she said.


She doesn’t have faith that LePage will protect access to the procedure in Maine.

“I do not want to see Paul LePage back in Augusta,” she said. “I think he should stay (retired) in Florida.”

Allison Smith, 34, has lived in Maine on and off throughout her life. She moved back last October and works for a national education nonprofit. She said she will vote for Mills to preserve access to abortion in Maine.

“I want women to have the right to do whatever the heck we want with our bodies,” she said.

Allison Smith, photographed in Monument Square, is one of many Portland voters concerned about abortion rights. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In recent referendums, Portland voters have approved a number of progressive reforms including rent control, a $15-an-hour minimum wage plus hazard pay, and environmental regulations that go beyond state rules. Some Portlanders who support Mills said they would love to see candidates who would advocate for more dramatic action along those lines at the state level.

“There’s a place for being centrist, and I think a lot of Democrats are toeing that line. But we vote Democrat for you to be progressive,” Smith said.


Mark Turner, 56, a cook at LFK on State Street, said he will vote for Mills but would like to see younger and fresher candidates. “You keep seeing the usual suspects,” he said.

Mark Turner, a longtime Portland resident, is one of many city voters worried about the potential return of former Gov. Paul LePage. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Turner’s grandfather was active in the civil rights movement in the South, and his mother grew up reciting the names of U.S. Supreme Court justices at the dinner table. Turner was raised to maintain the same consciousness and at one time taught history in Boston. He is concerned about the forces that led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January 2021 and was one of many voters to compare LePage to former President Donald Trump in politics and personality.

“I never go to sleep at night wondering what crazy thing Janet Mills is going to cook up while I’m asleep,” he said. “But there were nights when I worried about what Paul LePage was going to do next.”

For some Portland voters, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a pressing concern. At Roy’s Shoe Shop in Deering Center, many customers still wear masks, and a clear plastic partition still hangs at the register to prevent the spread of airborne germs.

Siblings Ryan and Liz Lentz, who run the business with their father, said they appreciated Mills’ approach to the pandemic, especially the mask mandates that made them and their customers feel safe. Without the regulations Mills put in place, they felt more people would have died of the virus.

“I think Mills saved our butts,” said Ryan, 29, who lives in Westbrook.


“She believed in science,” agreed Liz, 22, who lives in Portland.

People walk on the beach and rocks at East End Beach. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Tucker, the 27-year-old who grew up in Portland and works downtown, was also happy with the way the Mills administration (especially Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention) handled the pandemic. But he doesn’t love either candidate, and said he will wait until closer to the election to decide who will get his vote.

“Living in Maine my whole life, I know LePage and Mills,” he said. “They both disappoint for different reasons.”

He said he prefers a more conservative approach to government spending than what he has seen under the Mills administration, and he remembers how LePage kept a tight control on state spending. But he also called LePage abrasive and “a raging (expletive).” He thinks Mills is more unifying and stately.

“You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

Monument Square in Portland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Dumitru Gherman-Lad read a book on a sunny bench in Monument Square. He moved to California from Romania 13 years ago, when he got a visa through the diversity lottery. He became a naturalized citizen and works in information technology. LePage was still in office when he and his wife moved east to her home state five years ago.


Gherman-Lad, 39, said he dislikes the disparaging comments LePage has made about immigrants. He wants to see the governor of Maine support federal and state programs that would allow more people from other countries to come here and restart their lives.

“I’ve attended some of the naturalization ceremonies here in Portland and when you see who is getting naturalized, it’s really diverse and really beautiful,” he said. “I would love to see more diversity.”

He said he knows how his city will vote, but understands that LePage has a lot of support elsewhere.

“We are in a Democratic bubble here in Portland,” he said.

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