Mark Dion, 68, outside his home in North Deering. Dion is one of five candidates in the Nov. 7 Portland mayoral election. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The second of five profiles on Portland’s mayoral candidates.

The shelves in Mark Dion’s living room are stuffed full of cookbooks. He reads out names that are as varied as the cuisines – “Better Homes Cooked,” “The Smitten Kitchen,” “Sushi.”

“I read these cover to cover, like most people read novels,” he said, setting down a mug of piping hot coffeeblack, no cream or sugar – to flip through the pages of his collection.

His favorite is dusty pink and hand-bound, written equal parts in French and English. Dion translates his grandmother’s words written in French on the inside cover in looping cursive: “With love and affection and great joy I dedicate my recipes to all my grandchildren.”

In all of Dion’s varied pursuits – police work, law, cooking – he has been searching for connection, he says. His favorite way to find it may be through food. He believes his best dish is a Tourtière pie – well known among his former colleagues in the Maine Legislature – but when he cooks for friends and family, he doesn’t just rely on old favorites.

“I try to find out what they like and who to push a little bit. Some people have a personality where they’ll try something new. Others don’t,” he said. “I’m watching them when I serve the food and when I know they really like it, it makes me really happy. I love that feeling.”


By now, Dion, 68, has been cooking almost as long as his grandmother had before she died. What he loves most about it is the same thing he loves about public service – the opportunity it provides for deep human understanding. It’s one thing he’d like to do as mayor to bring people together, through universalities like food and family.

If that doesn’t work out, he joked, maybe he’ll pursue another passion: training to become a sushi chef in California, where his daughters live.


Dion was born in Lewiston to Norman and Doris Dion. His father had an eighth-grade education, worked as a bus driver, then for 30 years as a firefighter. His mom stayed home with their five kids. Mark was the oldest, followed closely by three sisters and then a brother 17 years his junior.

The family lived in a two-bedroom apartment. Dion slept in an old china alcove his parents outfitted with a mattress.

“It was an indentation in the wall,” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t even have a door.”


Dion’s father’s parents lived in the apartment downstairs and his mother’s mother lived right next door. The extended family would gather every Sunday for a big meal. Often their Catholic priest would join them. Dion was an altar boy and sang in the church choir while attending Catholic grammar school.

Dion’s grandparents had immigrated from Canada and he grew up in their tightknit neighborhood speaking both English and French.

As a kid, he played outside until the streetlights came on, laundry flapping on swooping clotheslines. He and his sisters walked to school.

When Dion was 17 and getting ready to leave for college, his father took him down to the garage beneath their apartment. He pulled up the old wooden door to reveal an easy chair and a 12-inch, black-and-white TV.

“This is all a man needs, a good chair when he gets home and to be able to watch some TV,” his father told him. Then he handed him 50 bucks and said, “You’re all set now.”

That was the last money he ever took from his father, Dion said.


He worked in a commercial bakery, a foundry and as a landscaper to pay his way through what was then the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham, where he majored in criminology. At 21, he joined the Portland Police Department. At first, he commuted from his family’s apartment, where he shared a room with his 3-year-old brother.

After a few months he moved into an apartment on Warren Avenue next to a bustling parking lot. He had trouble sleeping because of the noise from trucks backing in at all hours. But being downtown, surrounded by sounds, lights and people, thrilled him.

“That began my love affair with the city of Portland,” he said.


In college, Dion met a girl at a party. They hit it off and soon started dating. She was as passionate about nursing as he was about police work.

Dion beams when he talks about his wife, Cheryl, and her nursing career. For years, he went straight from the overnight patrol shift to his morning job at a local Italian bakery to help put her through nursing school.


“She has worked every lower-level job in the health care profession and it was never beneath her,” he said proudly. “She’s so good at what she does, and she’s dedicated 45 years to nursing.”

Cheryl Dion worked in hospitals and later at the Cumberland County Jail, after her husband was no longer overseeing the facility as sheriff.

“She knew the people there, and she respected them, so she never operated with anxiety or standoffishness,” he said.

Their North Deering home is all warm wood and sunlight, peppered with photos of family: the Dions, their dog Jax, daughters Ashley Little and Brittany Roscillo, and four grandchildren.

Family has always been central for him. He has lost two of his sisters – one to a heart attack, the other to brain cancer. His parents both are gone, too.

He lights up when he talks about his daughters and they do the same when they talk about him.


“My dad still makes these Christmas stockings for us,” Little said. “He fills them with makeup and our favorite candies from Haven Candies. He’s been doing these since we were little kids, and now he started doing them for our husbands and our kids, too.”

Every time she goes out with her dad, she says, at least one person stops them on the street to talk.

Mark and Cheryl Dion are Mimi and Pepe to their grandchildren, who call from California several times a week.

“He is as involved as the grandparents who live out here,” Little said.

When Roscillo and Little were growing up, they both played sports. Roscillo especially was passionate about ice hockey.

“Not only did my dad come to every single game, but when I started coaching kids hockey, he came to every game I coached,” she said. “By the end of the season, my dad was friends with all the kids’ parents, and that’s just who he is. He can always find a way to connect – and I think it’s partly because he always shows up.”



The Dions’ work often has overlapped.

When Mark Dion was on the police force, he sometimes brought people into the hospital where his wife worked, and he’d often come in covered in blood. She’d ask, “His or yours?” before getting to work.

They were leaving a restaurant in Back Cove once when they saw a homeless man they knew stumble and hit his head on the curb.

While Mark Dion propped him up and asked where he was staying that night, Cheryl Dion started treating his wounds. He remembers the man stammering, “Cheryl, Mark, you guys know each other?” to which Dion replied, “Yeah, I know her pretty well.”

“We’ve both worked with a part of this community that often is invisible, but we know them, we know them for their good and for their bad,” he said.


After 21 years, Dion left the Portland Police Department in 1998 to run as an independent for Cumberland County sheriff.

“There’s no Democratic or Republican way to run a sheriff’s office,” he said. “There’s just the right way to do it.”

He focused much of his energy on the jail. He converted an extra office into a sort of reading room, complete with a rocking chair and art on the wall. There, he would film inmates reading books, and then send the tapes home to their kids. He wanted them to feel connected to family.

“The system is designed to break all those supports,” Dion said. “Then we go ‘Oh, they reoffended?’ Why are we surprised? The result is exactly what it was intended to be.”

Midway through his time as sheriff, the University of Maine School of Law announced it was offering a part-time program. Dion could fulfill a long-held dream to be a lawyer while holding down his job as sheriff.

He took the LSAT, applied and started studying law. Dion’s daughters were in college in New York at the same time. The three of them would text one another late into the night from three separate university libraries.


In 2010, Dion opted not to run for a fourth term as sheriff and opened his own law practice. He thought he might be done with public life.

“I wanted to be like Tom Brady, I wanted to leave at the top of my game. Except,” he pauses, “well, has he left? I don’t know,” then laughs as he leans back in his chair.

Not long after he left the sheriff’s department, a state House seat unexpectedly opened up. The Maine Democratic Party wanted him to run. He remembers lounging in the above-ground pool in his backyard while party officials in suits stood on the deck trying to convince him.

“They were telling me, ‘This will be so part-time, you could phone it in.’ And I was saying, ‘I don’t know guys.’ But they got me, I ran,” he said, shaking his head.

He served three terms in the Maine House of Representatives and one in the state Senate – eight years in total.

There he met Ken Fredette, a Republican lawmaker, and now his law partner, golf mentee and one of his closest friends.


“Outside of the fact that he’s a Democrat, he’s an all-right guy,” Fredette joked. “Nobody wants to play (golf) with someone who is so bad, but Mark did. He’d go out with me and just be so patient.”

The two have coffee every morning, Dion calls it their “political roundtable.”

“He has the ability to see what the other side is saying, in a very bipartisan way,” Fredette said.

In 2018, Dion ran for governor and placed fifth in the Democratic primary. In 2020, he won a seat on the Portland City Council representing District 5.

“I am trying to move the council back to the center,” he said. He sees the mayor’s fundamental work as advising the City Council and building consensus and cohesion. And while he readily admits he has strong beliefs and will stick his neck out for what he thinks is right, he says he never lets politics become personal or all about him.

“I can’t pick a single plaque with my name on it that I can take full credit for,” he said. “None of that occurred but for the people I was working with. End of story.”

Next up: Dylan Pugh

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