Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Mural Depicting Maine Gov. Paul LePage in KKK Regalia Gets Makeover

A mural in Portland, Maine, that tested the outer limits of free speech by featuring controversial Gov. Paul LePage as a member of the Ku Klux Klan has been painted over.

In this latest incarnation seen Tuesday, LePage's Klansman attire was scrubbed out, the hood replaced with Mickey Mouse ears, according to NBC affiliate WCSH. It's unclear who painted the original artwork and who gave it a more satirical makeover.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling had been leading the charge to have the imagery removed from a wall owned by the Portland Water District that is popular with graffiti artists. But he told NBC News on Wednesday that the alteration has made covering up Le Page's likeness unnecessary.

"I feel that now that it has been transformed by the people, it will stay," Strimling said.

The Democratic mayor said that while he does not defend LePage, who has been widely criticized for making racist and inflammatory comments, the original mural went too far. Next to the caricature of the Republican governor are the words "racist," "homophobe" and "moron." The word "governor" is crossed out in red.

"We all find the governor's language very troubling and we all want him to be held accountable, but that's very different from trivializing the KKK in this country," Strimling said. "We should not trivialize what the KKK did to African-Americans."

He added that regardless of who was depicted in the mural, a picture of a Klansman would serve no purpose in the public sphere.

"You can do dramatic images and do strong statements. You should do political art," the mayor said. "But this is a public wall, it's not a private wall. There are standards around obscenity and hate speech that we will maintain on this wall."

The governor's office declined to comment Wednesday morning.

Portland Water District spokeswoman Michelle Clements said the agency, which operates independently from the city, agreed in 2001 to allow for the wall to be used as a public art space — although the city monitors the content.

Anyone is allowed to tag the wall, and no permits are needed, Strimling added.

The water district had also viewed the original art as "inappropriate," and is asking the city of Portland to review what the options are for removing any artwork considered to be offensive.

As local debate raged on this week about whether the LePage mural is unsuitable, a war between supporters and opponents erupted Tuesday night. A couple of people tried using paint to cover up the mural but were later thwarted when members of a group who supports the mural's message washed off the fresh coat.

Finally, someone painted mouse ears over the white hood and wrote, "No Hate" and "Hate is Hate" alongside it.

The mural originally went up sometime this week.

Portland, considered a progressive bastion in Maine, is not a LePage stronghold — although Strimling has said he wants to improve the city's relationship with the governor.

LePage had suggested in August that he may resign from his office after weathering months of controversy for his off-the-cuff comments, including leaving an angry voicemail laced with expletives for a Democratic legislator.

In January, he apologized for saying that out-of-state drug dealers come to Maine to sell heroin and impregnate "white girls."

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