Protestors and Mount Desert Island residents Amy Trafton, at far right, Courtney Imken, at far left, and a woman who asked only to be identified as Carolyn M. chat Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, while positioned across the street from Leonard Leo's house in Northeast Harbor. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Protests outside the home and church of a conservative Washington lobbyist on Mount Desert Island have intensified this summer, but police say the main issue has been the homemade chalk-based paint used to leave messages.

They’d rather protesters switch to something less permanent — like chalk.

Leonard Leo, a summer resident of the Mount Desert village of Northeast Harbor, is co-chair of the conservative Federalist Society, which has successfully lobbied to have conservative judges appointed to the Supreme Court. Since the end of June, protests have spread from Leo’s home in Mount Desert to Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Bar Harbor, where Leo reportedly worships when staying on Mount Desert Island.

One protester, Bar Harbor resident Annlinn Kruger, has been scrawling anti-Leo messages on public sidewalks in both towns and drawing the ire of some who support bans on abortion. Her messages also have received the attention of some local officials in the two towns because of the medium she has used — a chalk-based paint.

Bar Harbor Town Manager Kevin Sutherland, warned Kruger that her messages could be considered vandalism because the homemade type of paint she was using was difficult to remove. Kruger has taken exception to Sutherland’s warning, saying she consulted with police in both towns and was told that her messages were considered protected speech under the First Amendment.

On Tuesday, Kruger briefly spoke to the Bar Harbor Town Council about Sutherland, saying the town manager has no authority or responsibility to restrict her form of political protest. She wanted to know why he sought to intervene in her graffiti campaign.

“With whom did Sutherland consult about his efforts to shut down and remove all traces [of the graffiti],” she asked the council.

Neither Sutherland nor members of the council responded to Kruger’s comments.

James Willis, who serves as police chief in both Bar Harbor and Mount Desert, said Wednesday that officers in both departments initially had the same concerns about whether Kruger’s graffiti rose to the level of vandalism, but that both departments are keen to stay out of the political debate and to respect Kruger’s First Amendment rights.

Willis said officers have talked with Kruger about the permanency of the paint she has used for the messages. She has since switched to using a liquid chalk composed of chalk and water, which has proven to be much easier to remove and does not rise to the level of defacing public property.

He said that after speaking with Hancock County District Attorney Matthew Foster, he and Bar Harbor police Capt. David Kerns met with Sutherland and Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt to discuss the graffiti. All agreed that no action would be taken against Kruger as long as the messages continue to be easy to remove.

“She’s been pretty good to work with,” Willis said of Kruger.

Sutherland said Wednesday in an email that as long as Kruger’s political messages are easily washed off by Bar Harbor public works employees, the town will not try to stop her from writing on town sidewalks.

“We are all on the same page,” Sutherland said.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story indicated that Kruger switched to chalk after speaking with local officials. It is more accurate to say she has switched to a liquid chalk made of chalk and water.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....