City workers clear a homeless campsite at Deering Oaks Park, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Portland, Maine. The city cleaned up trash and evicted people camping in the park hours before Paul LePage, Republican candidate for Maine governor, was scheduled to arrive at the park to talk about crime. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s largest city denied that it cleared a homeless encampment near Deering Oaks park Wednesday due to a news conference held by former Gov. Paul LePage on the opioid epidemic.

Public works crews were at a small but long-standing homeless site around 7 a.m. Police also came asking people to leave the area while crews cleaned up trash and syringes. They used a front-end loader to clear belongings. A camper told the Portland Press Herald it was the first time he had been asked to move in this month at the site.

It came just before the former Republican governor was set to hold a 10:30 a.m. news conference in a segment of the park just across Forest Avenue. The Republican’s campaign notified the media of the news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The Maine Republican Party said it had heard from two sources that the cleanup order did not go out until late Tuesday. The Bangor Daily News couldn’t independently verify those reports. City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said work at the site had nothing to do with LePage’s event.

“This particular cleanup was planned in direct response to observed violations of the emphasis area designation and related trash,” she said.

LePage’s news conference came after a spate of shootings in Portland over the past month. He spoke in front of a Deering Oaks duck pond drained this month to look for a weapon used in the killing of a 31-year-old man, WMTW reported.

The Maine GOP accused the city of trying to “cover up” for Gov. Janet Mills, LePage’s Democratic opponent in the November election. The Democratic Socialists of America’s Maine chapter also hammered the city for clearing the encampment, saying it did so to “make a nice photoshoot for a neofascist gubernatorial candidate.”

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...