The controversial mural of Gov. Paul LePage in a Ku Klux Klan robe sparked a one-man protest for free speech in front of Portland City Hall on Thursday.

Robert Lebel sat on a median in the middle of Congress Street with balloons and a handwritten sign that read: “Mayor Strimling Stifles Free Speech / A shill and a pawn for Gov. LePage and KKK legacy?”

Lebel is a 70-year-old Portlander unhappy that Mayor Ethan Strimling said earlier this week that he wanted the LePage graffiti removed because it verged on hate speech.

The image was painted on a Portland Water District wall near the Eastern Prom that has become a public space for street art. While city and water district officials discussed what to do about it, the image of LePage was altered – multiple times – by other graffiti artists who took matters into their own hands. The more controversial parts of the graffiti – the KKK robe and insignia – are now gone.

Lebel showed up outside City Hall early Thursday with his sign, balloons and some noise makers and planned to stay through lunch. He said he got mixed reactions from passersby, one of whom was Strimling, who stopped by to chat and even took Lebel’s photo. Lebel said he and Strimling know each other well.

Lebel, who also has protested LePage’s controversial statements about the race of drug traffickers, believes denouncing the original mural was wrong.

“Calling that hate speech does not make any sense to me,” he said. “The hate speech is coming from the governor…. What, we can’t make a cartoon of our governor?”

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