Mal Leary is seen at his Augusta studio at the State House on Monday. Leary is retiring from broadcast journalism, primarily with Maine Public radio, after 45 years. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

One of the most recognizable voices in Maine journalism, Mal Leary, will be closing his reporter’s notebook and shutting off his microphone this week.

Leary’s last day as political correspondent for Maine Public Radio will be Friday. During a 45-year career, the Maine native has covered state politics for newspapers, radio and TV, and also ran his own news service. Generations of Mainers can easily identify his no-nonsense delivery.

Leary, 70, was praised Monday by co-workers, competing journalists and people he reported on for providing fair and balanced coverage, and for covering issues crucial to Mainers even when they didn’t produce the most sensational stories.

“I would go for the sexy story, but Mal wouldn’t, he always had the long game in mind. He wouldn’t take some stories if it meant blowing up a relationship he’d need with a contact somewhere down the road,” said A. Jay Higgins, a retired Maine reporter who competed against Leary while at the Bangor Daily News, then worked with him at Maine Public. “He would never take a cheap shot at a politician, he was always weighing the implication of every action he took. I don’t think you could find anyone to say Mal was biased for or against any political party.”

Higgins added that Leary, in person, was much the way he sounded on the radio – somewhat gruff and very straight-forward. Higgins said Leary developed a niche for covering state government happenings that other reporters might stay away from or find boring, but that could have major impacts on state residents, including the Public Utilities Commission or the Legislature’s appropriations committee.

Sen. Angus King, an independent who was  governor when Leary was Maine Public’s statehouse bureau chief in the 1990s, wrote a statement that he submitted to the Congressional Record last week praising Leary for his “diligent, inquisitive journalism that has kept our state’s citizens better informed.”

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“When listeners heard Mal’s distinctive Maine rasp come across the airwaves, they knew they were getting the straight news from a model journalist. His integrity and intelligence came through in every story, diving into the policy details in a measured, well-reasoned way that did not betray a bias toward any ideology, political party, or elected officials,” King wrote. “Most importantly – every time you finished listening to a Mal story, you knew more about your community and your state than you did just a few moments before.”

Leary grew up in the town of Veazie near Bangor. He began his journalism career in Maine in the mid-1970s as a print reporter for the United Press International wire service. In 1983 he started the Capitol News Service, providing state government news to newspapers and radio stations across the state, including Maine Public’s radio stations. He became Maine Public’s state house bureau chief in 1995, then left in 2000 to run his Capitol News Service again until 2012. He then came back to Maine Public, where he was managing editor of the TV network’s “Capitol Connection” political coverage and covered politics for the radio network, as well.

Leary said Monday that he figures his efforts to tell the truth in his reporting have earned him enemies along the way. Leary was a political science major at the University of Maine, and said he learned over time that local government did not work at all the way professors and textbooks led him to believe.

“They tell you that facts are gathered and the best decision for all is made. That is absolutely not true. It’s a lot of personal experience, people voting against bills because they were mad another legislator didn’t vote for their bill,” Leary said. “But I’ve seen people from very different view points work together to get bills passed, too.”

In his long career, Leary also has seen changes in the way politicians treat reporters, who were once seen as crucial to getting political messages out. Leary said that once in the 1970s he asked Maine’s first independent governor, James B. Longley Sr., a question at a news conference that Longley couldn’t answer. One night soon after, while he was watching the 11 p.m. TV news in his home, a state police trooper knocked on Leary’s door and handed him a written answer to the question, from Longley.

Mike Violette, a longtime conservative radio host in Maine, was on WGAN in Portland when Leary was supplying his Capitol News Service reports to that station and was a frequent guest, doing political commentary. Violette said Leary was respected by listeners and officials on both the right and left for his fairness and his institutional knowledge of Maine politics. He covered Maine’s first independent governor, Longley, elected in 1974 and Maine’s first female governor, Janet Mills, elected in 2018.

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“He was old school, just who, what, where, when and how with no other agenda,” said Violette, who currently hosts a morning politics show on Legacy 1160 WKSW in the Augusta/Waterville area. “He had credibility with everyone because he’s been covering the state forever.”

It’s unclear whether Leary will be replaced. Maine Public officials said Monday that they are still reviewing plans for future staffing in their Augusta offices. The network also gets state political stories from Steve Mistler, who is chief political correspondent and state house bureau chief.

Leary said he has no firm plans for retirement, though people tell him he should write a book about all he’s seen in Maine politics. He and his wife will probably travel, but beyond that, he’ll just relax.

During his career, Leary was also a mentor to other reporters. Susan Sharon, Maine Public’s deputy news director, said she first met Leary nearly 30 years ago when they were both covering the state house and learned much from him.

“It was instantly clear that he was the person who had all the answers to pretty much every question I might have – about the legislative process, political history, polling and even which elected officials couldn’t stand each other and why,” Sharon wrote in an email Monday. “I watched lobbyists, political candidates, journalists, lawmakers, and their aides wear out a path to Mal’s desk and saw how he deftly handled them one by one, whether they wanted to impress him or share an actual tidbit of news.”


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