Maine Rep. John Tuttle, longtime champion of Sanford's 'East Side,' passes away

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SANFORD, Maine — A leader known locally and statewide as a stalwart public servant committed to his constituents has passed away.

John Tuttle, who was serving both in the Maine House of Representatives and on the Sanford City Council, died overnight at age 70, prompting local and state leaders to offer their condolences Friday, Jan. 28.

Sanford Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio said Tuttle was a "treasure" for the city.

"I know that what he cared about the most was Sanford and the people who lived here," she said.

John Tuttle of Sanford was reelected to the Maine House of Representatives in 2020.
John Tuttle of Sanford was reelected to the Maine House of Representatives in 2020.

Tuttle continued serving actively on the City Council until he fell ill in recent months and had to miss meetings, Mastraccio said. Being away from his work as a representative of the city's residents was hard on him, she said.

"He will be missed for sure," she added.

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Mastraccio, who also served alongside Tuttle in the Maine Legislature, said he was known for his extensive constituent work – which, she said, is the often-tedious behind-the-scenes public service that lawmakers do even though it doesn't bring the fanfare that comes with introducing and championing major pieces of legislation.

"You don't get a lot of credit for those things," she said. "But that's what John was so good at."

Reputation for collaboration

Tuttle won his first term in the House in 1978. He went on to win 11 more terms in the House and three in the Senate. When he campaigned in 2020 for the House seat he held until his passing, he touted his ability to collaborate across the aisle.

“I have just as many Republican friends as I do Democrats, and that’s how I ran my committees,” Tuttle said. “I took a person based upon their character and not on their political party.”

Democratic leaders in the Maine House released a statement Friday praising Tuttle's legislative approach.

"He was a dedicated Democrat who demonstrated his values both within and outside of the State House walls, while working hard to achieve bipartisan solutions to our state’s problems," said House Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy and Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross. "John was a great legislator, but perhaps more importantly, John was a great husband, father and grandfather who loved his family more than anything. Our hearts are with his family as we grieve our friend."

Maine State Rep. John Tuttle and Christine Pratt, a civilian office associate at Southern Maine Veterans Cemetery, stand in front of the plot of land that would be designated for Pratt’s burial at the cemetery, if the state and federal government grant special permission for her to be buried there.
Maine State Rep. John Tuttle and Christine Pratt, a civilian office associate at Southern Maine Veterans Cemetery, stand in front of the plot of land that would be designated for Pratt’s burial at the cemetery, if the state and federal government grant special permission for her to be buried there.

In a statement, former Maine Sen. Jon Courtney, a Republican, said he is deeply saddened to learn of Tuttle's passing.

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"Although we sometimes found ourselves on the other side of issues, there was one unmistakable thing about John. He was passionately committed to the Town/City of Sanford and the hard-working people that he represented," Courtney said.

"Whether it was a constituent call or bringing the Southern Maine Veterans Cemetery to Sanford, John always worked for Sanford and NEVER forgot where he came from," he added.

Two Republican lawmakers from York County issued a joint statement calling Tuttle a "friend and colleague."

"We’ve had the honor to serve alongside and know John, for years. Even when he wasn’t serving in Augusta, he regularly reached out to us regarding issues brought to his attention," said Rep. Matt Harrington of Sanford and Sen. David Woodsome of North Waterboro.

“John loved life, politics, his family and his hometown of Sanford," they added. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Ann and his entire family. You will be missed, John. Rest in Peace.”

Passion for 'the East Side'

During his 2020 campaign, Tuttle shared his positive conception of the community he knew and loved, while reflecting on how the city could grapple with evolving challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sanford is a close-knit community, where we care about our neighbors and friends,” he said. “I think now more than ever we must look out for each other to ensure that we all stay safe and healthy.”

One section of Sanford, however, held a special place in Tuttle's heart and mind: the more densely populated neighborhoods east of the Mousam River, where Tuttle lived alongside his constituents. He was known to give a nod to his neighbors by frequently reciting the motto, "God bless the East Side."

Joseph Hanslip, a former Sanford city councilor who knew Tuttle for decades as a friend and mentor, said Tuttle's East Side was a predominantly working class area where many homes were built more closely together when the Goodall Mill was up and running. Tuttle knew the various histories of groups of people who had to struggle and claw their way forward. "Those were his people," Hanslip said.

As a policymaker, before the pandemic, Tuttle held constituent office hours at his home. Anyone could show up on a Sunday afternoon, sit down and talk with him about their needs and leave feeling reassured that they were heard, Hanslip said. Those who stopped by in late summer or early autumn would often leave with vegetables from Tuttle's garden, Hanslip said.

"John genuinely cared about people," Hanslip said. "He really did ... He was one of those people when he asked you how you were doing or how he could help, he meant it. And he did his best."

Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, issued a statement praising Tuttle's lifelong service.

"As a medic in the Maine Army National Guard, as a selectman and city councilmember, and as a member of the Legislature for nearly three decades, including in positions of leadership, John Tuttle served our state with distinction and honor," Mills said. "I am grateful for his unwavering commitment to improving the lives of the people of Maine, and especially those of his beloved City of Sanford."

Mills offered her condolences to John's loved ones, including his wife, Ann, his daughter, Meghan, and his grandchildren.

Efforts to reach Tuttle's family for comment were not immediately successful Friday. Information about memorial services was not immediately available.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Maine mourns death of Rep. John Tuttle of Sanford