Longtime political reporter and UMaine alum Mal Leary passes away at 75

Mal Leary, the veteran journalist known to many as the “Dean of the Maine State House press corps,” passed away on May 20. He was 75 years old.

Leary carried strong connections to the University of Maine. He grew up in Veazie and attended UMaine in the 1970s, majoring in political science and laying the foundation for what would become a lengthy and decorated career in the political journalism sphere, covering Maine politics with a passion and tenacity that reflected his deep connection to his home state.

His journalism career began in the mid-1970s, when he worked as a print reporter for the wire service United Press International, but it was in the 1980s that his work truly surged to the forefront.

In 1983, Leary started the Capitol News Service, which provided news about state government to newspapers and broadcasters across the state. Over the course of the next three decades, he built CNS into a vital repository of Maine political news, indispensable to any and all area media outlets.

Other than a five-year hiatus from 1995-2000 when he would serve as the state house bureau chief for Maine Public, Leary ran Capitol News Service for nearly thirty years before stepping away again, returning once more to Maine Public to front their political coverage. He would ultimately retire in 2021.

Amy Fried, professor of political science, was a frequent interviewee of Leary’s and shared some memories of the man.

“When he used to come to the then-North Stevens to interview me, he’d tell me stories about former professors in the political science department,” Fried recalled. “For his work, he’d do a long taping on a number of referenda and elections and then drop clips into various stories. I’d be startled when I suddenly heard his voice weeks later.

“Mal knew so much about Maine politics,” she continued. “When I saw him in person, I learned from him and enjoyed his laugh and the way he’d raise his eyebrow if he was a bit skeptical of something I said. I kept learning from him through his news stories.”

Longtime NPR political reporter Brian Naylor also spoke on Leary, saying “I worked for Mal for a brief time in one of my first jobs after graduating from UMaine, he was tireless, an expert on all things Maine politics and I learned lot from him.”

The outpouring of messages and memories also included a number of prominent Maine political figures, with Governor Janet Mills issuing a statement.

“For nearly fifty years, the so-called Dean of the State House press corps utilized his unparalleled unparalleled grasp of policy, procedure, and personalities to inform and help Maine people understand what was happening in Augusta and Washington, DC. Mal earned the respect and admiration of readers, listeners, fellow journalists, and politicians of all stripes for his tough but fair questions, his balanced reporting, and his unrivaled institutional knowledge. But beyond the halls of the Capitol, Mal was also just a good person who cared about people and who loved his state. Maine has lost a giant of journalism and a dear friend.”

Mal Leary’s legacy is one of fair-minded and thorough coverage, bringing the news of Maine’s political scene to the people, with his commitment to that coverage contributing mightily to keeping the state’s electorate informed about and engaged in the goings-on in Augusta and beyond.