The book “John Jenkins Mayor of Maine” was written by Jenkins’ Bates College classmate Dr. Chuck Radis. Submitted photo

A new biography of John Jenkins, former mayor of Lewison and Auburn, seeks to tell the unlikely story of a New Jersey native who became a karate champion in a place he never imagined as a youngster.

“I never dreamed there was a place like Maine,” he explained to a reporter during his brief flirtation with a gubernatorial campaign in 2017.

One of Jenkins’ classmates at Bates College in Lewiston, Dr. Chuck Radis, who lives on Peaks Island, lays out the tale in a thin volume titled John Jenkins: Mayor of Maine.

The book hits many of the highlights of the life of Maine’s first Black state senator and delivers insights into Jenkins from some of those who knew him along the way.

Jenkins died in 2020 at age 68 after a struggle with cancer.

The biography, which features an array of photographs, many by the Sun Journal’s Russ Dillingham, opens with a scene that happened one week before the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.


King spoke at South Side High School in Newark, New Jersey, urging students at the troubled school to “learn, baby, learn” rather than adopting the fiery rhetoric of activists at the time who offered “burn, baby, burn” as an alternative.

Jenkins, 15, was the Student Council president who introduced King.

Years later, he said that King’s message that day “inspired me to have a dream worth working to achieve.”

At first, Jenkins hoped to become a doctor. But, like so many students, organic chemistry put an end to that notion.

Still, landing at Bates College with little academic preparation ultimately provided Jenkins with the foundation for a life that he always insisted was wonderful.

He became a world-class karate expert at a Lewiston dojo. He gained a degree from one of the nation’s elite colleges, where he met many of the people who would remain lifelong friends. And he fell in love with Lewiston, at the time a struggling, largely Franco community.


Jenkins, a man with a generous and kindly spirit, was never one to seek conflict. He said repeatedly throughout his life that he wanted people to work together to solve problems.

His motivational speeches highlighted his approach, which proved popular enough that voters in both Lewiston and Auburn elected him as their mayor — the first person to do so. In fact, they appreciated him so much in Auburn that Jenkins won what may have been the first successful write-in mayoral campaign in any American city.

Gov. Janet Mills offered a blurb extolling Radis’ book.

She said it “captures the exuberance and proud legacy of a champion for Lewiston and Auburn who gave inspiration and hope to countless people throughout the region and the state of Maine.”

Copies of his book will be available in April for $16.95 from Down East Books.

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