2014-10-31 / Front Page

SoPo council: District 1 race a study in contrasts

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

Candidate name: Michael Pock
Age: 67
Address: 86 Grand St.
City residency: 41 years.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, Westbrook
College (now University of New England).
Occupation: Self-employed carpenter.
Political experience: 17 months on city council
(2013-present).

Candidate Name: Claude Morgan

Age: 53
Address: 75 School St.
City residency: 32 years
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history from Tufts
University.
Occupation: Collections manager at Ocean
Community Federal Credit Union.
Political experience: One term on city council (2005-
2008); South Portland mayor (2006-2007).

SOUTH PORTLAND — Of all the political races on the local docket this election cycle, there may be no greater study in contrasts than the fight to represent District 1 on the South Portland City Council.

That contest pits incumbent City Councilor Michael Pock against former councilor Claude Morgan. The two candidates are diametrically opposed on almost every issue, with Pock focused on “business, taxes and city services,” while Morgan lists his top three issues as “the environment, the environment and the environment.”

Nebraska-born and Wyoming-raised, Pock, 67, logged seven years aboard a nuclear submarine after joining the Navy in 1966. Upon meeting his wife 46 years ago in Charleston, South Carolina, he moved to South Portland in 1973 because, he notes with a laugh, “When your wife’s from Maine, you move to Maine.” He subsequently served 14 years in the military. Since 1985 he’s worked as a selfemployed carpenter and handyman. It’s only in recent years, Pock said, that he’s begun to engage politically.

“Until about four years ago, I didn’t pay any attention to what the city council did,” he said, “I was too busy living my life and raising my kids.”

But as his time began to free up and his interest in government grew, Pock stepped into the political periphery. During the 2010 gubernatorial race, he was an active supporter of Paul LePage, gaining some notoriety in GOP circles as “the plywood man,” so-called for the giant 4-by 8-foot signs he erected across the state. Then, in late 2012, when Councilor Tom Coward resigned after his election as a Cumberland County commissioner, Pock was recruited by then-councilor Alan Livingston to run as a replacement.

Pock agreed to throw his hat into the ring, describing himself at the time as “the darkest of dark horses.” And yet he prevailed, beating school board member Rick Carter in a four-way race by just two votes.

Carter took out papers to run again this year, but Morgan said he convinced him to sit this one out. The fear, he said, was that he and Carter would split the more liberal vote, propelling Pock to re-election in much the same way that LePage arguably won in 2010, and might win again in November.

“We had a conversation,” explained Morgan, “and, rather that put voters through the agony that Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler are putting everybody through, we settled our concerns early and put our egos aside.”

Morgan, 53, is originally from Maryland and came to Maine in 1982 to attend what is now the Maine College of Art. He later became a commercial diver for almost 10 years, earned a degree in history from Tufts University in Boston, and found work as a freelance reporter. He later transitioned into work as a private investigator and, for the past seven years, has been collections manager at Ocean Community Federal Credit Union.

After serving one term on the city council from 2005 to 2008 — including a turn as mayor— Morgan served as chairman of the Cumberland County Charter Commission. He also serves on the board of the Greater Portland Economic Development Commission.

Morgan, who first ran for local office as a dog advocate during the intense debate over access to Willard Beach, said he’s running for a city council spot once again in order to shepherd South Portland through the post-tar sands era.

“I love politics and I love this city,” he says. “I have big and bold ideas. I don’t want to take this city anywhere it’s not going, I just want to get us there, and that necessarily requires good decision-making.”

Pock, who points out that he donates his entire city council stipend to various local charities, said he has no particular goal in mind for his first full term, if reelected.

“I don’t need the job. I don’t need the money. I just want to have a conservative voice on the city council,” he said.

Tar Sands

The big issue in South Portland, having both local and international implications, has been the year-long effort to block diluted bitumen, or “tar sands” from entering the city via the Portland Pipe Line connection to Canada.

Morgan has been endorsed by the activist group Protect South Portland, which waged a heated public relations war against tar sands. That campaign ended July with passage of the Clear Skies Ordinance, which bans the loading of crude oil onto ships docked in South Portland.

“I was 100 percent in favor of that,” said Morgan. “Being an excellent steward of the environment, cleaning our side of the street, is going to lead us to economic success, because – and here’s a news flash – businesses will located to someplace where their workers want to live. Why would somebody want to live here with smokestacks and the smell of benzene in the air and a great deal more industrial activity?”

Pock, by contrast, was the lone dissenting vote on the council against the Clear Skies Ordinance, which he said was unfair to Portland Pipe Line. In Pock’s view, both the ordinance and the construction moratorium that preceded it saddled one of the city’s largest taxpayers with uncertainty over its future.

“You can’t run a business that way,” he said, adding, “Voting against the Clear Skies Ordinance doesn’t mean I’m in favor of tar sands. I was going after the jobs angle. They handcuffed Portland Pipe Line’s hands when they weren’t even planning on developing anything.”

To that end, Pock said he’s glad the council took his side on the long-term recommendations made by the committee behind the Clear Skies Ordinance. On that list was a plan to rezone a vacant parcel belonging to Portland Pipe Line to prevent its use for industrial purposes.

“I was glad the council agreed not to go after that. That was just crazy,” said Pock.

Morgan favors all of the committee’s goals. Moreover, he envisions a makeover of the city waterfront.

“I would certainly want to explore the rezoning aspect further,” he said. “I don’t know what South Portland is going to look like in 60 years, but we’re not going to be pumping dinosaur bones forever.

Magic wand

The future of the South Portland waterfront remains on Morgan’s mind when asked what he’d do if given a magic wand, with which he could effect any change in the city.

“It would take not one, but six, magic wands, because getting anything done is highly collaborative, but I would change how we approach our waterfront,” he said. “We need to talk to the stakeholders and say, we don’t want to drive businesses away, and we don’t want it to be all cafes. We want to be diversified, but we would like to walk on our literal landscape. We would like to restore it to health. We have a big project ahead of us to restore our waterfront so all types of businesses want to be here.

For his part, Pock would wave his wand at the school department, or, to be more precise, at the candidates for seats on the school board.

“If I could do anything, I’d like to get some conservatives on the school board,” he says.

Pock says he is most interested in redistributing the student populations of various schools in order to stave off plans to consolidate middle schools by adding onto or replacing Memorial Middle School. Given the high cost of the ongoing high school renovation, and the upcoming public works complex, Pock says local taxpayers can illafford another big construction project.

School spending

In regards to school spending, the biggest single component of local tax bills, Pock is unequivocal.

“If I was the mayor, I would not give them one penny above what they’re getting right now. No increase next year. Not at all,” he says. “There is no reason why it has to go up. They’ve got a big surplus over there that they can take out of and not affect the tax rate at all.”

Morgan is more forgiving.

“A lot of what creates the cost is mandated from the top down,” he said.

“That’s a bee in my bonnet,” he said. “There are all kinds of mandates about what kind of testing and education is required here, but no solutions about how we pay for that.”

Marijuana

Morgan, however, differs with school officials on the question of legalizing marijuana. Seventeen years sober, Morgan compares marijuana to alcohol.

“I’m a recovering addict. I’m a former drinker. So, I cannot thread the needle the way some people can and say … one is glamorous and one is the gateway to hell …”

Morgan said he “does not buy the gateway argument at all.” Addictive personalities will seek out harder drugs no matter what substance they start out with, he said.

Meanwhile, Pock plans to vote against legalization, and urges others to do the same.

“I’m against that, even as far as medical use,” he said. “People are getting marijuana for anxiety, or back pain. But you can’t prove back pain. That’s the biggest scam going. Medical marijuana I think is just a steppingstone to getting something else.”

Elevator pitch

Asked to give their best “elevator pitch,” or short, pithy reason why voters should choose him over his opponent, both candidates declined to sling mud. Even so, neither was shied from making comparisons.

“The difference between Claude Morgan and me is basically the difference between a Democrat and a Republican. It’s totally different viewpoints.”

Pock acknowledges his end of South Portland is “highly liberal,” but hopes to draw conservative voters from across the city, particularly senior citizens and veterans.

“Luckily, those are the people who vote. If I had to run in just my district, I wouldn’t run for reeelection, because there’s no way I’d get elected.”

Morgan, meanwhile, is banking on the progressive vote.

“Claude Morgan looking at the future,” he says. “I would submit to the voters that I absorb new ideas, and process them, and take them very seriously. I contemplate our future. I am open to things I don’t know the first thing about. And to be nimble, to be able to lead a city into the future, that has to be your mindset.”

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