SOUTH PORTLAND — Two races for City Council positions are currently underway, with seats in District 1 and District 5 up for grabs.
On the Nov. 4 ballot, Claude Morgan and incumbent Councilor Michael Pock will vie to represent District 1, which consists of the northeastern part of the city. The District 5 candidates consist of former School Board member and Councilor Alan Livingston and a newcomer, Brad Fox. District 5 covers the western end of South Portland.
Livingston was elected to the School Board in 2009, and completed one year of a three-year term before serving on the Council from 2011-2013.
“I’m not going in as a first-time rookie,” he said.
Livingston has lived in South Portland since he was 5 years old. He and his wife, Anne, raised their three adult children in the city as well. His son, Todd, is the athletic administrator for South Portland Athletics.
“I know the city, and the city’s been very good for me,” Livingston said, adding that running for office is his way of giving back.
Livingston currently teaches at Cheverus High School in Portland, his post for the last 17 years, but the math teacher also worked in South Portland for nine years and Westbrook for nearly a decade. It was because he wanted to focus on his teaching that he opted not to run for a second term in 2013.
It’s time to “maintain and sustain” existing town properties, he said, as well as to take care of the seniors in the city. He is concerned that tax increases are negatively impacting senior citizens, and that a circuit-breaker tax credit should be given to those citizens to combat rising costs.
“It’s our turn to give back to the seniors,” Livingston said, adding that their loyalty to the city should be recognized.
Livingston said he is concerned about the city becoming a “test ground for initiatives,” citing as an example the upcoming citizen-initiated referendum over marijuana use. While he didn’t say how he’d vote on the initiative, he feels that such issues should be pursued at the state level. The state should bear the responsibility of being a “testing zone for future laws,” he said.
Livingston’s opponent, Brad Fox, also has a background in education. Fox moved to South Portland from Berkeley, California, where he held a variety of posts, including assistant principal of Berkeley High School and principal at the Solano County Juvenile Court and Community School.
Fox said he would bring a wealth of knowledge about education and budgeting to the council. He said the budgets are “hard to analyze unless you have an insider perspective.” Fox said that he wants to be a “youth advocate” for the young people of South Portland as well, and to get parents more involved in schools.
Although now retired, Fox is active in the community. He’s a substitute teacher in both Portland and South Portland schools, and has participated in numerous events in his Brickhill neighborhood. The Brickhill area is home to a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse population, Fox said, and approximately 40 different languages are spoken in his apartment complex.
Since moving to the city five years ago, Fox has started a homework club for the local kids and participated in events and meetings at the Neighborhood Connections Hub on Westbrook Street. There, various local and state organizations host information sessions and provide services. Fox also volunteers his time serving at monthly dinners at the Hub.
“I want to get the diversity of the community involved,” Fox said, adding that he wants to make sure that all voices are heard. It was partially due to encouragement from his neighbors in Brickhill that Fox decided to run in the first place.
The environment is also a priority for Fox, who was recently endorsed by Protect South Portland. He said that he supports many of the council’s initiatives, including the Clear Skies act and the tree planting and water management projects taking place around the Maine Mall. One of his primary concerns, if elected, would be to preserve and continue these efforts.
“I approve of the things they’re doing and want to see them continue,” Fox said.
Regarding the marijuana referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot, Fox said he thinks Maine should continue to keep an eye on the states of Colorado and Washington, where the drug is legal. While he’s worked hard throughout his life to keep drugs out of schools, he also thinks that alcohol and prescription drugs should be the focus of law enforcement, rather than pot.
Incumbent Councilor Michael Pock, a retired U.S. Navy veteran and a self-employed carpenter for the past 30 years, is seeking a second term after winning the District 1 seat in 2013 by just two votes.
He said he was sort of the “dark horse” in winning the seat prematurely vacated by former Councilor Tom Coward, who resigned in December 2012 after election to the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. Pock said he had never run for office before that election, although he has lived in the city with his wife, Faith, for over 40 years.
If elected, just as he did during his last term, Pock plans to anonymously donate the $3,000 he earns to a variety of charities.
“If you see money going into the city coffers, it’s probably me,” Pock said.
Pock said he brings common sense to the table, and a sort of “man on the street” perspective. At council meetings, he said, he mulls over all of the information and is often last to speak. He also said that he “doesn’t go along to get along,” and stands his ground in council deliberations.
While South Portland often leans towards Democratic candidates, Pock said he tends to be more conservative, and that he’s involved with both the Republican Party and its tea-party branch. He became involved with the latter about five years ago, after campaigning for Gov. Paul LePage.
Business is Pock’s primary concern. In 2013, South Portland was certified “business-friendly” by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, a designation Pock said is difficult to earn and must be upheld. The more businesses that are attracted to the area, the lower the property taxes and the higher the quality of municipal services, he said. For example, banning the export of tar sands oil is not business-friendly.
In addition to serving on the council, Pock is also a member of the American Legion, the Willard Neighborhood Association and the Ferry Village Community Neighborhood Association.
Morgan has had a host of professions. For the past seven years, he’s been a collection manager at Ocean Communities Federal Credit Union. Before that, he worked as a private investigator, a journalist and a commercial diver in the Gulf of Mexico. When he moved to Maine in 1982, he was “absolutely enchanted” and decided to stay.
Morgan also served as the councilor for District 1 10 years ago, and was mayor in 2007. Since then, he said, he’s been devoted to public service. He currently serves as chairman of the Cumberland Country Charter Commission and represents South Portland on the Greater Portland Public Development Commission, a governor-appointed position.
“These are some exciting times in South Portland,” Morgan said. “We may be living through some once-in-a-generation decisions.”
According to Morgan, oil is becoming obsolete nationwide. It’s not a startling idea, Morgan said, to take and redevelop oil facilities into multi-use properties. South Portland is already taking steps and being environmentally friendly, and this might be a key component.
It was actually the environment – specifically leash laws and shared open space – that got Morgan interested in municipal government a decade ago.
“The top of my pyramid is the environment,” said Morgan, who was also recently endorsed by Protect South Portland.
Business is a priority for Morgan as well. Businesses aren’t looking for tax relief or cheap labor, he said, but for a high quality of life. They’re looking for a livable area with excellent schools and medical facilities, all of which Morgan said the community already has. Further developing these assets will attract even more businesses and create a more robust economy in the city.
“The exciting part of being a resident here and being a citizen here today is that we get to write the next chapter,” Morgan said.