SOUTH PORTLAND — City Councilor Claude Morgan took some heat this year as a primary proponent of regulations meant to stem the spread of Airbnb-style home rentals in the city’s residential neighborhoods.

Some opponents of the controversial rules even suggested that Morgan should recuse himself from voting because he was so vocal in fighting the trend of turning entire single-family homes into overnight or weekend rentals.

Morgan, who will be sworn in Monday as council leader and mayor for 2019, never wavered. In his mind, unhosted short-term rentals were tearing the fabric of South Portland’s neighborhoods, and that ran counter to the values he was elected to uphold.

“I was defending our neighborhoods against what I believe was a serious threat to our community,” Morgan said. “Community is fragile. Like a family, it needs tending all the time. I am always prepared to fight fiercely for my community.”

As mayor, Morgan plans to oversee the city’s enforcement of the short-term rental ordinances that voters approved in November and will go into effect Jan. 1. He said he’s prepared to lead the council in defending the regulations if they’re challenged in court, just as the council continues to fight the ongoing lawsuit by the Portland Pipe Line Corp. against the city’s Clear Skies ordinance.

Morgan, 57, said he also plans to shepherd a period of community healing, grounded in the work that some councilors have been doing to address the needs of isolated senior citizens and other residents.

And he’s geared up to help the council accomplish its other goals, such as promoting affordable housing development and continuing the city’s move toward environmental sustainability.

DIVERSE WORK EXPERIENCE

It’s a wide-ranging agenda, one likely to test Morgan’s ability to wrangle the council despite past experience. He’s serving a third nonconsecutive term as District 1 councilor, including a stint as mayor in 2007. He also brings diverse life and work experiences to the task, from busking on the streets of Boston to fixing oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Born in Annapolis, Maryland, where his mother’s family has Navy roots, Morgan was raised in Fort Worth, Texas, where his father set up a law practice. The youngest of five children, he was in second grade when his parents split up.

Morgan came to New England to attend high school, graduating from High Mowing School, a private boarding school in Wilton, New Hampshire, that offers Waldorf experiential education.

Rather than go right to college, Morgan headed to Boston, where he played an English concertina or squeeze box on the streets to make money for meals and other expenses. He had taught himself to play the instrument while in high school.

“I didn’t know anyone in Boston, so I started playing music in the streets,” Morgan said. “I immediately started meeting other musicians and they put me up.”

While playing for tourists on the waterfront, Morgan met other young people who sailed yachts back and forth along the Eastern Seaboard. Their crew had an opening. Morgan volunteered.

Soon he found himself sailing for St. Thomas on an old Brixham deep-sea fishing trawler that had been converted into a yacht. The boat hit rough seas and sustained heavy damage on the way, but Morgan was undeterred.

He spent the next three years sailing and playing music on boats that took him from Camden to the Caribbean. He performed on a Smithsonian Folkways album of traditional sailors’ music, “Salt Atlantic Chanties,” that was recorded aboard the brig Unicorn.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Morgan said. “God looks after fools when you’re that young.”

MOVED TO MAINE

After that, Morgan worked construction in New York City for a few years, building nightclubs and storefronts. Then he worked for a diving company in New Orleans, inspecting and fixing barges on the Mississippi and oil rigs in the Gulf. He became a certified emergency medical technician so he could treat injured divers, he said.

His diving career brought him to Portland, where he worked for a company that inspected and repaired dams and other underwater facilities across Maine. He also studied at the Maine College of Art for a few years, working on and off at Three Dollar Deweys in Portland’s Old Port.

At 33, he went back to college for real, earning a bachelor’s degree in Asian history from Tufts University. He traveled in Europe for a while, then worked stretches as a print journalist, radio news reporter and private detective.

“At some point I decided I needed to get a job with benefits and everything,” Morgan said, so he answered an ad for a collector at a credit union, not knowing what the job entailed.

Now, Morgan is collections manager for Dirigo Federal Credit Union, a job that has given him unusual insight into the human condition. One man threw a chair at him during a courthouse mediation session. The man apologized several months later, Morgan said, after he helped the man get his finances back on track.

“It can be a very satisfying when you’ve helped someone,” Morgan said. “Politics is the same way.”

BUILDING ON COMMUNITY

Morgan, who is single, settled about 18 years ago in South Portland. He lives with his rescue dog, Pellet, in a renovated former fire station in the Ferry Village neighborhood. After decades of being adrift, he found a place that felt like home. Being a city councilor is a natural extension of that, even with sometimes contentious, late-night meetings.

“I’m fortunate to have discovered the value of community later in life,” Morgan said. “I actually love serving on the council. It’s the closest thing to a family experience in my life.”

To help members of the wider South Portland family, Morgan said he will be encouraging residents to reach out to senior citizens and other neighbors who might need assistance.

He plans to support and build on work that Councilors Maxine Beecher and Susan Henderson have been doing to survey the needs of older residents and address them in a report to be issued early next year. The addition of two new councilors who work with seniors, Misha Pride and April Caricchio, makes it the perfect time to focus on elder issues.

“I want to take a conversation about our neighborhoods that was painful and turn it into something positive,” Morgan said. “I want South Portland to be a community where people are able to age in place.”

Morgan said he wants every South Portland resident to keep that idea in mind when they go to the supermarket or visit Bug Light Park. Ask a neighbor who doesn’t get out much if you can pick something up, he said, or invite them to join you.

“I think we get community right here in South Portland and I want to build on that,” Morgan said. “I feel so lucky to have landed here.”

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