In a surprise move, South Portland City Councilor Claude Morgan said Monday he will not seek a second term in office.

Morgan said he only recently made the difficult choice not to run for another three-year term on the City Council. Up until two weeks ago, the freshman councilor said he was planning to highlight his accomplishments in office in seeking re-election. He had taken out nomination papers at the City Clerk’s Office.

With the papers due to the City Clerk Monday at 4:30 p.m., Morgan paused in a telephone interview to joke wryly, “They’re due today? Oh, I forgot.”

His decision leaves District 1 with one candidate running unchallenged for the seat – Thomas Coward, a long-time resident who is new to city politics.

Known for his candor and maverick style, Morgan added, “This is truly a tender moment for me. In certain ways, I thrive on this work. I sincerely mean it, when I say that this work has been a joy and rewarding in ways that cannot be found when you are just doing things to serve yourself.”

Demands on his time as a collections manager at a Biddeford credit union compelled Morgan not to seek another run for office.

“For the last nine months, I have been going back and forth to Biddeford. The commute is over an hour each way,” he said. “This tragically is a busy time trying to keep people in their homes. There is a real sense of urgency in my work. At the same time, my constituents in South Portland deserve more of my time. I was forced to come up with a very pragmatic resolution.”

A former print and broadcast journalist, Morgan was elected in 2005 as a self-proclaimed progressive. Morgan – who is originally from Texas – served for a year as mayor and often acted as point person for the rest of the City Council.

“I absolutely wish Claude the best,” said Councilor Maxine Beecher, who is serving her second term. “He is certainly one of the best wordsmiths I’ve known. That is one of the attributes I will miss.”

He led a task force that recommended improvements for police hiring and retention in 2007. He initiated an effort for South Portland to join the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, which brought him recognition from the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Claude will be missed. He has a sharp wit and was always prepared to ask challenging questions,” said freshman Councilor Tom Blake. “I think his legacy will be that he led South Portland in the signing of the Mayoral Climate Protection Agreement.”

As an outsider with no previous political experience, Morgan also faced strong challenges to his agenda from a veteran City Council. Just as Morgan became known as a catalyst for change, he also developed a reputation for controversy.

In 2006, Morgan led a successful effort to hire Ted Jankowski as city manager. But Jankowski turned out to be an unpopular choice among city staff, and the rancor spilled over at Council meetings.

Jankowski replaced longtime City Manager Jeff Jordan. He came with a strong resume – deputy city manager in Portsmouth, N.H., and CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

But Jankowski’s management style rankled city employees and some city councilors. Disagreements about Jankowski spawned a public spat between Morgan and former City Attorney Mary Kahl. Jankowski resigned in 2007, with a $43,000 severance agreement, after less than a year on the job.

That controversy had barely simmered down when Morgan faced criticism for negative comments he made about residents who were tying yellow ribbons to public property in violation of city law. Morgan referred to the residents as “yahoos,” then later tried to retract the statement by saying that the term was considered a compliment in his home state of Texas.

Morgan also worked to make amends and rebuild support, leading an effort to develop a veterans’ memorial in South Portland.

But conflict continued to dog him. Most recently, Morgan has come under some criticism for his former role as president of the powerful South Portland Dog Owners’ Group, known as DOG.

Morgan co-chairs a city task force trying to balance the desire of dog owners to walk their pets at Willard Beach with demands by some waterfront owners to restrict their access.

Some fellow councilors accused Morgan of having a conflict of interest because of his former affiliations with the group.

Morgan also made news recently for his remarks about Dr. Robert Bogosion of Cape Elizabeth, a microbiologist who claimed he found harmful levels of e. coli in the sands at Willard Beach. Bogosian threatened to sue Morgan, who questioned his methods and business practices. Bogosian, who refers to himself as the “bird flu doctor,” sells germ-fighting lotions on the Internet.

Despite the pressures of office, Morgan says he feels a connection to South Portland. Morgan, who is single and rents a home near Willard Beach, says he has no plans to leave the city. “

I’ve told councilors that I’m available for commissions and committee work,” he said. “If there is a role I can play that is manageable with my time, I will fill it.”

Morgan added that his decision to return to private life has “been a lifting from my shoulders. It has seemed to open a vista of personal and professional opportunities.”

City Councilor Claude Morgan led an effort to join the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, which a fellow city councilor said would be part of his legacy. Other initiatives, like the hiring of former City Manager Ted Jankowski, were more controversial.

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