SOUTH PORTLAND — Political newcomer Jocelyn Leighton is challenging longtime District 1 City Councilor Claude Morgan in his re-election bid on Nov. 3.

Morgan, 59, is collections manager at Dirigo Federal Credit Union. He is serving his third nonconsecutive term on the council and has served as mayor twice, in 2007 and last year, elected by fellow councilors.

Leighton, 37, is office manager at Space Gallery in Portland. Active in the LGBTQ, indigenous peoples and Black Lives Matter movements, Leighton became interested in running for the council while watching budget deliberations online last spring.

Claude Morgan

Morgan said the council needs experienced leadership to tackle extraordinary financial and social issues as it responds to a global pandemic and racial strife that figure prominently in one of the most difficult periods in U.S. history.

“These are very challenging times,” Morgan said. “It would be impossible for me to just walk away this year given the gravity of our situation. Right now I’m the senior councilor and all of that history comes into play at a time like this. And I love the work, everything from making sure potholes are filled to developing complex policy that has made South Portland a leader in the state and the nation.”

Leighton said the council needs a fresh voice and different ideas and experiences at the table, whether rooting out systemic racism or overseeing a municipal budget battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.


“There’s no way I can bring the experience the incumbent has,” Leighton said. “I have a lot of respect for all the work (Morgan) has done and look up to him as an elder. I’m not working against him.”

Jocelyn Leighton Eric J Piskura photo

If anything, Leighton said, she hopes to collaborate with Morgan in the future, whoever wins the election.

“But in the spirit of rotation,” Leighton said, using a term familiar to people in recovery, “it’s time to have a new voice representing District 1.”

Both Leighton and Morgan speak openly about being recovering alcoholics.

South Portland has five district councilors and two at-large councilors, each elected by all voters citywide. District 1, encompassing Ferry Village and the Willard Beach neighborhood, is the only contested council seat this year. District 2 Councilor Kate Lewis, who is mayor this year, and District 5 Councilor Deqa Dhalac are running unopposed.

Morgan was mayor in March 2019 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit and consent decree charging Global Partners LP with violating the Clean Air Act and exceeding air pollution limits at its petroleum storage facility on the Fore River.


He oversaw dozens of meetings and public hearings with residents, Global executives and officials with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which set up the first citywide air quality monitoring program in the state.

At the time, the city had been defending its Clear Skies Ordinance against a federal lawsuit by the Canadian-owned Portland Pipe Line Corp. since 2015. Now before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, the company’s effort to retain a right to reverse the flow of the defunct pipeline from South Portland to Montreal has cost city taxpayers nearly $2.6 million in legal fees.

“Right now we might have the most studied air in the world,” Morgan said. “We’re taking our air quality seriously.”

Morgan said the council must continue to demand more accountability from petroleum companies and ensure that citizens’ interests are primary in monitoring pollution from tank farms, whether they’re operating or shut down.

Regarding city finances during the pandemic, Morgan said South Portland was fortunate to have significant surplus funds to cover anticipated revenue shortfalls in fiscal 2021. Going forward, he believes municipalities should seek legislative leeway to use up to 15 percent of so-called TIF property tax funds beyond their stated purpose. South Portland has nearly $8 million set aside for improvements in tax increment financing districts established for certain business developments.

“Big service centers like South Portland have so many projects that can’t be put off,” Morgan said. “We can’t let our roads go near the Maine Mall, for instance, because if the mall doesn’t do well, the whole state doesn’t do well. City leaders and state officials need to be very creative this year so we not only survive but thrive.”


Morgan, who holds a leadership position with the Greater Portland Council of Governments, said he would continue to promote regional partnerships to address the various issues, including the impacts of climate change and the lack of affordable housing and public transportation. He said a regional zoning initiative would make it easier for developers to build affordable housing.

Morgan said he’s proud South Portland helped to welcome an influx of migrants from the southern U.S. border in 2019. He’s also proud that the city is establishing the first municipal Human Rights Commission in Maine and a Police Services Review Task Force in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and long-standing concerns about equity in city government and the wider community.

“These are big steps to make sure we’re in synch with the expectations of our citizens,” Morgan said. “Frankly, it’s about time.”

The Black Lives Matter movement is what sparked Leighton’s interest in running for the council.

“I started going to council (Zoom) meetings when they were talking about defunding police,” Leighton said. “I thought to myself, ‘I could do something like this.’ Then a friend encouraged me to run.”

Leighton said she understands that she would have to hit the ground running and quickly learn what it takes to serve on the council.


“It’s going to be a lot, but I’m ready and willing to do that,” Leighton said. She noted that she has “a good understanding of finances” from her work at Space Gallery and because she minored in mathematics at the University of Southern Maine.

Leighton said working for a nonprofit that has close ties with the community has shown her the importance of investing locally and advocating for equity with business owners.

“Community care and collective shouldering of this pandemic is what is going to see us through,” she said.

Leighton, who is pursuing a master’s degree in gender and cultural studies from Simmons University, said she hopes to serve on the fledgling Human Rights Commission. If elected to the council, she wants to bring “a deconstruction of whiteness” to city initiatives.

Asked for her address, Leighton said she lives on land stolen from Wabanaki people by European colonizers. Leighton said her goal would be to help the community understand white privilege and address systemic racism without creating division or being punitive.

“It’s just acknowledging a privilege that (white people are) born with,” Leighton said. “I don’t expect to be popular because of this, but these things need to be discussed.”

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