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His employees affectionately call him 'Grizz'; his hometown says he's left a toxic legacy. But why is he running for the presidency?

By Ann Scott TysonStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 23, 1996


IN this small, conservative Republican town where Morry Taylor Jr. grew up in the heart of northern Michigan's tart-cherry country, there are no campaign posters boosting the hometown boy.

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Indeed, the only reminder of the multimillionaire Republican presidential candidate is overwhelmingly negative: an eyesore on Ellsworth's lakefront. The 24-acre former Taylor family factory site, now littered with hazardous waste and the charred debris of collapsing buildings, is on Michigan's superfund environmental cleanup list.

Ellsworth residents are bitter over the more than $3 million in taxpayer money being spent to clean the site of the factory, where Mr. Taylor served as vice president. They are incensed by Taylor's self-financed, multimillion-dollar bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

''People here are mad,'' says pro tem Ellsworth Mayor Hugh Campbell. ''If Taylor ran against Clinton I don't think he could get 10 percent of the vote here.''

Yet about 400 miles to the southwest in Quincy, Ill., it is easy to find business peers and employees who feel differently. Quincy is home to Titan Wheel International Inc., the headquarters of Taylor's current business empire and one of the largest employers in town.

''[Taylor] has an excellent reputation for being a very hard-nosed and astute businessman,'' says Dwaine Gray, president of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce. Taylor's campaign enjoys support from both Titan workers and the Quincy business community, he says.

''They want someone with a good, solid business head running the country,'' Mr. Gray says.

Is the real Morry Taylor the leading light of Quincy or the sojourner with unfinished business in Ellsworth? In either case, why is he running for president?

In Des Moines, Iowa, where he runs his campaign from a fleet of six Land Yacht recreational vehicles, Taylor offers his own clues.

''We've got the worst of the law profession running our country,'' he says, plugging a favorite campaign theme. ''Somebody has got to go in and cut Washington.'' He pledges to balance the federal budget in 18 months by slashing the top third of the nation's 3 million bureaucrats (especially ''the dummies,'' he says).

As for his critics, Taylor slams them as either envious or ''a bunch of nuts.'' ''I don't care. They can all become Dole supporters as far as I am concerned,'' he says with his usual bluntness.

A long-shot candidate for the Republican ticket with only about 1 percent of the vote in polls, Taylor has been largely glossed over by rivals and the national media.

But interviews with him and his acquaintances suggest he is more complicated than the image he projects - one of a hard-driving businessman and ''shop-floor populist'' who wants to shake things up Ross Perot-style in Washington.

Born in Detroit in 1944, Taylor moved with his family to Ellsworth in 1950. His family stood out for their ostentation in the conservative farming town. ''They always had new cars and were the first people in town to have a color TV set,'' says John Hastings, who lives across the street from the family home.

Taylor earned a reputation as a boastful youth who liked to drag Main Street in his hot rod, a souped up 1924 Model-T Ford. He played football at Ellsworth High School and went on to study mechanical engineering at Michigan Technological University in 1968-69, but fell a few credits short of graduating.