Sunday, August 28, 2005

800 Pound Gorilla


It has become a mantra of Howard Baughman and the Portsmouth Daily Times: We have to put the Marting scandal behind us. We have to move on. The people of Portsmouth are not going to forget that fast, nor should they. It is not that easy forgetting, for what "moving on" really means is "We pulled off this scam, we won, so get over it!"

By “Marting scandal” I refer not only to the original sale of the empty leaking decrepit building to the city but also to the outrageous way in which the Portsmouth City Council and acting-Mayor Kalb, once the sale was declared illegal, allowed Clayton Johnson to dictate the terms under which he would return to the city the money he had illegally obtained from it. It is like someone who has stolen your wallet getting caught and then saying what you have to do to get the money back; and incidentally, you are not going to get all of your money back because the thief lost some of it as a result of gambling, in this case through bad investments in financial markets.

The Marting scandal is the 800 pound gorilla who sits in at every council meeting. All the searches and metal detectors have not kept out the gorilla. Howard Baughman and Marty Mohr know the gorilla is there, which is why they’re so nervous, and why they want to stop anyone from saying anything at council meetings to stir up the gorilla. Mayor Kalb also knows the gorilla is there, which may be why he looks so chronically depressed. They obviously wish everyone but especially that gorilla would go away and never attend another council meeting. They would like to return to the bad old days, when hardly anyone showed up for council meetings. They would like to go back to the days when council sessions were not broadcast on the radio. They would like to go back to the days when Marting’s deals were pulled off routinely, without so much as a grunt from any gorilla. They would like to go back to the days before every council meeting was a standing-room-only potential Irish wake.

Because of the Marting’s scandal, and the recalls that resulted from it, Portsmouth politicians and their supporters at the Daily Times fear the voters of Portsmouth even more than Dracula feared the cross, because they know that if the voters had an opportunity to vote on the city accepting the Marting building they would reject it, as they would also reject several councilmen by recalling them, if the recalls were not thwarted in one way or another.


When people in Portsmouth in 2030 look back to 2005, as we now can look back twenty-five years, to 1980, I think the Marting scandal will stand out as the defining political event of this era, just as the recall of three councilmen who tried to fire City Manager Barry Feldman stands out as the tumultuous and defining political event of that past era.

Consider what the Marting scandal has led to. It led to the birth of the recall movement. It led to the recall of Mayor Greg Bauer. It led to the recall of Carol Caudill and Ann Sydnor from the city council. It led to the election of Bob Mollette and Tim Loper to the city council. Marty Mohr might have been recalled if he hadn’t come out against the purchase of the Marting building, which he said at the time “ain’t worth anything!” He of course has since changed his tune, and become one of the biggest fans of the Marting building, which is why he is now the object of a recall effort in Ward 6.

The Marting building remains as Portsmouth's bad dream, a distorted House of Usher/Dorian Gray/Freddie Krueger landmark lurking just behind that 1950-ish phony facade.

Marting's: Portsmouth's Bad Dream

The Marting scandal led to Lee Scott becoming a relentless leader of the recall movement. The Marting scandal reenergized such veterans as Richard Noel, Harold Daub, and Jim Wilson. The Marting scandal led to the involvement of a number of people who were not previously involved in city politics, such as Bob and Teresa Mollette. The Marting scandal led to the Mollettes standing up to the over-privileged as no couple in the last twenty-five years have been able to do. The Mollettes have spent much of their free time and over $24,000 of their savings to see that justice was done in the Marting matter. Judge Marshall’s decision invalidating the sale of the Marting building because of the underhanded tactics used by Clayton Johnson is a landmark decision in Portsmouth’s legal history, and the people of Portsmouth, whether they know it or not, are in debt not only to Judge Marshall but also to the Mollettes, who were instrumental in bringing it about.

The Marting scandal increased the readership of the Shawnee Sentinel, whose number of visitors have grown eye-poppingly while the Daily Times continues to wallow in the circulation doldrums along with alleged ducks in storm drains. The Marting scandal inspired John Welton and Austin Leedom to dig even deeper into the corrupt activities of the over-privileged of Portsmouth. The Marting scandal has attracted younger people, such as Julie Stout and Andrew Feight, into the campaign for honest government. The Marting scandal even led Joe Ferguson to become an investigative videographer and for Claudette to use her writing skills in on-line forums to good advantage.

The Marting scandal led to websites and blogs, including River Vices. In the fourteen years I had lived in Portsmouth, I had almost always voted in state and national elections, but I had never once voted in a city election, that I can remember. I used to think it was only Shawnee State that was in control of the over-privileged of Portsmouth. I knew nothing of Portsmouth politics prior to the Marting scandal, but as a result of making a video, The Recall of Mayor Bauer, I became very interested in Portsmouth politics and, like others had much earlier, became outraged at what I learned. I became one of the angry voters who went to the polls a year ago June. I created River Vices as a way of making my voice heard and trying to make amends for years of ignorance of and indifference to who the mayor or the members of city council were, or what was going on beyond the boundaries of the university, even while the university was using eminent domain to expand its boundaries by destroying surrounding neighborhoods on behalf of local developer Neal Hatcher. It was politically unconscious people like me that made it possible for the over-privileged of Portsmouth to continue to control and exploit the city. A large number of Portsmouth voters (and not just those the Daily Times dismisses as a handful of malcontents) are not asleep any more, and neither am I, and neither is that gorilla. Not yet anyway.